Amotekun and the Emerging Dimensions of Bigotry, By Simbo Olorunfemi
It is sad that a group that not only prides itself as cosmopolitan, but acknowledged by others as one, is unwittingly being forced down the alley of provincialism and bigotry by fringe elements nursing pain that is largely personal to them, latching on to an initiative beyond their narrow agenda to let themselves out of their closets of bigotry.
It has been interesting, even if slightly disconcerting, following the controversy about Amotekun. Some say it is the cheetah, others say it is the tiger. Many more seem convinced it is the leopard. Some say we do not have tigers here and that the cheetah is the ‘African tiger’. A friend went to great length to clear the confusion between Owawa (cheetah) and Amotekun (leopard?), relying on a source for 10 distinguishing features between the two animals.
Some will wonder at the debate, asking how come there can be such confusion about what ought to be so simple. But that is what it is, what it has become – an endless debate about nothing, often not with the end in the frame, but with egos rubbing against one another, just to prove whatever point. That, in a way, is the story of Amotekun, the security initiative by Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Lagos, states that originated from the defunct Western Region, which unfortunately has gotten itself enmeshed in a needless controversy on account of a failure of strategy, tactical deployment and stakeholder engagement.
I’m certain no one will doubt that the security situation, a few years back, had become so grave that it became a necessity to think out of the box for solutions. That the unitary policing structure we have in place is no longer functioning, if it ever did, is something many are agreed upon. Decentralising the police, such that state and local governments can set up complementary forces, has been canvassed over time, even if some people are not comfortable with it, for fears they have never ceased to adduce. That governors of the aforementioned states considered the situation serious enough, as they should, and saw solution in Amotekun, which they formally presented to the public in Ibadan, less than two weeks ago, cannot be faulted.
While some of us were waiting to have a full understanding of what Amotekun is about before engaging it, many did not. It only took the attorney general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, asserting that the setting up of Amotekun is illegal, citing specifically that by virtue of item 45 of the second schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, policing and other government security services are on the exclusive list, for hell to be let loose. Whereas one had expected a robust rebuttal on the part of the promoters of the initiative, detailing the intended or existing legal provision for the scheme, the extent of stakeholder engagement embarked upon before its public presentation and the operational model of the outfit that grants it legal cover within the contemplation of the law, as we presently know it, what we had mostly was a clap-back, making reference to other contraptions, without consideration of the historical configuration and legal status of such outfits, which bear little or no resemblance with what they have offered.
While the governors struggled to find their voices, it became a season of unveiling for hitherto closet-bigots, who have taken to the market, painting Amotekun in their own shades, forcing upon it despicable garments. To them, to even subject the initiative to the mildest of interrogation, either for its legality or functionality, is an anathema. It amounted to treason and they were quick to pronounce judgement on those they have labelled ‘traitors’, ‘bastards’, ‘Fulani slaves’, ‘Afonjas’, and people who need to go for DNA test to confirm their paternity, simply for posing questions. Inevitably, all sorts of emergency Amotekuns have emerged, some latching onto this to push their ethno-religious biases and prejudices. Some still nursing the injury sustained in 2019, have become emergency Amotekuns, even when they do not understand what the initiative is about. As long as it appears to pitch against the authority of the federal government, they have to line up behind it.
On account of a deficiency beyond us, they insist that this is an initiative that cannot be subjected to engagement, even for its functionality. We now have a mob of emergency Amotekuns, roaming the social media, openly wishing that anyone they deem to not be in support of Amotekun to be kidnapped, along with his family. It is hocking to see the sad list of supposedly educated people, some who have postured in public as urbane, open-minded and even ‘detribalised’ Nigerians, either lining up in support or endorsing pronouncements, bordering on the genocidal, placed on ‘Yorubas’, who, in their books, do not support Amotekun.
Not many have queried the thought behind the formation of Amotekun, all that some have asked is for enlightenment on the constitutional or legal framework for such regional security operation. Some, perhaps, caught up in the spirit of comedic interpretation of law, have cited ‘self-defence’ as cover for it.
Some have said that they are compiling a list of ‘traitors’, grabbing screen-shots of opinions, simply different from theirs on Amotekun, and perhaps they would find these useful when their own perverted versions of Amotekun begin operation. This is what it has become – people openly declaring as enemies not just people of other ethnic groups, but even of their own stock, simply for differences of opinion. It brings back memory of 1983 again – the mob on a roll, pointing at houses of political opponents and then proceeding to raze them down, occupants having managed to escape. Who knows what the Amotekun mob might get up to?
Amotekun has now taken on a full ethno-religious dimension, with people passing around photographs of a leopard supposedly mauling a cow. It did not take long for statements allegedly issued from the stables of IPOB and Miyetti Allah to make it to the media, which dutifully gave it the desired prominence, for the Amotekun matter to take on a full life of baiting along ethnic and religious lines. With 2023 now thrown into the mix, we now have a mindless conflagration over nothing, with the substance of the matter at hand now a distant echo, as bigots have now taken custody of the vuvuzelas handed them by opinion-moulders blatantly fanning the embers of hate and bigotry.
