By Azuka Onwuka
In the past 10 days, about 100 people were killed by Boko Haram, bandits and highway kidnappers in different parts of northern part of Nigeria. The Emir of Potiskum escaped being kidnapped by spending the night in the forest, but some of his aides were killed. However, these killings were not the key issue in the news last week. The key issue was the declaration of illegality given by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, to the launch the South-West Security Network, code-named Operation Amotekun. Not only Malami opposed the launch of the security outfit. The Miyetti Allah Kaute Hore, a cattle breeders’ association, also opposed it.
Interestingly, most of the opponents of Operation Amotekun are northerners whose territory has been a source of serious security concern for many years now. There has never been any plan by the proponents of Operation Amotekun to move to the North in the exercise of their security duties. They will only operate within the states of the South-West. One then wonders why anybody from the North should be worried about it when there are enough things of worry to occupy the person. The issue of securing the South-West has sadly been made to look like a case of North vs South.
Given the level of insecurity in Nigeria and the number of casualties recorded every week, especially in the North where three dreaded groups operate, one would think that every Nigerian would gladly welcome any initiative that would help to check the activities of criminals in Nigeria. However, it is often said that with the exception of the gay issue, every national issue polarises Nigeria into North and South.
Our military are overstretched and war-weary. Our police are overstretched too and unable to cope with the diverse and complex nature of the security challenges facing Nigeria from different zones. And like former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar said over the weekend, in his support for the launch of Operation Amotekun, local policing has become a necessity as a result of the “obvious inadequacies of the federal police to effectively deal with these rapidly growing security challenges.”
The former presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the added: “The police are more likely to be effective in areas where they are well known and trusted by the local communities who in turn are willing to share information about known criminals and criminal activities, thereby foiling those crimes before they are even carried out…
“In the envisaged new order, states and local governments shouldn’t be reduced to peripheral players in policing and security matters. When local police structures are closest to the grassroots, emergency response will be more effective than the current unwieldy chain of command that renders local government chairmen ineffective when their people are under attacks.”
The most ridiculous aspect of the opposition to the launch of Operation Amotekun was the threat that by its launch, the South-West may lose the opportunity to produce the president of Nigeria in 2023. This came from Alhassan Salleh, national secretary of the Miyetti Allah Kaute Hore. It is a way of telling the people of the South-West that if they want to be given the opportunity to produce the president in 2023, they have to leave their zone porous to make it easy for their people to be massacred. One wonders if a dead person can be president.
It is this sort of subtle blackmail that has made the South-West to virtually turn to the lamb since 2015, ignoring all the threats to their people. On July 19, 2016 I had written an article titled, “Something strange is happening in South-West”, to buttress this strange behaviour of playing the lamb led to the slaughter in a bid to be considered good by the North “to inherit the kingdom of Nigeria.” Some people even added a ridiculous dimension to the debate by telling me that I would not succeed in making them clash with the North.
One wonders how protecting one’s home should equate to fighting with the North. Can a zone be only said to be friends of the North if it does not complain or react when its people are killed? What type of friendship is that?
The biggest threat to security in Nigeria since 2015 has been the fear that protecting one’s people means fighting against the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Governors and other key politicians have been afraid to complain or take measures to protect their people against the killer herdsmen because of this fear. Few governors like Samuel Ortom of Benue and Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti who tried to take action against the killer-herdsmen faced stiff opposition from Nigerian security agencies as if they were the aggressors. Rather than being supported to protect their people, they were threatened and harassed by the security agencies.
This confirms the views of many that the worsening security situation in Nigeria has the backing of government in one form or the other. In March 2018, Lt Gen Theophilus Danjuma (retd.) had said: “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits. They kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movements, they cover them. If you depend on the armed forces to stop the killings you will all die one by one…. I ask everyone one of you to be alert and defend your territory, your state. You have nowhere else to go.” If anybody should know about what is happening in Nigeria security-wise, it should be Danjuma, a former Minister of Defence and Chief of Army Staff.
Thankfully, the support for Operation Amotekun has been swelling. Groups from the South-East, South-South, North-Central as well as individuals from many parts of Nigeria have given support to it. Interestingly, those with different political views from the mainstream APC in the South-West have been the strongest supporters. That points to the fact that life comes first before politics.
The words from the governors of the South-West have shown that they are not ready to be cowed or blackmailed into backing off the plan to secure the South-West. The level and depth of insecurity that the North-East and North-West have faced should not be wished on any zone. The regular kidnapping of people on the highways in the South-West is a warning that all is not well. The killing of Mrs Funke Olakunri, daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, in July last year seemed to have jolted the governors out of their slumber.
For me, the South-West should take all possible measures to safeguard its zone for my selfish reasons. I live in the South-West. Because I love to drive between the South-West and South-East, I have to drive through Ogun and Ondo states. One cannot guarantee that one would not meet highway kidnappers on the way. I occasionally have projects that take me through the South-West. In recent times, I have been wary of undertaking such trips within South-West. If these highway kidnappers embarked on intelligence gathering on their targets, I would not be a target because I am not a high net-worth individual. But their modus operandi is weird.
The South-West governors should immediately individually send bills to their respective state House of Assembly to pass a law legalising the security network in each state.
The issue of bearing of arms by members of the Operation Amotekun is also a major one. Using batons to battle well-armed criminals is suicidal. People’s children and husbands should not be sent on such a suicide mission. Just as many different vigilance groups are allowed to bear arms, the operatives of Operation Amotekun should bear arms. Thankfully, the police had given support to the group. They should work closely with the police to make the South-West safe.