Amotekun: Majesty In Name Meets Right To Self-Defence By Babafemi Badejo

I lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for 11 years working for the United Nations on peace for Somalia. It meant I went into Mogadishu where I had earlier lived for two years (before the UN’s evacuation), on an as-needed basis.

It used to be nice to take my children and visitors to the Nairobi National Park and once or twice, drive as far as Massai Mara to view wild animals. But in all these efforts, I never saw Amotekun (leopard).

I wanted to record a close picture of majestic Amotekun in the wild but did not succeed. Of course, I knew there were some in captivity at the Nairobi park orphanage but I wanted the real thing. Not a tamed one.

Then came this Saturday early morning about 2003/2004. We had driven to Nakuru Park. As we entered, my camera on my laps in steady mode, and I talked on my obsession on wanting to see a leopard, four in quick succession passed right in front of the car.

They were majestic, with the cat purrs design on their furs allowing them to adapt easily. Much different from the spots of the cheetah and they don’t have the flowing tears of the cheetah either.

Amotekun lacks the speed of the cheetah. The four Amotekun were gone before I could pick up my steadied camera. I was over-awed.

We drove all over the park trying to figure out their path. No success. That was an end to one of the myths I had read about Amotekun to the effect that they are solitary. Here was a community of four.

Not until May 2009 while on an observation stop in Nairobi on my way from Johannesburg did a smart Massai guy take me right before a leopard lounging away in what appeared like sleep mode on a branch of a tree.

I visited the spot twice and it was there for me to snap as many photographs with my camera. It wasn’t yet the time of the ubiquitous smartphone.

This leopard that I saw in the vast Maasai Mara confirmed another characteristic of Amotekun. It is a stealth operator from dusk to dawn hunting for food, generally wandering around its territory that could be in the range of 25km or 75km radius.

A very strong animal that appears lazy and shy to many, Amotekun kills its prey at close quarters through suffocation. It does not engage in the rowdy brawl of a Lion.

It uses its brain to get close enough before pouncing giving the prey, another unlucky animal no chance.

I know that Yorubas pay attention to names. And I think the Southwest governors made a great choice in using the majestic but a specifically angry Amotekun as the insignia for the Western Nigeria Security Network apparatus.

Nigeria may be approaching dusk. Dusk for which there may not be a dawn if care is not taken.

Vicious attacks on the Southwest geopolitical zone (a convenient political terminology that has no constitutional status) of Nigeria in 2019 through maiming, kidnapping, killings and theft of property resulted in what’s called “Operation Amotekun”.

Amotekun, the Yoruba word for leopard, became the code name for Western Nigeria Security Network.

Under this arrangement, the six states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo came together to enhance their security in collaboration with the Nigerian security apparatuses.

On January 9, 2020, the states launched the popularly hailed and appreciated Operation Amotekun with a lot of fanfare

That the Nigerian security forces are overstretched is not in doubt. The Nigerian military forces are bogged down by Boko Haram in the Northeast geopolitical zone without any clear answer to the problem.

Nigeria has no longer been as forthcoming to participate effectively in United Nations peacekeeping operations – a source of stealing for a few Nigerian military and civilian leaders who divert UN payments on equipment and at times entitlements of soldiers.

The inability to cope resulted in collaboration with civilians in what is called Civilian Joint Task Force as well as an AU supported multinational joint task force bringing together Nigeria’s immediate neighbours to face Boko Haram.

Though the President Muhammadu Buhari government has done better in handling Boko Haram than its predecessor, the problem remains.

The police are understaffed and poorly equipped. During the defence of the security service’s 2019 budget, Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, informed us that understaffing was the main problem leading to the comical state of the Nigerian Police Force.

For him, there was also a problem of underfunding resulting in being under-equipped to fight crime. One police officer to 662 citizens, is grossly inadequate.

Comparative figures are Singapore with a ratio of 1:137; Egypt 1:186; South Africa 1:366; Norway 1: 188; USA 1: 298 and Canada 1:188. The United Nations suggests that the ratio should not be less than 1:400.

With such staffing inadequacy, little wonder that some states started self-help arrangements that have been on for over one and a half decades.

Twelve Muslim-dominant states of Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Gombe and Jigawa formed Hisbah for the enforcement of Sharia law. Some call them religious police.

They all operate some elements of vigilantism. In this day and age, they enforce the prevention of mixture of gender in public transportation, enforce dress codes, seize and destroy alcoholic drinks etc.

There are variations among them. Some, like in Kano and Zamfara, are based on state law and are funded by the state and some lack legal backing.

The Federal Government continues to keep quiet on challenging the constitutionality of any portion of Nigeria being under a separate and additional criminal law beyond the penal code.

Our constitution knows Sharia law and gives it equality with customary law, i.e, the focus is on the private affairs of individuals.

Of course, Hisbah continues to be in operation. They are expected to complement the police by informing when necessary leaving the police with arrests. But they do more in practice.

The inadequacy of policing in Nigeria did not stop with the complementary religious security arrangements in a constitutionally secular country.

Plateau State, under Governor Jonah Jang, collaborated with the Federal government and assisted by the UN, set up Operation Rainbow as a civil-military complementary arrangement that was aimed at minimizing insecurity in the State.

Though criticised, he continued till he left office with his successor showing less interest.

