Lagos — If the the governors of the six South West states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo were not prepared for the passions that Amotekun ignited either in favour or against, they will be guilty of grave naivety or simplicity. We are aware governors enjoy immunity from prosecution while in office, nevertheless we find them so culpable if they thought Amotekun was a walk in the park. Soon after Amotekun was launched in Ibadan on January 10, 2020, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Shehu Malami declared the idea illegal because the Nigerian constitution has no room for a regional security agency. As his principal was away in the UK, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo quickly summoned a meeting of the minister and the governors, where we saw the participants exuding cheer in contrast with the gloomy pall Amotekun had cast on national discourse and civility. I had my own problem with Amotekun. To a non-Yoruba speaker like me, the four-syllable word sounded fearful so I was looking to know the meaning. I asked a taxi driver who I thought should know, and he pointed out that, although he was Yoruba, he did not grow up in the village! That got me worried until a kind Nigerian hinted that it meant either a lion, a cheetah, leopard, tiger or any member of the cat family. It was when I finally saw the emblem of a spotted leopard that I realised Amotekun was fashioned in the image of that animal.
I am convinced that this is also the larger problem with Amotekun – we don’t really know what it means, and I suspect even the initiators do not fully grasp the ramifications of the step they took in Ibadan. For the Federal Government, the idea of governors who have been most vocal in demanding state police, Amotekun was a first step in that direction which other zones will quickly copy, if it was not constitutionally shot down. Just hours after Mr. Malami spoke, the Presidency said he had their knowledge and nod.
For our northern brethren, the sight of politicians who are usually mired in quarrels and acrimony suddenly appearing to be united and full of joy, set off the alarm bells that the back-slapping and camaraderie foreshadowed something much more sinister. Read my lips: Oduduwa! Did you hear what Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Dr. Junaid Mohammed said – the South West will use Amotekun to declare their own republic. Ironically, the metaphor of a leopard supports this interpretation. Zoologists say the leopard is a cunning hunter. Unlike the lion which roars or the cheetah which outpaces its prey, the leopard stalks and pounces in the right way and at the right time. The reasoning is that the South West region will bid their time and hatch the Oduduwa egg at the set time, of which no one can foresee or forecast just now.
It would have been understandable if this ignorance was limited to those outside the region. Worryingly though, even the brains behind Amotekun don’t also understand the drift of their dream. They say Amotekun was set up to fight crime and so far, the justification we have heard are atrocities allegedly perpetrated solely and only by Fulani herdsmen. While it is true that this set of nomadic Nigerians have retaliated violently to people who either protest the destruction of their farmland and crops by cattle or sheer criminality, assigning all crimes in the South West and in fact, any other region, indicates we don’t fully appreciate the dimensions of the insecurity and violence we face as Nigerians and cannot therefore tackle it, not to talk of stopping it. The well-known human rights activist and lawyer, Femi Falana said as much at a news conference in September 2019. “I discovered to my under shadowing that majority of the ritual murders, kidnappers, armed robbers operating in the South West are not of the Fulani extraction, mostly they are all mostly Southerners. But the narration is there, what we have sent out is as if nobody in the South is an armed robber or kidnapper. All kidnapping stories are traced to the Fulani herdsmen. We must, particularly the elite, even when justice done in our country. We must stop tracing the ethnic orientation or religion of criminals. When criminals are arrested anywhere in our country.” The warning in Mr. Falana’s well-reasoned advice is that, if we are fixated on Fulani herdsmen as the only guilty party in crime, then we will be willfully blind to the criminals within.
Therefore, we submit that the problem with Amotekun is that we have viewed it through the lens of our fears – the Federal Government fears state police, the North fears Oduduwa and the South West fears Fulani herdsmen. As long as fear rules our hearts and actions, any initiative, regardless of its intentions or potential benefits, will make no sense or impact. We understand the South West Governors will meet the President in further attempts to solve the Amotekun riddle. They should stop posing for the cameras with honorific handshakes and hollow ear-to-ear grins. Let them mutually and frankly confess their fears and take practical and holistic steps to address them.