The dust raised by the move by South-west governors to tackle insecurity within their domain through Amotekun has raised a new flag over the fragility of the Nigerian state. The utter mistrust and mutual suspicion have so obvious and gave the lie to the indivisibility theory.
The motivation for the outfit is the spiralling dire security situation in the region, resulting in the deaths of innocent citizens. No one was spared. Religious leaders, professors, doctors, lawyers, students, nurses, businessmen and women, traditional rulers, as well as children have either been kidnapped, raped, killed, mutilated for rituals or set free after being traumatised and huge ransom paid.
The Amotekun idea arose from the rubbles of many failed attempt to raise the security alertness of the existing security architecture to be more committed and empowered to deal with threatening situation. This failure is still whirling not only within the south west, but also across the country. The level of bloodletting by bandits and gun-wielding herdsmen in rural and urban communities is now most alarming and defying any proper description.
Despite the noise of Amotekun and the argued justification for it, daily reports are laden with continued skirmishes and killings by herdsmen and ritualists.
On January 9, 2020, the security outfit was eventually launched in Ibadan by the South West states, with the aim of combating banditry, criminality and other vices in the region. The governors were clear in their statements. The region was no longer a home for criminals and the security of lives and the property of the people would henceforth be their primary objective.
During the launch, the governors clarified that Amotekun would protect all ethnic groups in the region and would not be used to intimidate anyone but chiefly to provide security for all. They allayed the fears of all stakeholders that the outfit would simply complement the efforts of the police and other security agencies and not to be independent as being insinuated by its opponents.
Since its launch, it has been a cloudy moment for the outfit, with criticisms and pouring in from the north. Amotekun is yet to begin its flight. The fears have halted its operation and uncertainty is now the word.
Some leaders in the north dared to accuse the governors of planning a secession from the country. Foremost politician, Balarabe Musa did not mince words when he accused the governors of seeking to create and declare Oduduwa Republic. Its criticism were similar to that of the umbrella body of the Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, Miyetti Allah, which described the Amotekun as an ethnic militia, “a monster” that has to be tamed before it becomes a disaster for the country. Miyetti Allah believes that the “ethnic militia” or “ethnic army” with divisive intentions should be silenced because it has no law backing it.
The outburst of Miyetti Allah followed an earlier declaration by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, that Amotekun was illegal and offended the Constitution. The AGF had argued that the law only empowers the police to provide security for the country. This is based on the fact that policing the country is on the exclusive list of the constitution and chiefly bars the states from creating or arming a security outfit such as the Amotekun.
Further discussions, meetings and interactions between the governors and the Federal Government produced a sort of soft landing for Amotekun, with certain agreements reached between them. It was then agreed that the regionalisation of Amotekun should be jettisoned, so that individual states should be responsible for the operation of its own security outfit. It was also agreed that the outfits would be backed by laws passed by the respective legislatures of the states.
By that agreement all processes and procedures regarding the implementation of Amotekun had to be put on hold pending the enactment of the enabling laws for the security network. Steps towards this were taken with the coming together of the Attorneys General of the states in Ibadan and successfully drew up a draft of the laws which were harmonised before they were taken to their respective legislatures.
While Ekiti State House of Assembly has passed the bill, the other states are still in the process of doing the same. The bill went farther than expected to make provisions chiefly to address the fears of sceptics, who from the start believed that the bill was aimed at distablising the country or that it was formed as an ethnic militia. It is yet to be known if the provisions will allay their fears.
First, the draft bill has provided that the composition of the proposed board for Amotekun, will have the representatives of the Army, the Navy and the Airforce. The board will also have the state Commissioner of Police in the states, and the state Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps as board members.
Section 6 of the provides that “The Board shall comprise: (a) a Chairman, who shall be a person of proven integrity with experience in security matters and shall be a retired Law Enforcement or Military Officer not below the rank of a Major or its equivalent in the other Security Services; (b) The Commissioner of Police in the State or his/her representative; (c) One member representing the different services of the Armed Forces of Nigeria operating in the State; (d) The State Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in the State or his/her representative e; (e) The Executive Secretary, Ekiti State Security Trust Fund or his/her representative; (f) One representative each of the Community Development Association drawn from the three Senatorial zones the State; (g) The Chairman, Ekiti State Council of Traditional Rulers or his representative; (h) The Ekiti State Amotekun Corps Commander.”
Officials close the governors say these broad inclusion of the leading security agencies will give credence to the position of the governors that the outfit will not be used against any ethnic group or to promote sectional agenda.
Another provision that may be contentious is that which allows the Amotekun Corps to bear arms, albeit, under the supervision and approval of the Inspector General of Police.
Section 18(1) of the bill, Amotekun Corps “shall, subject to the approval of the Inspector General of Police have the power to bear licensed arms in the performance of its duties and as may be incidental to the operation of its objectives under this Law.”
The corps will also have the power to collaborate with and assist the Police and other Security Network Agencies in gathering information about crime, crime investigation, arrest and prosecution of persons suspected or involved in kidnapping, terrorism, cattle rustling, cultism, highway robbery and other criminal activities.
