Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka and Kemi Olaitan in Ibada.
Following controversies that have greeted the setting up of Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), code-named ‘Operation Amotekun’, the federal government said last night it was analysing the development and would make its position known soon.
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, in a terse text message to THISDAY hinted at the fact that the federal government was yet to take a position on the matter.
But the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) advised the South-west governors and other drivers of Amotekun to publish the operation manual of the security initiative, a move it said would clarify all grey areas about its constitutionality.
Nonetheless, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) declared their support for the security initiative by the South-west governors, saying they have upheld the constitution of the country.
The leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) commended the South-west governors for seizing the initiative to protect their people, unlike their South-east counterparts.
On its part, the Northern Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN) faulted the creation of Amotekun in the South-west, claiming it is not different from the outlawed IPOB and can be described as the military wing of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).
Sharing the concerns of the Northern youths, herdsmen and cattle rearers in the South-west also cautioned against deploying Amotekun as a tool for persecuting the Fulani people in the region, saying while the initiative is a welcomed development, it should not be targeted at the Fulani in the region.
Malami, asked his views on the launch of the security initiative, stated in the text message to THISDAY, “It is about analysing the scope of the functions of Amotekun within the constitutional spirit of exclusive legislative list or otherwise.”
Asked further if the federal government was going to make its position known soon on the development and, perhaps, clarify the grey areas, his response was short and straight to the point: “Yes, please!”
But the President of NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), said it was important to understand the modus operandi of the security outfit to decide whether it was constitutional. Usoro said the constitutionality of the group would be determined by how it works.
“Are they going to bear arms like the Nigeria Police? Are they a parallel police? Or are they simply like local vigilantes. What are their powers? Do they have power of arrest?” these were Usoro’s concerns.
He was quick to add that the issue of power of arrest was not a big deal, because any individual could arrest an offender and hand him or her to security agents.
According to him, “It would be nice to know, how are they going to work. What is their modus operandi? How are they going to complement existing law enforcement agencies, because there also has to be collaboration between them and the security outfit? It is when one knows all these that one can talk about whether there is an infraction of the constitution.”
Usoro said if the new security initiative was to tackle armed robbery, kidnapping and banditry, the issue of whether they would be allowed to carry arms had to be addressed.
“Currently, those people who are permitted to carry arms are the regular security outfits or officials that we know. Otherwise they would require a licence to carry arms. How are they going to tackle robbery, banditry and kidnapping? Those are the issues one needs to look at.”
Usoro also said there should be a document spelling out the powers of the security outfit and that such document should contain the framework under which the organisation would work.
He said, “It is when you have such a framework, and not by words of mouth, that you will know what their powers are,” noting that the organisation’s framework should be published to enable the public determine whether their power is consistent with the provisions of the constitution.
“Very importantly, one must state here that the insecurity in the land is creating the need for the establishment of groups like this. I think it puts pressure on the federal government to scale up its effort to ensure security across the country,” Usoro said.
A foremost Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Malam Yusuf Alli, said there was nothing wrong with the decision of the South-west governor to establish Amotekun, because according to him, what the constitution forbids is establishment of a private army.
Alli said regarding the security outfit, “They are not setting up a police force or an army. They are not setting up either the police or any of the armed forces the – army, navy or air force. What the constitution prohibits is private army.
“It is a matter of addressing the kind of security challenge the country faces. From what I have read about Amotekun, it is going to be constituted by security men, uniformed security men, both police and soldiers and others.
“Besides, our society has come to terms with the establishment of vigilante groups. They can be found in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. Nobody has ever said that vigilante is a replication of either the police or the military.”
Another SAN, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, came down hard on critics of Amotekun and accused them of playing the ostrich.
Akintola, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, said rather than condemn the South-west governors for the initiative, they should be commended for upholding the constitution of the land that they sworn to.
He said the primary duty of any president or governor as enshrined in the Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, was the protection of lives and property, stating that what the South-west governors did with the launch of Operation Amotekun is to further enhance the security of the region.
Akintola said the governors, by the initiative, were concerned with reducing the spate of kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery in their states. He maintained that Operation Amotekun was in line with the constitution and more or less not different from Sharia Police and Hisbah in the North-west states of Kano, Sokoto and Jigawa.
He said with the locals as the main elements of Operation Amotekun, they would be familiar with their terrain and be able to fish out the criminals in the community, insisting that this would go a long way in reducing crime in the region.
The senior lawyer added that most of the governors had continued to commit huge fund to the Nigeria Police through buying of vehicles and other needs, insisting that it would now be out of place to accuse the South-west governors of planning to have state police through the back door by launching the regional security outfit.
He stated, “The launching of the regional security outfit, Operation Amotekun, by the South-west governors is in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Primarily, Section 4 provides that the duty of the President or governor is the protection of life and property, which the governors have done with the initiative.
“For those playing the ostrich with the security outfit, they are just being mischievous as Operation Amotekun is certainly not different from Hisbah and Sharia Police in the North-west such as Kano State, Jigawa State and Sokoto State. So, rather than accuse the governors of flouting the constitution with the launching of Operation Amotekun, they should be lauded for doing the needful in the interest of the people of the South-west region.”
Corroborating Akintola’s views, Mr. Olu Daramola, also a SAN, said with the launch of Operation Amotekun, the governors had only exercised part of the power given them by the 1999 Constitution. He said it was a step in the right direction.
“It is a right step. I commend the governors of the South-west for coming together to take this vital step to protect the region. The 1999 Constitution backs them on this and the new outfit can be seen in the form of community policing,” he said.
Also, making further clarifications on Amotekun, one of the stakeholders who didn’t want his name in print, told THISDAY that the idea of regional security came up when the Inspector-general of Police visited the South-west over the state of insecurity in the region last year.
According to him, “The IG was part of it, when this idea was raised in the meeting he had with South-west leaders and governors. When misinformation about the whole idea started trending, the IG called to ask what it was all about and we told him it was the security idea we discussed with him when he visited South-west.
“Amotekun is going to be led by the Police. There will be no OPC involvement. It is a regional security force to be controlled by the police with support from the military, if need be. Nobody will subscribe to what Gani Adams is saying about the OPC involvement. OPC was never part of it.”