The acute inadequacies of Nigeria’s conventional security forces has left large swaths of territories ungoverned and millions of lives and properties unsecured. With its estimated population of 200 million people occupying a total land area of 923,768 km sq., Nigeria’s poorly funded, badly equipped and ill catered for security forces, whose combined strength numbering about 500,000 personnel can no longer be relied upon to secure the lives and properties of the Nigerian people. In addition to the nefarious activities of localised criminal gangs, Nigeria has been plagued by the seemingly intractable menace of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, trans-border banditry in the North West and killer herdsmen terrorism ravaging farming communities across the country.

While the Boko Haram insurgency appears to be confined to the north east corner of Nigeria, trans-border bandits composed mainly of ethnic Fulani militia men that were mostly imported into the country from countries of the Sahel region as mercenary fighters in the infamous farmers/herders clashes have constituted themselves into a deadly criminal franchise whose spheres of influence are spreading beyond the north west into the central and southern parts of Nigeria. Resulting from this complex web of complicated security challenges that have overwhelmed the capabilities of the already overstretched Nigerian security forces, Nigeria has gained notoriety as the third most terrorized country in the world. Taking advantage of the multi-layered inadequacies and defects inherent in Nigeria’s national security architecture, which has left large swaths of lands ungoverned and millions of lives unsecured, trans-border bandits have converted the entirety of the Nigerian territory into a thoroughfare of criminal economic opportunities through mass murder, armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom.

Faced with the grim reality of the inability of Nigeria’s centralized policing system and other federal government controlled security agencies to contain the rising spate of insecurity, which was aggravated by the incursion of trans-border bandits into the forests of the South Western states from where they stage deadly attacks on major highways in the region doing what they know best; killings, robbery and abduction of commuters, the sub-national political leadership of the region was moved to act. In a country that is sharply divided along ethno-geographic and religious fault lines, the killing of the daughter a prominent Yoruba tribal leader by suspected ethnic Fulani bandits raised tempers above boiling points in an atmosphere already charged up by bigotry and irredentism.

In moving quickly to calm frayed nerves, prevent resort to self-help, which may result into a total breakdown of law and order and further re-assure the grieving people of South West region of their safety and security by constituted authority, the six governors of the affected states in full consultation with relevant stakeholders including security agencies took the pragmatic step of evolving a community driven security initiative code named “Operation Amotekun”. A Yoruba language descriptive for leopard, the “Amotekun” security initiative, is comprised of a non-prohibited arm bearing group of vigilante volunteers, essentially conceptualized to compliment the community policing effort of the federal government that is aimed at combating crime through provision of the critically needed native intelligence by residents of a region under the siege of cross-border bandits and other local criminal syndicates.

However, the birth of the Amotekun security initiative has come under an unnecessary wave of controversies that threatens to abort this child of existential necessity that is very dear to the people of Nigeria’s South West region. The first to oppose the Amotekun security initiative was the Miyetti Kautal Lahore, a self-styled pan Fulani socio-cultural organisation that is committed to unrestrained pastoralist right of nomadic herdsmen along what they describe as “ancient grazing routes” across Nigeria. The Miyetti Allah group, which has been severally accused of coordinating the importation of mercenary fighters into Nigeria on behalf of their cattle breeding brethren in the infamous farmers/herders clashes, expressed strong opposition to the Amotekun security initiative, claiming it was targeted at Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani people, while also calling for the arrest of “Yoruba” leaders that are championing the cause of restoring security to the South West region.

If the unfounded misgivings of the Miyetti Allah group was taken lightly by those concerned, the subsequent statement from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami declaring the Amotekun security initiative as illegal came as a rude shock to Nigerians. The unilateral declaration of Amotekun as illegal by a federal government that has been unable to protect and secure the lives of its citizens against marauding trans-border bandits is provocatively insensitive and portrays the Muhammadu Buhari administration as pandering to the parochial interest of Miyetti Allah Kautal Lahore. Following the lead of Miyetti Allah, prominent voices out of the Muslim north of Nigeria have been unanimous against the Amotekun security initiative with some describing it as an “Oduduwa Republic” secessionist agenda.

Contrary to the claims of the federal government and the allegations of Miyetti Allah, Operation Amotekun is a legal security initiative that is not targeted at Nigeria’s ethnic Fulani but criminals irrespective of their ethno-geographic origin in collaborative effort with the Nigerian police under its framework of community policing with the aim of restoring security to Nigeria’s South West region. And if the federal government has concerns about matters of legality for a security initiative, such as Operation Amotekun, which enjoys enormous legitimacy and acceptance among Nigeria’s predominantly ethnic Yoruba of the South West region, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice should have availed the governors of the concerned region necessary legal advice in the spirit of the much needed collaboration. As currently structured, the Amotekun security initiative is similar to the civilian JTF in conceptualization and operation as a home grown community based counter-insurgency volunteer group in the north east. The only difference between them is that the federal government has denied Operation Amotekun cooperation of security agencies where it has availed Civilian JTF.

It is rather curious, that the major opposition to operation Amotekun appears to be coming in torrents from the Muslim north; a region that is at the epic centre of Nigeria’s security earthquake. For the leaders of a region that has been reduced to a mass human slaughter slab to appear less concerned about finding solution to their complicated web of complex security challenges but is more concerned about the efforts of leaders of another region at solving their own security problems is the height of provocative irresponsibility. If the leaders of northern Nigeria do not value the lives of their people enough to rise up beyond the cowardice of futile negotiations with trans-border bandits, their south west counterparts have demonstrated the courage of responsible leadership in their commitment to the security of the lives and properties of their people.

A region that is collapsing under heavy yoke of multi-faceted security challenges cannot afford the luxury of opposition to a security initiative such as operation Amotekun. Faced with the reality of the inability of the combined strength Nigeria’s security forces to effectively combat the deadly menace of trans-border banditry and the Boko Haram insurgency, northern Nigeria more than any other region in the country needs its own Amotekun security initiative. To effectively contain and defeat insecurity in northern Nigeria will require a collaborative integrated region-wide security initiative such as the operation Amotekun in the south west working in synergy with security agencies. Therefore, the Northern Governors Forum will do well to reach out to their South West counterparts for the operational manual of the Amotekun security initiative for modification and adoption in Northern Nigeria.

Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through dahirumajeed@gmail.com.