Romancing Hisbah, Civilian JTF…

PERHAPS, since the mid 90s, when the military government denied the late Chief MKO Abiola his freely given mandate to lead Nigeria, no other socio-political development has united the people of the region as the issue of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), Amotekun, which governors of the six states of the region are pushing. Each of the six states has identified with the project superficially one way or the other. Besides, the ordinary Yoruba people across the six states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun have unanimously thrown their weight behind the scheme. This can be seen in the overwhelming show of support across all social media platforms as well as solidarity rallies against the oppositions by the powers-that-be.

The contention of many political analysts is that the Federal Government has simply politicised the Amotekun narrative, by disparaging the arrangement both covertly and overtly. Days back, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, declared the scheme illegal, even without offering any explanation on why he held the opinion. Many observers were quick to point at the unseen hand of President Muhammadu Buhari in that statement. Even as the president has not made any personal statement on the development, the events following Malami’s press release days later were to confirm the suspicion of the analysts.

On Monday, January 21, a group of Fulani herdsmen went on a private television, campaigning against Amotekun and insulting the people of Yorubaland, describing them as primitive for taking the step to secure their region through the initiative.

The group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, speaking through its National Secretary, Alhassan Saleh, on a programme of Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily,’ defended its earlier statement that Amotekun would cost the South-West geopolitical zone the 2023 Presidency if it did not back off the project.

“It is not blackmail. Unfortunately, with very strong apology to my South-West friends, despite the education of the Yoruba people, they still remain the most primitive in terms of politics. They are not tolerant of opposition. And if you allow them to have an ethnic army, definitely, there would be fear from Nigerians.

“We know what happened in Lagos during the last elections. The Igbo were denied voting and the oba even threatened to throw them in the lagoon. So if you now have a Yoruba ethnic militia, what do you think will happen?” he said.

But confronted with the question of Hisbah and Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) operating in the North, Saleh claimed they were backed by the law, asking the Federal Government not to allow Amotekun to operate.

“Hisbah is legal because it is backed by law. That is clearly different from what you have now as Amotekun,” he said.

This is the question on the lips of many Nigerians of Yoruba ethnic stock now: How can Hisbah be legal and Amotekun illegal? It is also noteworthy that neither President Buhari nor the Presidency had caution the leadership of Miyetti Allah over many people described as unwarranted vitriol and invectives it poured on the Yoruba people.

The following day, as a rally, “Amotekun Solidarity Walk,” at the instance of Yoruba World Congress (YWC) to protest Malami’s description of Amotekun as illegal was about to take place, the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Lagos venue of the event was taken over by the police and the protesters prevented from gaining entrance.

Similar development occurred in other states of the South-West on that day. In Ogun, armed operatives of the police, Department of State Security Service (DSS) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) positioned themselves at the Panseke venue of the rally. The Yoruba Youth Congress (YYC) was coordinating that area. The rally, however, held eventually.

The scenario was different at the Remembrance Arcade venue of the walk in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. Hundreds of people converged and listened to encouraging words of their leaders. In Akure and Ondo town, Ondo State; Osogbo, Osun State and Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti state, the rally also held. This is why many have been throwing posers to the Lagos State government: Who gave the police the order to stop the rally in Lagos?

Security is local

During the week, a new twist got added to the narrative. A former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, who many had accused of conspiratorial silence over the matter, finally broke his silence in a statement some described as diplomatic. In the statement, he essentially called on governors of the South-West to dialogue with Malami, saying that those trying to stop Yoruba people on their mission and the Yoruba people appearing recalcitrant in the struggle need to be cautioned both.

“In this matter, I do not see malign intent in the differences of opinion between South-West governors as authors of Amotekun and the attorney-general as the primary law enforcement officer of the Federal Government. Shorn of the overly dramatic language, what lies before us is but a step in the evolution of our federalism. This is an opportunity to more clearly define that federalism; but one cannot attain this better, more functional definition through overblown, emotional language. Objectivity and calmness are required.

“Until now, I have deliberately maintained a studied silence regarding Amotekun. Many have tried to goad my swift public reaction. Those who have taken this road did so not because they care about Amotekun or even the people it intends to help protect. They did so knowing this had become a delicate and emotional issue for many. These cynics did so with the adversarial hope that, in haste, I might misspeak or misstep in a manner they could twist to their political advantage.

