The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has condemned the decision of the federal government to declare Amotekun, a security outfit set up by Sout-west governments, illegal.
The forum described by the position of the government, delivered by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as an abuse of office and an attempt to suppress the rights of the federating units to secure themselves.
A statement by Mr Malami on Tuesday declared Amotekun illegal, basing its declaration on the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Constitution, which places security as “a matter that is within the exclusive operational competence of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
“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,” he said.
Many Nigerians have reacted to the decision, with some questioning it while others support the federal government. Critics argue that only the courts have the power to invalidate such a group.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum said Mr Malami’s statement was in furtherance of the widely – held suspicion that sections of the country were deliberately being rendered vulnerable for herdsmen and other criminals by the Federal Government.
The group’s reaction was contained in a statement issued on Tuesday and signed by Yinka Odumakin, for South-west; CRU Iherike, for South-east; Bassey Henshaw for the South-south and Isuwa Dogo for the Middle Belt.
“We ask the Governors of the South-west to ignore Malami and allow him to go to court to challenge their decision as he cannot constitute himself a court over elected governors. We are not under military rule,” the statement said.
“We insist that what the Governors have done is what individuals and neighborhoods can legally do to secure their lives and property.
“The right to preserve your life cannot be under any exclusive list other than the list of those who have no value for human lives.
“The ultra vire action of the AGF has further exposed Nigeria as a country under command and control and governed by a conquest mentality.
“We ask Malami to tell us what makes Amotekun illegal and Hisbah legal.
“He should further explain to us what makes Civilian JTF legal in the North East where there is war and in Kaduna and Kano where there is no war, while Amotekun is his only illegal take.
“This is a defining moment to decide if we are under segregation and different laws in the country.”
Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhomhe, has also urged the governments of the six states of the South-west to proceed to the court to challenge the government’s pronouncement on Amotekun.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, said there is no conflict between Amotekun and the provisions of the Constitution.
Mr Ozekhome said the Minister of Justice was in error, and his statement tended to treat the states and other units of the federation as ‘vassals’ or ‘pupils.’
He argued that the provisions of the Section 214 and 215 of the Constitution left the states bare with nothing to tackle insecurity, noting that the states ought to be allowed to defend the territorial integrity to the extent to which their security demands.
“Operation Amotekun was a direct response by the south western states to the pervading and pervasive insecurity situation of that geopolitical zone where farmlands are being ravaged by external armed bandits, killing people in their farms, maiming people in their homes, raping their wives and daughters, even with an elder statesman like Olu Falae being kidnapped from his own farm and even having the farm set on fire,” he said.
“So, what the Federal Government is saying by the statement of today is like telling the states, ‘you are nothing but mere vassals, mere appendages of this contraption we call Nigeria and that your voice and your security do not matter.
“I think the federal government is wrong in this regard, I think that Nigeria being a constitutional democracy, running a federal system of government, we should begin to break our security apparatchik, particularly the police, the same way we have it in America.
“I think the Federal Government should reverse its aversion to this carefully thought out programme that is sub-regional to defend its territorial integrity across its lines and allow peace to reign.”
Mr Ozekhome said even though the constitution recognised the Navy, Army, Airforce and the police to provide, “the constitution did not envisage that they will be able to sufficiently provide security for all the sections of the country”.
He said with the Civilian Joint Task Force and other state-initiated security outfits in the north, “none of which had been declared illegal by the Federal Government”, it was curious for the Federal Government to consider the Amotekun venture by the South-west states as being contrary to the constitution. “I think it is double talk, and it amount to duplicity,” the lawyer said.
“I will advise the South-west governments to head to the court to challenge the decision of the federal government.”
Another senior lawyer, Olusola Oke, a former legal adviser to the Peoples Democratic Party, said the declaration of the Federal Government on Tuesday came to him as “a very rude shock.”
He told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview that the primary responsibility of the government is to secure lives and property, and that security in Nigeria today was under serious threat.
The lawyer said the law allows citizens the right of preservation and self-protection, and that self-defence could be exercised individually or collectively. He said Amotekun was typical of a collective effort to self-defence.
“These people are not seeking to defend Nigeria, they are not seeing to defend state, they are seeking to defend individuals and their property, so I don’t see any conflict with either the constitution or law,” Mr Oke said.
He, however, noted that the South-west governments “might not have done enough consultation to carry along all concerns”.
He said instead of debating the legality of the outfit, “the existing gaps should be filled through proper consultations and negotiations”.
“It is a laudable programme and it should not be slaughtered on the altar of technicalities,” he said.