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Currency Of Rivers Neighbourhood Security Watch

In the wake of the launch by all six South West governments of the ‘Amotekun’ security initiative, has trailed an avalanche of reactions for and against the project. Last week, the governors of these South West states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo jointly launched a neighbourhood security platform code named ‘Amotekun’ (tiger in Yoruba), with  headquarters in Ibadan capital of Oyo State. Expectedly, the project enjoyed widespread acceptance in the host region and sympathisers outside it, among whom the reason for the initiative struck home. The sponsoring governors had cited the seeming incapacity of the establishment security apparatus in the country, namely the Nigeria Police Force and the military establishment. Their alibi is accentuated by the daily worsening state of insecurity across the country. On a daily basis, instances of kidnap for ransom, murders and other heinous crimes rankle Nigerians, right across the length and breadth of the country.

Just as well, there has also been some opposition to the initiative with the most potent salvo so far coming from the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), and who have also tied the aspirations of the South West to clinch the country’s presidential slot in 2023 to the Amotekun dispensation. In one vein the concern of the Miyetti Allah over the Amotekun is understandable given that much of the ongoing spate of criminality has been associated rightly or wrongly with Fulani pastoralists whose welfare MACBAN was established to protect. In another vein many observers fear that their grouse can mis-present them as benefitting from the challenge which Amotekun is intended to resolve. Meanwhile another group which came claiming northern origin, and which was initially, erroneously believed to be the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), expressed in strong terms its opposition to the Amotekun initiative. The group even added a threat to go to war if the Amotekun initiative is not shelved before the expiration of their 20th January 2020 ultimatum.

In any case, it is for good measure that the AYCF has dissociated itself from the war mongering group and its disturbing opposition, through a statement personally signed by its National President Yarima Shettima, dismissing the discredited opposition as a spurious creation which did not originate from its quarters. In fact, in its authenticated position, the AYCF commends the South West Governors for the Amotekun initiative and noted that it would even go a long way in promoting community policing in the zone. Shettima further clarified that as an advocate of community policing he supported the initiative and urged the northern governors to initiate a similar venture that will protect the north.

Meanwhile, a most disturbing dimension of the follow-up to the entire matter came when the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami ruffled feathers with his pronouncement that Operation Amotekun was an exercise in illegality. According to him, the project runs contrary to Nigeria’s laws. Malami had in a statement by his aide stated that the Constitution had established the military and police along with other security agencies to tackle the security challenges of the country, hence precluding the emergence of any other security apparatus. However, the weakness of his argument remains self-manifest as the sponsors of Amotekun never envisaged that it would displace the extant security agencies. Rather, the project would provide critical back-up for the latter, as circumstances may dictate.

In the interplay between proponents and opponents of the Amotekun dispensation, lies the fact that over time, various authorities across the country had established non-state security outfits, with varying responses trailing their advent. According to the investigation by a Nigerian newspaper, at least 23 states out of 36 operate one form of neighbourhood security platform or the other. And in each particular case, the response that trails the venture was often associated with perspectives that drew from the prism of Nigeria’s ethnically jaundiced political values.

For instance, within the reactions to Amotekun, comparisons arose between its advent and the establishment of similar outfits in various parts of the country, such as the formation of the Hisbah police in Kano in 2003, the coming up of the Bakassi Boys through Aba based Ibo traders in1998, the formation of the Civilian JTF in Borno and adjoining states of the North East of Nigeria who are contending with the scourge of insurgency and the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) in the South West; just to name a few. The fact that virtually all of these outfits emerged as responses to the failure of the extant establishment security agencies to do the job, largely vitiates whatever merit that may exist in opposition to the Amotekun dispensation. 

In a related context however, the Rivers State Government in 2018, launched its Neighbourhood Security and Safety Corps (Neighbourhood Watch agency), which advent raised hopes of some remediation of the state of insecurity in the state. The Nyesom Wike administration had conceived it with the endorsement of the statutory security establishment, and at a time of significant as well as peculiar security challenges in the state, which threatened the country’s all important oil and gas business. The project was however aborted by the Army in 2019, under circumstances that are still begging for clarification. For many Nigerians, the assault by the Army on the Rivers State Neighbourhood Watch was particularly disturbing as it was like killing a pet dog just by waking up and calling it a new, borrowed, bad name. Little seemed to have been thought of the promise in the circumstances of its advent, and the acute significance of its core mission. Hence, the undignified manner of its termination by the military, acting ostensibly on the basis of the proverbial orders from above, left a sour taste in the mouth. Here was a body that was duly established by a state government through the involvement of credible military and security establishment, coming to grief for reasons not connected in any way with any breach of the rules of engagement it shared with the security authorities.

Like other non-state security platforms across the country, it was conceived to serve as a response to the short comings of the establishment security agencies, through providing them with critical support in terms of credible intelligence and other logistics. Yet unlike most of them the Rivers State Neighbourhood Corps were not designated to bear arms, nor even prosecute anybody. Yet they were stopped.

As things stand now, the coming of the Amotekun dispensation at this time must be for good measure, as it accentuates the indisputable imperative for self-defense by everybody, in the context of the near run-away state of insecurity across the country. And in this respect, it is no exaggeration to contend that if there is any state in Nigeria that deserves a viable neighbourhood security platform, it is the Rivers State, for obvious reasons of protecting this hub of Nigeria’s all important oil and gas economy and thereby a critical factor in the country’s common patrimony.

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