Nigeria: Stopping Amotekun an Afterthought - South West Leaders

16 January 2020

Situation confusing - Yadudu, others

South West leaders said yesterday that the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami does not have powers to declare Amotekun, a regional security outfit as illegal.

However, experts were divided over the latest development, with some of them saying the federal government was wrong for not tackling the South West leaders when they were mulling over the idea, while others said government did the right thing for taking a firm decision after the launch.

Amotekun which was launched on Thursday, January 9, encompasses members of the Oodua People's Congress (OPC), the vigilante groups and local hunters drawn from Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Lagos State.

Five days after the launch, Malami on Tuesday, January 14, declared Amotekun as an illegal security outfit.

FG should challenge Amotekun with relevant laws'

The chairman of South West Governors Forum (SWGF), Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the AGF was yet to support his claims with any sections of the Nigerian Constitution.

"One thing is clear, laws are not made in the office of the attorney- general; he can only interpret the laws and give positions of government on matters relating to the law," he said.

Akeredolu who spoke during the commemoration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day held at the Akure Cenotaph, in Ondo State, said there was no going back on Amotekun.

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State also told journalists after visiting ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo that Malami lacked powers to stop Amotekun.

"You don't run a government on social media," he said.

An international terrorism and intelligence expert, Dr Amaechi Nwaokolo, faulted the timing of the federal government's position.

"Why wait till this time? Where were they throughout the formative period of the outfit? The South West governors held security summits with federal government officials in attendance during which this issue was discussed so why now?"

"Governor Fayemi who chairs the Progressive Governors Forum is one of the closest to the presidency; so was there no communication between him and the presidency on the matter?" he asked.

While expressing reservations over the formation of such security outfits, he said people were left with no option than to resort to quasi security options because of failed promises by successive governments to reform the Nigeria Police.

Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka said citizens have the right to defend themselves.

The Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and National Coordinator of OPC, Gani Adams, in a letter to the AGF dated January 15, said it was unfortunate that rather than praise the governors of the South West, Malami was condemning their action thereby strengthening the hands of those who believe the federal government was against some sections of the country.

"As a lawyer and a Senior Advocate, you should know that you are not the law. You are only the attorney-general, not a court," he said.

Also, human rights lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) while speaking in Lagos at the 16th Annual Gani Fawehinmi Lecture, with the theme, 'Federalism and the Judiciary in Nigeria', described the AFG's declaration on Amotekun as discriminatory.

Falana said: "In the North-East region particularly Yobe and Borno, there is a civilian JTF, well-armed; and sometimes when the soldiers are afraid they ask the civilian JTF to go and confront Boko Haram."

The whole situation is confusing - Prof. Yadudu

A constitutional lawyer Professor Auwalu Yadudu when asked to comment on the standoff between the federal government and the South West described the position of the AGF as both right and wrong. Yadudu, in a phone interview with our reporter, said: "If there is no law backing it (Operation Amotekun), it makes it more worrisome because I would not want any government, including the federal government embarking on an exercise that is not backed by law. If it is backed by law either of one of the states or all of the states, I will be able to say whether it is, strictly speaking, constitutional or not.

"The whole situation really is confusing from both the states embarking on the exercise and the federal government because there is no clarity as to what exactly is being embarked upon, and what the legal basis is for it. Of course, there is a contestation now between the federal government and the states involved; perhaps, this may end up in a court of law and clarity would emerge from such contestation," Prof. Yadudu said.

'Only court can decide on legality of Amotekun'

A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ambrose Aisabor, yesterday, asked the South West governors to approach the Supreme Court on the matter.

In an interview with Daily Trust, the security expert expressed misgivings over the proliferation of security outfits in the country.

He said, "It is only the Supreme Court that can interpret the constitution. It is the duty of the court to say whether the establishment of Amotekun has violated the relevant sections of the 1999 constitution vis-a-viz the law that says that the purpose of government is the protection of lives and properties."

Tawo Eja Tawo (SAN) said the issue of whether the Attorney General has the powers to proscribe the operation of the security outfit does not arise when the proper thing to do is to go to court.

He said when the issue of the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) was made; the AGF went to court to obtain an order because he knows he cannot do it on his own.

"You cannot sit down and declare that Amotekun is illegal. He has to go to court and obtain an order declaring so," he said.

On his part, Ahmed Raji (SAN), said, "The federal government merely sought refuge under the Exclusive Legislative list which vests defence in the federal government."

"Going by the interpretation urged by the federal government, nobody is even allowed to hire a common guardsman to protect his property or his life. And neither can any community or compound employ private guards for their defence," he said.

In his reaction, Magaji Mahmud SAN described the issue as "political."

FG must x-ray different sides of Amotekun

A lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Bayero University Kano, Dr Sa'id Ahmad Dukawa, said the issue should be looked at from different angles.

"These people have conducted recruitment, trainings and purchased vehicles, there is no way they could do these without the knowledge of the government.

"The people of the South West have also considered a vital schedule of the Nigerian Constitution by saying that personnel of the outfit will not carry arms. So, looking at it from this angle, the federal government has no right to declare the outfit illegal after it was launched," he said.

However, Dukawa added that during the launch of the security outfit, there was pronouncement that for someone to be qualified as personnel of the outfit, he/she must obtain a certificate from a church. "So, this has clearly shown that the Amotekun is purely a Christian affair and the region comprises both Christian and Muslim residents.

"Another scary statement made during the launching of the outfit was that Nigerians should not look at the establishment of the outfit as an attempt to break from the nation. This statement gives a notion that there is hidden agenda in the formation of Amotekun.

"It was also pronounced during the launching of the outfit that the issue of herdsmen is going to be a thing of the past which means the personnel of Amotekun will deal with herders not criminals," he added.

A Professor of Criminology with the Department of Sociology at the University of Jos, Etannibi Alemika, said though details in terms of the roles, functions and structure of the security outfit are still scanty, it is wrong to compare it with state-based security outfits such as the Hisbah in Kano and the Civilian JTF in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

"Those examples are wrong as they are state-based not regional based. The Civilian JTF in Borno is independent of the one in Adamawa and the one in Adamawa is independent from the one in Yobe. So in terms of structure, they are within the state level and when you have that, the state can go ahead to pass a law that allows for vigilante services as long as it remains within the crime watch level and that is what places like Lagos have done. Rivers State just passed one and Kogi State passed one last year."

He, however, said when it becomes a regional outfit like Amotekun, there might be some anxiety and advised that more consultations between the states and the federal authorities should take place to clarify the structure.

The Head of Department of Private Law, University of Maiduguri, Dr. Mohammed Musa, said the federal government was right.

He observed that the fact that the government did not ban Amotekun until after the launch showed it has the right to checkmate anything that will constitute a threat to public interest. "Nigeria is bigger than all of us," he stated.

The law scholar said with Amotekun, "the South West states can constitute themselves into a parallel government."

John Chuks Azu, Clement Oloyede, Haruna Ibrahim (Abuja), Bola Ojuola (Akure), Adelanwa Bamgboye, Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Jeremiah Oke (Ibadan), Peter Moses (Abeokuta) Uthman Abubakar (Maiduguri), Yusha'u A. Ibrahim (Kano) & Lami Sadiq (Jos)

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