Even the Federal government itself contracted private companies to form pipeline surveillance security entities to reduce sabotage on the lifeline of Nigeria: petroleum oil and gas transported through pipelines.

So, it is a surprise that the Attorney-General of the Federation through a spokesperson on January 14, declared Operation Amotekun illegal, arguing the exclusive right of the Federal Government to provide security for Nigeria or any part of it.

This development has resulted in a lot of brouhahas. Does the interpreter of the law have the right to make such a pronouncement without a Federal Executive Council meeting to deliberate and reach a decision? Or is this simply cabal-style governance?

Is this statement of the Attorney-General not discriminatory? If it is, why the discrimination against a geopolitical zone that tallies with the Yoruba ethnic group by the Attorney-General?

Is it that what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander? And our constitution declares abhorrence for discrimination.

In my view, the Attorney-General is wrong in claiming backing of a Constitution this government has been trampling on by concentrating leadership of security and financial concerns largely in the Northwest and Northeast geopolitical zones at the expense of the remaining four zones.

As Governor Kayode Fayemi rightly pointed, Section 14 of the Constitution gives the duty to provide security to the government, which terminology the Constitution also defined as federal, state and local governments.

More importantly, the inherent right to self-defence has been an inalienable right of every human being at the individual level.

Russell on crime puts it aptly thus: “…a man is justified in resisting by force anyone who manifestly intends and endeavours by violence or surprise to commit a known felony against his person, habitation or property.

“In these cases, he is not obliged to retreat, and may not merely resist the attack where he stands but may indeed pursue his adversary until the danger is ended and if in a conflict between them he happens to kill his attacker such killing is justifiable…”

One of the things I learnt while I worked with the United Nations was that my security starts with me. I worked in war zones.

I was taught to constantly be observant of my environment and react without waiting for security officer colleagues to prevent my being harmed.

This lesson saved me from being bombed out of existence twice in Somalia (September 26, 1993, and May 1, 2005) and from being kidnapped once in Darfur in 2016.

So, if I have the first responsibility for my security, how can any Attorney-General tell me there is a portion of the Constitution that says Nigeria has the exclusive right to ensure my security?

After all, it is under this individual right of self-defence that I built a fence around my house and constructed security arrangements inside with which I lock myself up overnight like being in a prison.

Then, my house is situated within a housing estate that has many guards, including OPC that I contribute to pay for with the first contact with any government being the mobile RRS police that patrols.

If Lagos State wants to join others to further boost all my efforts, how can anyone tell me that they as Abuja people have an exclusive right on my security? No, definitely not so.

The fact is that my inherent individual right to self-defence is at the core of concentric circles of security.

The community development association and local government come next and a geopolitical zone defence network is welcomed to further assist before the Federal Government wakes up from slumber in the outer core.

That the inherent right to self-defence principle is not limited to the individual is well made under international law.

Section 51 of the UN Charter that gives member-states of the organisation that inherent right of self-defence easily comes to mind.

So, the Southwest governors have a right to collaborate among themselves and work with willing national security apparatuses to ensure the security of lives and properties in the territories under their respective control. Those who elected them into office expect no less.

Self-help by states and geopolitical zones in the face of a nonperforming central government is known to law.

If people build and maintain roads, if they generate electricity and provide water security, etc., as the sovereign state recedes to focus on supervising the stealing of national patrimony, how can a judge in his/her right senses deny the right to defend one’s life and property?

Such self-help is necessarily anticipatory. It includes the efforts to “be prepared” in the spirit of the Boys Scout’s motto.

Some Yoruba leaders are acrimonious that they were not consulted. Where were they at the height of the killings and kidnappings for ransom in the South-West? What did they do to ameliorate the development?

They were comfortable in Abuja and secured their fortresses moving all over with rented policemen who should have been part of the pool to tackle the problem but terrorised us with sirens.

They should not rub salt on the injury. They should suspend their respective ego-based hubris and join the fray on the popular demand of the people for security.

I read that some of the leaders in the Southeast indicated that the Southwest stole their ideas. Even if that were the case, it is time to engage in healthy competition and collaboration.

All should join hands with those in the northern parts of Nigeria who are nursing the same ideas of self-help and requiring assistance on implementation.

The focus now should be on providing knowledge on meeting implementation challenges as negotiations continue getting the Buhari government to operate based on reason.

Operation Amotekun has been launched. That is the status quo. Operation Amotekun should continue to design and operationalise itself in the South-West of Nigeria within the law. It should ally with similarly interested states of Nigeria in ensuring enhanced security.

By the way, security is more than carrying guns. Human security has been broadened to be a multi-dimensional enterprise.

Even in security qua security, there is so much on surveillance, application of modern technologies, sharing of knowledge in general and intelligence gathering that make the AK-47 redundant.

Operation Amotekun need not carry arms to be effective in enhancing the sense of security to allow people to once again feel safe to drive on our unmaintained so-called highways.

The AGF is weak on moral and legal grounds not to talk of politically. Even though this is a political issue, the Attorney-General should go to court if he likes.

However, since it is the style of the President to keep mum on top, then the governors should embark on the sensitisation of their electors on the options the South-West faces.

This is the time for these governors to demonstrate that they are leaders.

Badejo is a lawyer and one-time Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar