Whither Nigeria? (4)

THE agitation by the EndSARS Movement, mounted from state to state, but mostly in Lagos State, for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad to be banned, has gone beyond uproar to threats of regime change. This, it seems, is what has made federal umbrage to assume proverbial counter-insurgency features like seeking out the leaders of the avowedly  leaderless movement for arrests, torture and seizure of bank accounts. In effect, instead of abiding by the intermittent agreements and official announcements of the ban on SARS, the Federal Government has been rather more adept at showing how inauspicious SARS has been in the annals of security undertakings in the country. It is not surprising that the mounting campaigns to EndSARS engendered quite a resounding Movement that seems to be unending.

By the way, the search for solutions beyond such Federal interventions was seriously highlighted when the six Governors of the six South-West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti, announced the creation of  the Western Nigeria Security Network, which they called Operation Amotekun, the Leopard. It was patently anti-climactic  to see the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, Shehu Malami,  describing it as illegal. Many people had thought that the South-West Governors  were merely following the motions of the  common Nigerian practice, made famous by the Nigerian Army, of giving fearsome names to security operations or security units as in the case of Black Scorpion, Crocodile smile, Operation  Puff Adder, and Operation Python Dance. Such naming of security outfits by state governments tended to  indicate seriousness while assuring the public of a change of focus from mere dithering by officialdom. It had already become such a raucously distinguished way of   pursuing security business that it would have  been almost out of character for  the six Governors to have started on a different footing.

So, on the surface,  the six Governors were doing what all Governors tended to do. Except that there were marked differences in that this happened to be a cross-party laager by Governors of six different states angling to secure the Yoruba cultural geography. The  six were ceremoniously hosted in the city of  Ibadan  outside the formal Nigeria police and general security aegis. Recall that this was the city where Nigeria has had so many or some would say, too many firsts. Apart from the first All Nigeria Conference that opened the way to constitutional Conferences in 1950, the city was where a sitting Premier lost an election for fighting for the first compulsory free education and free health services, and where the first skyscraper was built, and the first political emergency was declared in independent Nigeria in 1962. Who can forget innovations like the first television house in Africa and the Liberty stadium. Ibadan was the capital of a region that had scored quite a remarkable success in opposing all the un-progressive governments in Nigeria´s  history.  This was the city  into which the  current Attorney-General of the Federation, Shehu Malami,  decided to throw a hammer by declaring a concertedly designed security formation  as illegal. Interestingly, he was not trying to resolve or manage issues surrounding the distrust of the parochialized federal security agencies.  He did not seem to be unduly worried by the logic  of the self-help outfits provoked by the discovery of several cells of armed propagandists in many parts of the country. More than 1,300 cells of the dreaded herdsmen – reputedly the fourth most terroristic group in the world –   had been found in the old western Nigeria with a fifth of that number in the old Midwest state. Bandits and kidnappers had tortured, extorted and humiliated a respected presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae, roughed up traditional rulers,  killed a high profile personality like Mrs Olakunri, daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the Afenifere leader.  Kidnapping, torture, rape and extortion of high and low profile personages, across the zones had become the norm. Even among incurable pacifists, it was bounding to a provocation. It surely warranted some self-defence option to spell any traction. The takeaway, for all concerned, is that the situation  had become too brazenly frequent to be treated as mere happenstance. Not that Federal security was unavailing; it was simply ineffectual. Sundry provincial security outfits, without official federal endorsement, but  enjoying more trust and commitment  across the country, were seen to be out-performing the regular security behemoths. It left too much room for wondering what could be done to return to status quo ante bellum. Surely, the preliminary conclusion was inescapable, or let us say, it was simply mandated by the facts: that this was indeed the TIME OF THE LEOPARD, Amotekun, almost in the way that under Apartheid in South Africa, Alex la Guma´s title talked about TIME OF THE BUTCHERBIRD.