“This matter cannot be resolved on the pages of newspapers or by attributing negative motives to either side. The best way to resolve this is still for the two sides to enter private discussions. Either the governors should seek an official but private meeting with the attorney-general, or the attorney-general can initiate the contact. Since Amotekun is their initiative, the governors bear the greater onus in seeking the meeting.

“The meeting will initiate further discussion on how to resolve what appears to be a misunderstanding caused by an unfortunate lack of communication. Remedy the gap in communication and the misunderstanding will begin to disappear.

Last, I again stress to well-intentioned Nigerians to shun those who employ heated language to inflame emotions. It does us no good to rush toward exaggerated statements that suggest calamity of the highest order. Don’t allow yourselves to be fodder for those who seek to divide us.

“The fabric of the Republic has not been put at stake by Amotekun. However, that fabric could be torn by the dangerous rhetoric of those who should know better. Those claiming that this limited, inoffensive addition to security threatens the Republic have taken themselves upon a madcap excursion. Those claiming that the Federal Government seeks to terribly suppress the Southwest have also lost their compass. Those who occupy these two extremes have sunken into the dark recesses of fear and political paranoia that can undo a nation if such sentiments are allowed to gestate,” parts of Senator Tinubu’s statement read.

However, public commentators have been asking Tinubu what the people of South-West are going to dialogue with Malami over.

A social media commentator, Deji Bobade, said: “I’m at a loss over this issue of dialogue; dialogue in respect of what to achieve what? Is it 2023 or something else? If it is about Amotekun, who do we need to dialogue with? Who dialogued with the Yoruba when Hisbah et al were set up in the North?

“Amotekun is local. Security is local. With all due respect to Tinubu and all he stands for and has achieved, he has not said anything with this his release; he has only played safe.”

Other commentators have also insisted that initiatives such as Hisbah, the Youth Vanguard in Borno State, Civilian JTF, among others are some of the local steps taken by different communities in the North to secure their spaces.

Security is traditional

Furthermore, supporters of the Amotekun initiative have put forward the argument that security is also traditional. They are quick to add that the bulk of the personnel of the outfit consist of arrangements that are already traditional to Yoruba people. These include groups like the Agbekoyas, local hunters, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Yoruba Koya and other such.

It was even conceded that they might be harmed with not more than the locally made guns used by the local hunters as well as traditional amulets

Speaking on the matter, an Ibadan-based sociologist, Dr Oludayo Tade, said the initiative was meant to deploy local and traditional intelligence gathering to help in securing the communities.

“The ‘hard targets’ (victims of crimes) are now harmonising their differences and annexing resources against kidnappers, armed robbers, rustlers and criminal herdsmen, based on geographical proximity and inter-twined borders. It was against this unpleasant background that Operation Àmòtékùn was birthed.

“The operation seeks to utilise the locals for intelligence gathering and performing complementary policing with the use of traditional mechanism of social control. The thinking is simple: Since all crimes are local, local remedies can be effective in preventing and eradicating them,” he noted.

Speaking further, Oludayo examined the security initiative within the context of religion and ethnicity.

“One thing that has come out clear from the Àmòtékùn discourse is that both Abrahamic religious adherents support it. This is not strange. Landlord associations, which have Muslims and Christians mainly as members, hire night watchmen (olode) who have charms to protect them.

“When confronted with matters of life and death, we all realise that there are certain traditional powers which historically have been used to protect kingdoms, but which modernisation and the imperialists have described as fetish.

“When fully operational with domestic laws backing its essence, Àmòtékùn will watch over the Western cities and utilise traditional means to boost social control in the region. Hunters, vigilante organisations, traditional rulers and others have come under one umbrella to make this work.

“Trust is important and the incentives of the Àmòtékùn operatives must not be less than the minimum wage. On one hand, the Àmòtékùn discourse has shown that the secured and the insecure peoples are confronted with different realities and that those opposed to the initiative are themselves known leopards who cannot change their religious, ethnic and politics spots that impede progress.

“On the other hand, it has shown the strength in togetherness and the unalloyed backing which the governors have received from their people. With Amotekun watching over the Western cities, only the transgressors and backsliders shall be torn to pieces, while the saints and conformists flourish,” he said.

Though the Federal Government and governors of the six South-Western states have come to an agreement over how the initiative should be handled, Nigerians have not stopped wondering what difference there are between Amotekun and other similar out fits in the North.