A year after the six governors of the Nigerian south-west states established Amotekun as a state-based law enforcement agency, kidnapping and killings have remained rampant in the region.
The governors launched Operation Amotekun with fanfare in January 2020, in response to worsening security challenges in the region. Governors Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Babajide Sanwo-olu of Lagos, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun and Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti announced the establishment of the new security outfits after their respective state Houses of Assembly passed the bill for their establishment into law.
According to the governors, Amotekun, a name derived from the Yoruba word for the cheetah, will support the Nigerian police, a federal agency, in fighting crime in their six states and curb clashes between farmers and roaming cattle herders.
The outfit was especially expected to check kidnappings associated with rogue elements among the cattle herders in the region.
The South-west region had since 2015 seen an escalation in kidnapping, armed robbery and ritual murder incidents.
The first major case involving a prominent citizen was that of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Olu Falae, who was abducted on his farm in Akure, the Ondo State capital. The incident ignited anger in the region and condemnations from across the country.
Among prominent Nigerians who spoke out were a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Nigeria’s only Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka.
“I have encountered them (kidnappers) before, so security issue is not limited to the masses alone. My convoy was targeted but my security people shot into the air to scare them away. They fled into the bush on Akure-Ibadan road.
“We, as governors, will do something about the issue. We are discussing with the Federal Government. It is real that travellers are not safe on the road,” he said on a television programme in 2019.
Days after Mr Akeredolu’s revelation, the daughter of Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, was shot along Ore road. Olufunke Olakurin was shot dead in July 2019 while returning to Lagos after a visit to her father in Akure.
“The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a sovereign entity and is governed by laws meant to sustain its corporate existence as a constitutional democracy,” Mr Malami said in a statement.
“No other authority at the state level, whether the executive or legislature, has the legal authority over defence.
“As a consequence of this, no State Government, whether singly or in a group, has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts.
“This is sanctioned by the provision of Item 45 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) authorising the Police and other Federal government security services established by law to maintain law and order,” he said in January 2020.
Mr Malami’s statement drew objections from public affairs analysts and legal practitioners. Amidst the uproar, a lawyer sued the federal government for declaring Amotekun illegal.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, was among those who countered the stance of Mr Malami. He said: “Since Amotekun is not an outfit set up by south-west governors to harass or intimidate political opponents, it cannot be prohibited under section 227 or any other provision of the Constitution. In other words, the Constitution has not prohibited the establishment of security outfits for the defence of the people of Nigeria.”
“We have made things clear to everybody and we want all of us to know now that when we said we are having Amotekun, it is not that we are creating a regional police. Amotekun is not a regional police.
“Amotekun is state-based because we don’t have regions in the country anyway. We only have states; and all of us have agreed that when you have laws in your respective states backing Amotekun or any security outfit, then you can go ahead for as long as it is within the legal bound.
“So, we have come out happy; all of us have agreed and it’s been a wonderful resolution of few dark areas, which we have put light into, but we can’t give you full details because this is a security summit. But, I can assure you that we are on the same page in respect of this,” Mr Akeredolu said after the agreement.
In corroboration, the police boss, Mr Adamu, said “any structure brought by any state government that is geared towards assisting and collaborating with security agencies to suppress crimes, we will all participate, be it in training or deployment all geared towards dealing with crimes and criminality.”
Five of the governors immediately provided 20 vehicles each, and Oyo 33 for the take-off of Amotekun. They also provided 100 motorcycles for the outfit in each state.
Since its establishment, Amotekun has been intervening in security cases in the various states, collaborating with the Nigeria police in checking the activities of illegal miners and petty thieves. But the impact of the outfit has not been much felt in the farmers-herders crisis and other security challenges.
Insecurity in the state has displaced some citizens who are currently refugees in Benin Republic.
In Lagos, Amotekun was incorporated into the existing Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps (LSNSC). Despite this, violent crimes like cult clashes, traffic robbery and indiscriminate killings remain on the high side.
‘Why Amotekun’s impact has not really been felt’
Many citizens who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES agreed that the establishment of Amotekun was yet to significantly reduce crime in the region.
A resident of Osogbo in Osun State, Tunde Muraina, said Amotekun operatives in the state were helping him to protect his farms from herders but he too agreed that they have failed to tackle kidnappings in most parts of the state.
“We cannot rule out the fact that Amotekun operatives are doing well but they need intelligent security architecture to operate well. Kidnappings are still rampant in Osun and many parts of the region. There may be a need for stakeholders to sit and have a rethink on their operations,” he said.
However, the former president of the Yoruba World Congress, Banji Akintoye, said the ineffectiveness was because the federal government was not supporting Amotekun. The professor of history and former senator told PREMIUM TIMES that when the crisis of hoodlums invading the South-west started, the federal government did not show a willingness to secure lives and properties.
“We were not in doubt that our region was in crisis following the invasion of militias in the southwest. The federal government came up with an argument that Amotekun is illegal but we sat with the South-west governors and gave a stronger argument on why the farms of our people should be jealousy guided.
“We cannot just watch and allow the Fulanis to be killing us. When we first started, we did not know how to take it because we Yoruba are peaceful people. We then created Amotekun and I spoke briefly at their inauguration in Ondo State.”
Mr Akintoye said putting Amotekun under the police was one of the reasons people are not feeling its impact. He also argued that the operatives have not been adequately equipped.
We are doing our best – Amotekun
But the commandants of Amotekun in different states of the region told our correspondent that they were trying their best.
The commandant in Oyo State, Olayanju Olayinka, spoke on their challenges.
“As you are aware, we are working with the police but for one reason or the other, some officers see our boys as being overzealous and these are some of the challenges we face.
“The police are in a better place to talk about whether killings and kidnappings are rampant or not because we are only created to collaborate with them. But I can tell you for a fact that kidnappings have reduced in Oyo. The cases of farmer versus herders are also happening in isolated areas.
“We cannot assess ourselves. The people should assess us and we are ready for criticisms in as much the criticisms are objective,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
On his part, the commandant in Ondo State, Adetunji Adeleye, said Amotekun since its inception has had a positive impact on the security of the state.
“We have gone into issues that border on general insecurity in the state. We have made over 1000 arrests and are prosecuting 50 criminal issues using the office of Director of Public Prosecutions.
“In December, we launched “Operation Clean Up” at the hideouts of criminals. We don’t wait for them to strike. Since we commenced “Operations Clean Up”, we have experienced a drop in cases of insecurity. We have also brought farmers and herdsmen to the table to reach a truce.”
Speaking on the challenges of the security operatives, he said there is a need for more equipment to make them perform better.
For Amitolu Shittu, the field commander of Amotekun in Osun, there is a need for more collaboration with the police.
“We have good relationships with the police in all the states but there are times we have disagreement over modus operandi. We will continue to do our best to change the mind of criminals.”
Mr Shittu said “if we are better equipped, Amotekun is a good security agency and we would get rid of all forms of insecurity in our region sooner than later.”
Speaking on behalf of his state governor, Governor Kayode Fayemi’s spokesperson, Yinka Oyebode, said “I know the governments are giving them the necessary support to provide security intelligence to the police especially in local areas. I think they are doing their best.”