The core issue here is that the attempt  by the Attorney-General of the Federation to illegalize the Western Nigeria Security Network, touched the heart of the Nigerian dilemma in a manner that made it an obvious  struggle between the centre and its peripheries in the Federation. At a time when the constituent units across the country  were literally seeking an opportunity for revolt, and in addition to the constant needling and irruption by pro-secessionist Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, which was soon threatening to set up its own Amotekun-type organization, as it soon did with Eastern States Security Network, the centre seemed determined to exercise a very obtuse display of power. Nothing could be more ill-advised than twiddling the tail of the Amotekun in the South-West, knowing that it would be tailor made for  an uproar that would be replicated across the country..  So it happened that, because  the demand for a state police had been too haughtily slammed down by Federal illegalizers, the resistance to Amotekun was simply seen as proof of  bad business.  A federal government,  failing every attempt to maintain security of lives and property, not just in one state but across the country, was truly in such bad business that it could not seek to be a candidate for the sympathy of the truly beleaguered populace  across the country. It  had become so  embarrassing  because national security had been  left for far too long to  Governors, so called  Chief Security Officers of their states, who lacked formal control of  security forces to match the name-calling.  The state governments were paying far too much for the maintenance of  police outfits that were supposed to be the responsibility of the Federal Government. Only self respect prevented either side from admitting it as a case of Governors being forced to pay protection money to Federal agencies. The unvarnished truth is that there would actually have been no law and order to talk about in the states but for the payments that the state governments continued to make for running the federal police system. Even with the virtual trade union of state Governors to pursue it, the protests against Federal incapacity never managed to hit the bulls eye of federal attention. That is, until the Amotekun episode came along.

The insertion of the Leopard turned out too bitter a  pill for minders of Federal agencies to swallow.  It was not only that it implied formalized parleying between six states that were more or less ethnically homogenous but that, for Federal illegalizers, it   meant that the states would be making  their own laws to govern the security outfits. Meaning that: the rest of the country would have to face the novelty of a common security agenda for six out of 36  states.  It meant the focus of national security  would have to shift to issues such as  community policing of a different kind; in a more robust system needing weapons that had so far been disallowed. In the face of  herdsmen and other terrorists gravely armed with Kalashnikovs, and driving farmers from their homesteads and farmsteads in the midst of a threatening famine across the country, it was quite a test of nerves. Especially so for ordinary citizens against whom roads were being closed by terrorists and bandits collecting harvest-time illegal  taxation, and being forced to  pay  humongous, Godless ransoms for the kidnapped, in addition to the rape of wives and daughters in the presence of  husbands and parents.  The increasing frequency of such occurrences was making it quite a joke  to hear of official security projects such as the building of the volunteer community policing mooted by the Inspector General of Police, which was not supposed to pay salaries to any cadre. No expertise was needed to see it as shadow-boxing with crime, if not a trading in trivia. Anxiety was bound to mount if six out of 36 states were seeking to have enabling laws  to formalize an Amotekun, a catch of leopards with a conjoint agenda. More so if many more regions in the country were already determined to embark on their own  Amotekuns.  It was big deal, amounting to  bringing homogenous cultural geographies or nationalities together in a country that had for so long criminalized ethnicity .

In spite of, or because of it, the negotiated reduction of the scale of Amotekun to individual states, without a common command across the states, was being contemplated at the Federal level to reduce the  scale of the anxiety. It was bad enough  that Amotekun-type  proposals were being considered beyond the Yoruba South-West. All such proposals as it turned out, wished to cover ethnic or geo-cultural geographies or nationalities, or a combination of them, beyond individual states. As in the South-West, so in the Middle-Belt, the South-East, South-South and even the North-West: if terrorists and bandits were moving from one zone of the country to the other to perform their practiced mayhem, it called for a security outfit  with a wider coverage beyond individual states to meet their challenge. The worm in the ointment, and an evident source of worry for federal agencies,  was that the bandits and terrorists were also moving as ethnic bastions against homelands belonging to other ethnic groups. It began to make so much difference when kidnappers, raising ransom money from federal and state agencies began to make enough money from Federal Government and state agencies to remain in business. Any reduction of the Amotekun/leopards to one state while bandits and terrorists were seeking to cover wider ethnic geographies would not suffice as security outfits go. Too obviously, a reduction of Amotekun in scale to individual states would appear like a deliberate effort to reduce their effectiveness. In which case,  the real problem for the illegalizers in charge of Federal  apparatuses had to be, not only how to  prevent the state governments from acceding to a state  police system, but to address the question of the  ineffectuality  of the Federal charge across the region-wide zone slated for the Amotekun. Specifically, what has truly rankled is that the Amotekun  was named for the Yoruba cultural geography, quite ambitiously covering the cultural geographies of a more or less homogenous Yoruba nationality and daring to be an example that other regions and zones could follow. Whether as a mere insignia, mascot or  totem, this explained why its opponents  assumed that it was merely a phase of  ethnic distancing with an agenda that is  a  prelude to a secessionist move by Yoruba people. Quite a plausible scenario, except that many people  found it intriguing that the attempted illegalizing of the Amotekun as a means of  stemming a feared disintegration of the country, did not address the core rationale of fighting the insecurity which yielded the problems in the first case.


  • Being excerpts of the virtual 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture delivered by the Polemicist, Odia Ofeimun, as part of activities marking the 112th posthumous birthday of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on Saturday, March 6.

To be continued


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