It will also be required to disarm unauthorised persons with arms and dangerous weapons and assist crime and accident victims.
On the above provisions, citizens are mostly in support, as many believe most of the terrorising gangs are well armed with sophisticated weapons. One of the traditional rulers in Ondo State had stressed the need for the governors to ensure the Amotekun corps possessed lethal weapon if they must successfully protect the people.
Section 34 of the bill is likely to pose a problem, given a seeming immunity to members of the corps. It states that, Acts done in the Course of Duty by any member of the Board, staff of the Agency or member of the Amotekun Corps is hereby excluded from liability and shall not be sued in his or her personal capacity for any lawful act done in the course of duty.
An Akure-based lawyer and rights activist, Charles Titiloye, has righty questioned some provisions intending to over protect the Amotekun agency. According to him, Section 35 which deals with pre-action notice of 30 days should be expunged.
The section states that “A suit shall not commence against the Agency unless 30 days written notice of intention to commence an action is issued to the Agency and it must include the particulars of the intending Claimant, details of the complaint and reliefs sought.”
Mr Titiloye, said the inclusion of 30 days pre-action notice before accessing court in Amotekun bill would be a violation of the rights of citizens to seek justice when Amotekun security agents violate their human rights.
“Amotekun is a security outfit whose action where its violates citizens’ fundamental human rights, should be actionable within 24 hours,” he said.
“This section on pre-action in Amotekun bill is in conflict with section 46 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria which allows unrestricted access to Court when fundamental Human rights of citizens are violated.”
He warned stakeholders to be careful not to create a security outfit that could not be challenged until after 30 days. He said Nigerian Police Act did not have such provisions which bar citizens from approaching the court within 30 days.
The unfettered powers of the government as stated in Section 14(4) to fire the Amotekun Corps Commander when it is in his opinion that his stay in office was no longer in the public interest is another grey area needing some surgical action of the legislatures. The Oyo State version of the bill reads: “The Oyo State Amotekun Corps Commander may be removed from office by the Governor if the Governor is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the public that he should continue to be in office.”
The Ekiti State branch of the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), has weighed into the discussions, suggesting that the agency should introduce a compulsory psychiatric test for the personnel as part of recruitment rules.
Its suggestion is based on the enormous powers vested on members of the group in the discharge of their duties.
The bar also said the idea became necessary in view of alleged the well documented abuse of powers by the security agencies, which had led to brutality, illegal detention and the killing of Nigerians. This position was articulated by the bar’s chairman, Ayokanmi Falade, who had made a submission to the house during its public hearing on it.
Mr Falade said section 19 of the Ekiti State Security Network Agency bill sent to the House spoke about qualification, but the issue of mental stability was not put into account.
“Under the interpretation of sections, arms should not mean firearms alone, it should also include axes, cutlasses and even stick. That I think would have been taken to into account before passage,” he also added.
Section 5(2) categorically states that “The Agency shall in the course of carrying out its duties, safeguard the human rights of every person as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and other relevant human rights instruments.”
However, voicing its reservations, a non-governmental organisation, Citizen’s Gavel, said certain provisions of the bill could compromise the rights of the citizens.
The group’s Team Lead, Nelson Olanipekun, warned that it would be of greater damage for Amotekun to evolve, only to contribute to the terrible human rights violations prevalent in the security sector.
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The group recommended that the Amotekun Bill made provisions for the punishments and other disciplinary measures that could be adopted, whenever there was a violation of human rights provisions.
He said Section 25 (12) (f) of the bill provides that “the complaint board should recommend its decision and any such action deemed fit and send its recommendation(s) to the Attorney General in respect of every complaint and request received.” The group argued that this reveals that the complaint board is not independent, as all its powers are subject to the ratification of the Attorney General of the State. “Thus, the complaint board is almost powerless.
To ensure that its personnel are people of credible characters, the bill provided that besides applying for enlisting in the corps, such persons would receive confirmation from the Divisional Police Officer in his Local Government Area of residence that he/she is of proven character and integrity and has no criminal records.
Such persons would also need to be endorsed by the Chairman of his/her Local Government Area of residence or the traditional ruler of the community where such a person resides.
Traditional rulers in Ondo State have also pressed for the close monitoring of the outfit to forestall abuses. Besides the provisions made for the eligibility for membership of Amotekun Corps, the traditional rulers want to have a role in endorsing individuals to be hired. They argue that it would be necessary for the traditional rulers to be able to identify their community members who would take up the security roles within their domain.
The Onigedegede of Igedegede, Walidu Sanni, whose palace was recently vandalised by suspected herdsmen, appealed to governors of the six states in the South-West to expedite action on the outfit.
He advised governors in the region to ensure that those recruited into the outfit serve only in their communities where they are familiar with the terrain. In his opinion, members of the group must be armed with modern weapons, saying this could be achieved if the governors apply for arms’ license from the federal government.
The knocks on the bill are salutary to the extent that they point vividly to the singular concerns of the citizenry. While people would appreciate the efforts of the security agency to protect their lives from being endangered by strangers, they would also need the assurances that the same security agency would not pose a similar danger to their normal lives. If these fears are adequately addressed in the final document, the people will certainly be at rest.