Not many have queried the thought behind the formation of Amotekun, all that some have asked is for enlightenment on the constitutional or legal framework for such regional security operation. Some, perhaps, caught up in the spirit of comedic interpretation of law, have cited ‘self-defence’ as cover for it. Sincerely, one would not expect that it is the argument around Hisbah or Civilian JTF is what the governors would continue to push, going forward, because it is simply ridiculous.
How does the Civilian JTF, formed by volunteers to assist the military in counter-insurgency in specific states, whose operations are within the particular state, under the supervision of the joint task force of the military and police, compare to a security network proposed to cut across a region, a geographical contraption that enjoys no constitutional recognition?
Or is it the Hisbah that has been repeatedly cited? As controversial as the activities of the Hisbah corps is, as illegal as some of us see it, we must bear in mind the history of its emergence and that it did not just come into existence without the requisite legislative procedure. Following on the decision to add criminal law to the jurisdiction of Shari’a across a numer of states in the North, an enforcement group, Hisbah, was set up, starting in 2005, with the Shekarau administration in Kano State, having promulgated the Kano State Hisbah Board Law no. 4 of 2003 and an amended version soon after. It must be noted that the federal government not only declared it illegal, but President Obasanjo followed it up with a letter to the governor, as well sending a delegation to Kano on a fact-finding mission. Kano State government, in 2006, instituted a suit at the Supreme Court to contest the declaration by the federal government, but this was struck out in 2007, with the Supreme Court arguing that the plaintiff did not show the existence of any justiciable dispute between it and the federal government to justify the invocation of the original jurisdiction of the court, which means the substantive matter of legality of Hisbah was never resolved.
It is strange to find some supporters of the Amotekun initiative, including the governors, perhaps ignorant of the facts, wondering at the declaration of Amotekun as illegal, when according to them, Hisbah was never so declared. That is obviously not the case, but even then, what does Amotekun have in common with Hisbah that it should be serving as basis for comparison? If there is anything to take away from it, should that not be that even the Hisbah Corps does enjoy legislative backing, with its enabling law clearly stating that they are only able to handle “non-firearms for self-defence, like batons and other non-lethal civil defence instruments”?
…it is difficult to find a legal framework upon which we can sit Amotekun as a regional security network… Though I have not seen the operational manual for Amotekun, it is however difficult to see how it will manoeuvre its way around the legal bottleneck that policing across boundaries poses, when there is no legally recognised regional framework for the use of force.
Is it not evident, even from interventions by some who claim that they disagree with the position of the attorney general of the federation that there is really no legal cover for a regional security network, which Amotekun is proposed to function as. It is hardly in dispute that state governments have a window through which they can set up alternative security agencies, as long as they are smart with their legislative drafting and operational models.
The template is there – Lagos has the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Agency, which was established in 2016. Rivers State Government has its Rivers State Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency (RIVNESCA). All that the promoters of Amotekun need do is secure a legal cover for the initiative in each of the component states and find a way to work together, across borders, through a Memorandum of Understanding, rather than launch one regional omnibus body, whose motive might be misunderstood or misrepresented, and might throw up logistical and jurisdictional issues. As a show of force and solidarity, the governors could make a show of signing the bills, after passage by the Houses of Assembly, by appending their signatures on the same day, while they all come together with the State Commandants of the Corps, the day after, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Indeed, it is difficult to find a legal framework upon which we can sit Amotekun as a regional security network. I have repeatedly argued here that I am yet to see the constitutional basis for the so-called six geo-political zones that we tout. They are simply artificial geo-political constructs, without basis in law, forced upon the political system to further complicate things and divide the people. Though I have not seen the operational manual for Amotekun, it is however difficult to see how it will manoeuvre its way around the legal bottleneck that policing across boundaries poses, when there is no legally recognised regional framework for the use of force.
The sad part is that Amotekun did not quite successfully communicate what it is and how it intends to function, at its launch. It is a failure of thoughtful consideration of the law, politics and the art of strategic communication. The tragedy is that Amotekun has now morphed, in the hands of bigots, into what it was not intended to be. Some have now worn Amotekun in garbs not originally hers, on account of mindless attacks on other people, creating needless strife and mistrust.
Whereas we should engage the idea with a bit of sobriety and reflection, taking into consideration all the issues that have been thrown up, some are already pointing fingers, seeking for bastards to lynch, when indeed, in the manner Amotekun was presented, it was definitely bound to stall. But of course, if a fiction is not weaved around the ambition of some people and the matter Fulanised, it will not be as ‘sweet’ and fitting as a fable. So, villains must be found.
It is sad that a group that not only prides itself as cosmopolitan, but acknowledged by others as one, is unwittingly being forced down the alley of provincialism and bigotry by fringe elements nursing pain that is largely personal to them, latching on to an initiative beyond their narrow agenda to let themselves out of their closets of bigotry. Hopefully, it is not too late for the original thinkers and promoters of the initiative to reclaim it and carefully nurse it in the desired direction. Good to see Ondo governor, Arakunrin Akeredolu nudging in that direction, promising to engage, as he should, to clear up the needless controversy. We have more in common than these walls of divide would let us know. The walls are in our mind.