By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
No time in history has any government responded to the plight of their people than the courageous decision of governors of the South west region of Nigeria to set up the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named Amotekun Corps. The priority of any government should be how to secure the lives and property of the people. This surely explains the massive solidarity and support from the people for that commendable initiative, when everyone, young or old, male or female, politician or professional, progressives, activists, religious leaders, students, traditional rulers, etc, rallied round the governors, for the launch of the neighbourhood security outfit.
Few years down the line, the story of Amotekun has been largely successful. The initial attempt by the Federal Government to frustrate the outfit was resisted and it is commendable that the federal and state governments were able to harmonise the divergences in the overall interest of the people, leading to the stability of Amotekun. It is one area that President Muhammadu Buhari and the governors deserve commendation, but for the way the economy has ruined the little advantage gained thereby.
Under and by virtue of section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’ Thus, it is very clear that the main reason the government exists is for the good and safety of the people. Thus, anytime it becomes impossible for the government to guarantee the lives of its people, then that government has lost the purpose of its existence and should be scrapped. Nigeria has never been this challenged in the area of safety of lives and property.
The Boko Haram menace accounts for the main threat to the lives of our fellow countrymen in the North east, banditry threatens the North west, militants and criminals are seeking to overthrow the South east and South south, whilst cultists, touts and other criminals rear their ugly heads in the South west. Without any exception however, kidnappers, who are on rampage all over the country, account for the greatest threat to the lives of the people presently.
Nobody is spared, as even security and law enforcement agents are also victims. Judges who decide the fate of the kidnappers have been held hostage, lawyers who argue their cases are not spared and policemen who arrest, investigate and prosecute them have likewise been kidnapped. A ridiculous case was when a Divisional Police Officer was kidnapped and his friends, colleagues and family members had to raise money to pay the ransom being demanded for his release. An Army Captain was abducted right in the centre of the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna.
The kidnappers don’t even seem to fear God, as priests, pastors and imams have all tasted from their wickedness. It has gotten to such an alarming point that many people have become restricted to their geographical locations in their respective states, as was witnessed in the last Christmas and New Year holidays. Against all odds, Governor Ayodele Fayose signed into law, the anti-grazing law of Ekiti State and proceeded to implement it. Some herdsmen who tested his resolve were rounded up, tried and promptly convicted. That sent the right signal to the marauding herders, who thereafter embraced the law and have been at peace with the people of Ekiti thereafter.
In the absence of any amendment to the Constitution as promised by the National Assembly, it is suggested that states of the federation should establish their own security network or outfit, by whatever name called, for the protection of their people. Security is the business of all of us and it cannot be undertaken by the Federal Government alone. Section 214 of the Constitution has only established the Nigeria Police Force without specifying its powers or granting it any exclusivity in criminal matters.
Furthermore, section 4 of the Police Act, 2020 states that ‘The Police Force shall: (a) prevent and detect crimes, and protect the rights and freedoms of every person in Nigeria as provided in the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and any other law; (b) maintain public safety, law and order; (c) protect lives and property of all persons in Nigeria …” amongst others. Clearly from these provisions, there is no exclusivity granted to the Nigeria Police Force in relation to safety of lives and property to deter any State from establishing its own security outfit.
What the Constitution has prohibited in section 214 is that ‘no other police force shall be established for the Federation of Nigeria or any part thereof.’ Under the Exclusive Legislative List contained in the Third Schedule to the Constitution, Defence is listed as Item 17 whilst ‘police and other government security services’ is listed as Item 45. What this means is that any government, be it Federal or State or Local, is free to establish any other entity for security, peace, order or law enforcement, so long as it does not reflect the Name: Nigeria Police Force.
To buttress the above assertion, the National Assembly of Nigeria, on June 28, 2003, established the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, consisting of volunteers and regular members. The NSCDC Act in its section 3 (1) (a), vests the Corps with power to ‘assist in the maintenance of peace and order and also in the protection and rescuing of civil population in the period of emergency.’ In section 3 (1) (f), the Corps has ‘power to arrest, investigate and hand over to the Nigeria Police, for further investigation and prosecution, any person who is involved in any criminal activity.’
In May, 2007, the National Assembly amended the NSCDC Act, empowering the Corps to bear arms. It is my humble opinion that the National Assembly has by the NSCDC Act confirmed that policing, detection and prevention of crime, is not exclusive to the Nigeria Police Force. In 2016, Lagos State established the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps, for the purpose of gathering information about crimes, crime in progress, suspicious activities and crime suspects among other things, making available such relevant information on crimes, crime in progress, suspicious activities and crime suspects to the police or other security agencies that require it, putting structure in place to ensure that hoodlums and cult groups do not have the opportunity to operate, undertaking routine motorized patrols day and night, reducing the crime rate and ensuring that offenders are identified and made to account for their misdeeds, following up on arrest of offenders to the court and ensuring justice, timely reporting of suspicious activities and crimes in progress to the police or other security agencies and improving relationship between the police and the community as it concerns law enforcement and contributing to maintaining community peace. This has proved to be hugely successful in crime prevention and detection.
In 2018, the National Assembly again established the Peace Corps of Nigeria for the similar purpose of security and intelligence gathering but the Bill was not assented to by the President. However, the point has been made by that singular act of passing the Bill, that security is not exclusive to the Nigeria Police Force. Indeed, several States in Nigeria, have granted amnesty to cultists, bandits and other criminals, duly endorsed by the federal government, in order to achieve peace in those States. Some other States in the Federation have local law enforcement outfits, such as Hisbah, for the enforcement of their own local laws, to the knowledge and endorsement of the federal government. Invariably, state police has come to stay, even though it has not been officially accepted as such by the federal government and its agencies.
From the news monitored in the South-West region, the establishment of the Amotekun Corps has proved to be a huge success, even though there are lapses here and there, but there is no doubt that the yawning gap in the federal security architecture has been filled.
I had cause to travel round the States of the South-West towards the end of last year and I personally witnessed the effectiveness of the Amotekun Corps. Crime prevention is effective when there are sufficient mechanisms put in place to discourage or scare the criminals. Once there is the slightest risk of apprehension, resistance or exposure, the criminal would most likely think twice before executing any operation in the location where these mechanisms exist. In Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti States, the fear of Amotekun is the beginning of wisdom. They mount road blocks in strategic locations in order to assure the people of their safety, they offer security services to the people by way of escorts, vigilante services, surveillance and they display courage to stand up in situations that threaten the peace and security of the people.
In 2015, the All Progressives Congress released its Manifesto to all Nigerians, promising to ‘enable States and Local Governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’ The value of this pledge will be most relevant when the National Assembly eventually amends the Constitution to reflect the will of the people for state police. In most locations in the South-West today, there is a general sense of inclusiveness being expressed by the people with the presence of Amotekun Corps as they now have an alternative to the regular police and they partner and work with the local Amotekun Corps because most of their officials are indigenes of the local community, they are well known and people can relate with them easily. Cases of constant attack and reckless invasions have reduced substantially and this is commendable. The gains of this laudable initiative should be consolidated with a review of the enabling laws in order to bring them up to date with modern reality, avoid excesses and hold the officers of the outfit accountable.
*Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)