Amotekun: (In) security in discourse, By Issa Aremu

Last Thursday, January 9, 2020, Governors of Nigeria’s six Southwest States of Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Lagos, launched the western Nigeria security network called ‘Operation Amotekun’ in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Governors Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo were present at the flag-off while Governors Gboyega Oyetola of Osun, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun cited poor weather conditions as reason for their absence. As significant as the new security initiative (but there was once a regional police !!!) at sub-national level  is, it’s is more out of fear than reasoned and well thought out security strategy. The point cannot be overstated: security like many critical Federal issues like army, immigration, customs service, capital and labour controls, health and safety, aviation are on the exclusive list of the 1999 constitution.  Operation Amotekun should not be another state police without constitutional amendment and legitimization and ownership that inputs by all Nigerians who have the right to move everywhere and be protected. Critical questions begging for answer are: under which Federal law are youths being armed and uniformed for security services in five states of the Federation? Where are the states’  laws that confer operation Amotekun right to provide security services?  What happens to rule of law in the south west? Who can train and arm youths for security in a Federation? Does Amotekun have the power of intelligence gathering, arrest and prosecution? How does the Operation Amotekun relate with the existing Nigeria Police Force?

Nigerian governments at all levels must adopt consensual gradualist approach to policy reforms instead of the current unhelpful uncoordinated divisive shock therapy  approach which creates more problems than providing solutions for good governance. Nigeria should adopt  gradualist  inclusive approach to reforms instead of the current immediate effect/exclusive and vested interests’ approach which  alienates and divides. Goal 17 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to which Nigeria subscribes  envisages Partnership  in policy formulation and implementation. Both the proponents and antagonists of the so-called state police have been falsely pitched against each. Only engagement and partnership would offer a common ground for security of lives and properties. In quantitative terms, Nigeria can definitely make do with more policemen and women. With less than 500, 000 police for restless  200 million people, police  per capital is one of the lowest in the world. But more than quantity, Nigeria needs quality policing through training and retraining and above all motivation and good compensation for service delivery. In fact Nigeria needs policing, not just police men and women. Who  pays for Operation Amotekun and how much?  Are the new security recruits trained or trainable? It is time we built a developmentalist state (as distinct from a police state!). A developmentalist state  combines physical security with economic, income and social security of the masses of the people. What Nigeria urgently needs is certainly not a police state, (Federal or state controlled) but a developmentalist state that must be driven by all tiers of governments, local governments, the states and the Federal government above all Nigerian people. Any state exists primarily for the security of its people. Scores of state – based institutions abound in Nigeria specifically charged with the responsibility for the protection of life and property. They include the police, state security service agencies, military, civil defence agency, immigration, and prison services. When we combine the self-help arrangements like private guards guiding burglary ringed apartments, Nigeria already passes for a garrison/police state.  Not less than 30 states are currently under the heels of military operations. No thanks, to the current enormous physical security challenges: crude oil theft, kidnappings, murders, arms proliferation, political violence, robberies, “religious” crises, high profile corruption, Trans-border banditry, smuggling and general economic crimes? We must think outside the physical security box. Our current security preoccupation in Nigeria has been on the property (of the few rich!) and some lives of notable public office holders, namely retired and serving Heads of governments, governors, and legislators alike. We must broaden our security perspective to be inclusive  of all, to also  include job and income security, social and economic security for the greatest number of Nigerians. With 50 percent open unemployment, massive factory closures and 60 per cent gross under employment (read: Okada riders and road-side hawkers of God-knows-what-where ) I bear witness that Nigeria remains the most “peaceful” country in the world. Many thanks to Nigeria Federal police force for maintaining the peace of the grave yard. Economic and social security of the critical mass is as significant as the lives and property of the few. Many factors tend to increase the vulnerability of people to insecurity, the notable one is unemployment. No Federal or state police can curtail the army of miserably and hopelessly disillusioned poor people as Nigerians today. The policy implication is to create necessary economic and political conditions for minimization of physical insecurity and not a silly feverish atomization of the Federal police force into some Bantustan/state/ Amotekun/policing.

During the three decades of military dictatorship, the Nigeria Police Force was literally abandoned, saddled with acute shortage of office and barracks accommodation with rank and file on miserable salaries. Without logistic support like transport and communication equipment, poorly motivated police was turned into attack dogs against fundamental human rights of citizens, through open extortions and sheer brutality. It is therefore simplistic and misleading to think Policing can be as clinically divisible into state or Federal as some are putting it. We must first reform, reposition and transform the existing Federal police before any new innovations of state police can be taken seriously. State governors who shamelessly politicize everything under their heels, resist payment of minimum wages cannot be trusted with any civil servants not to talk of armed unemployed youths in the garbs of  police men and women. The prospect of a police force in a state going on incessant strikes on account of lower pay than the existing Federal pay is better imagined than contemplated. If we do not reform the existing Federal police first for the better, we might be decentralizing a mess dignified as state police. The history of the Police in Nigeria indicates that the state police under colonial rule engendered repression, incivility and brutality. We cannot take another leap to dark ages. Duties of the Police are provided for in the Constitution; the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property, due enforcement of all laws and regulations among others. 

Issa Aremu mni