Amotekun: The leopard that should change its spots

As announced mid-2019, the South West’s response to the abduction and farmer-herder crises has been crystallised into Operation Amotekun.

Amotekun is the Yoruba word for leopard, perhaps a derivative of the word ekun (tiger). Amotekun is domiciled with the DAWN (Development Agenda for Western Nigeria) commission. Formally known as the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), Operation Amotekun was conceived as a synergy among the six Yoruba states and is aptly christened as a network.

It is the conventional wisdom, that the state governors’ moniker of chief security officer of the state is a misnomer if they really cannot control the security apparatus of their enclaves. I agree with this but as I have argued, the time for state-owned police outfits is not now. A regional unit might be a bit more desirable. That is the semblance of what the WNSN is.

But I believe that is the only thing to say for it. So far one is not impressed with the whole set up. I am first of all worried about the legality of the whole affair. Security is the exclusive preserve of the federal government, therefore the next president could wave it to oblivion if he is not as disposed as the incumbent who gave it his blessing in principle. This is the only reason, the Nigeria police force has not been antagonistic, and however, they have warned the ‘officers’ against carrying automatic weapons [guns]. They should not carry any weapon at all.

With police stray bullets still flying indiscriminately in many parts of the country at irregular intervals, many have argued that the police should not carry guns or use rubber bullets and tasers, even the current inspector general agreed. If this demand can be made of the federal police, then this new outfit should not even hold a knife. By the way, what is Operation Amotekun out to address? Is it an intelligence agency or an enforcement one?

We have not been given details of the unit’s terms of reference. That should be the most important piece of information out there. Everything takes shape with the organisation’s raison d’etre. Apprehend criminals or infiltrate criminal operations and enclaves for further action by the State Security Service (SSS) and police? Let me attempt to answer. If the purpose is to apprehend criminals then Amotekun is just as powerful as any other civilian who has the power of arrest. A group of individuals can overpower a criminal and hand him over to the police or indeed a brawny individual can perform this task. Thus, it would have been needless to establish a specialized outfit especially as it is illegal to carry weapons of subduing criminals beyond the dane guns which are believed to be the exclusive preserve of hunters. Shall the members of Operation Amotekun, therefore, be considered as glorified hunters?

If the purpose is however for intelligence, then there was no need for the 120 brightly-coloured pick-up trucks, motorcycles, and uniforms meant for the men (and women?) of the Amotekun. If indeed that is the major term of reference, Operation Amotekun has begun on a shaky note. One would expect the sponsors to look at best international practices and imitate them e.g. the CIA, MI6, etc. We would only need to know that the organisation has begun to exist, that the headquarters are located in Ibadan and that it is a network of six states. The rest of the work would be done in the background in conjunction with the police, the NSCDC, and the SSS.

Unfortunately, Amotekun’s modus operandi is not even going to make it efficient. There is going to be a haphazard payment structure. Just as I have argued before, state governors might not be able to pay state police officers. It has already been stated that each state will fund the troops in its state and the [financial] capacity of each state will determine the size of its troops. Hence we can assume that Ogun and Lagos states (with the biggest IGRs and more robust economies of the six) would be able to hire more ‘troops’ even if their internal security status demand less. Osun and Ekiti which might need more manpower would be handicapped by their more humble wherewithal. I don’t think any organisation, let alone a security one, can function and be efficient with such an amorphous setup.

Training is also a big issue. I suspect now that the WNSN is meant for active crime-fighting, hence the leopard, which is very ferocious in protecting its territory. However, whether for intelligence or for visible police action, the quality of training is critical to the level of efficiency of the officers. This is one of the mundane things we are still dealing with in the Nigeria police force. We can’t get results when the criminals are smarter than the system. This time the Nigerian leopard must wear new spots — get the important things right!

Getting important things right also means recruiting the right personnel. Not those who are out for blood, or for revenge using the instrumentality of this initiative. Security is more important than that. In that vein, the importance of proper remuneration must be emphasized. I am not for the adhoc payment plan of individual states — it is a recipe for failure. The governors say they will pay above the minimum wage — excellent. Let that pay be good enough and consistent. Do not owe salaries — it is a terrible thing to do! As I had recommended a minimum of one hundred thousand naira for the police before, I would also recommend now that the officials or ‘troops’ should not get below fifty thousand naira with life insurance.

I do hope this time that the leopard would really wear new spots with recruitment. To start with, ensure that all operatives are at least bi-lingual fluent in Yoruba (the region’s vernacular) and English. This does not mean only Yoruba should be employed. There are so many non-Yoruba speakers of the Yoruba language. Then, it is necessary that the operative be computer literate. Policing has become a technological affair and cannot be left in the hands of the unlettered. It is even a surprise that there is no website yet. Operatives should work in real-time. This is how efficiency can be guaranteed.

It is necessary that the governors convene a group of security experts to work out the fine details for this initiative. One hopes Operation Amotekun would be a truly professional outfit that would not be tools in the hands of politicians, especially during elections. For twenty years now, every advantage has been sought and used to get an edge of rivals in the political space. A fighting force or intelligence unit, Operation Amotekun can be used to a governor’s heart’s content against political rivals. The day that happens will be the end of the venture.

Security is the first order of the business of governance and it is everybody’s business. No serious economic activity can thrive in an unsafe zone — ask the people of Maiduguri or the distraught people of troubled Middle Eastern countries. It is therefore sensible for any well-intentioned citizen to hope for the success of Operation Amotekun — barring any legal rigmarole. But most important is that the old ways of doing things must be abandoned. The leopard must change its spots.

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