The formulation of the “Operation Amotekun” security outfit in the Southwest region of the country has generated a bit of controversy, as I’m sure the governors of the region who came up with the idea must have anticipated. Some of the reactions have been interesting only because they’re particularly insightful in revealing different parties’ fears, motivations and mindsets.
Those accusing the Southwest governors of plotting secession are being wilfully ignorant of the demographic composition of the region and history because, as the Biafran forces discovered to their chagrin during the Civil War, minorities have a tendency to work silently to undermine a separatist movement that includes their land in its territory. That’s just good politics; better to all be under the hegemony of the federal military government than risk being under thumb of the largest tribe in the area.
Still others accuse the Southwest governors of creating an ethnic militia designed to hound certain ethnicities out of the region. This is the view that particularly tickles because it is reported to have come from an organisation (that many believe ought to be prefixed with terrorism) which has never bothered to defend itself against accusations of running an ethnic militia itself.
Anyway I have not heard any criticism of the security outfit that holds water or even represents a point of view that’s logical rather than emotional panic over a development they have not sought to fully understand. But this is allegedly a democracy where anyone (including your obnoxious writer) can say any damn fool thing they like so I’ll just stick to my constitutionally-provided target for security issues – the federal government – because I personally place the blame for all this hullabaloo squarely on the shoulders of the Buhari regime.
You Can’t Claim You Didn’t Know
I have previously hinted that self-defence groups will inevitably pop up around the country for the simple reason that people have no choice. It does not matter one bit what your ideal is, the promises and assurances of security agencies are 100% irrelevant, it does not even matter what the constitution says, the fact has always been as simple as this – when a great many are murdered with nary a protest, millions of Nigerians will vow not to go down quietly. Therefore, organised security was always going to happen for as long as the federal government proved itself incapable of performing its most primary duty.
This is precisely the reason why I find the reactions from different quarters protesting Operation Amotekun to be purely academic in nature. I’ve read nothing which addresses the fundamental truth that we saw this coming and yet took absolutely no steps to curtail it or, as I had advised in a previous article, to work with the people who would inevitably create their own security protection.
The failures of the Buhari regime in the field of security demand a whole series of articles by themselves but suffice to say that it is the FG’s unwillingness/inability (delete as appropriate) to bring a halt to the escalating insecurity which has now touched every inch of the country that has created the need for alternative solutions. Secondly, even a layman such as myself could see the inevitability of self-defence groups so it stands to reason that there are many among the security professionals who foresaw not just this, but many other scenarios as well. President Buhari’s failure to rejig his security personnel, while he probably believes he’s rewarding loyalty, he’s actually robbing himself of the ability to see.
But I must be a fool of an optimist because I can’t help but point out that there are still ways in which the federal government can salvage its reputation and indeed save the country from further disaster. They’ll probably never do it, but oh well.
So, what are the FG’s options? Let’s start with what they’re not.
Changing personnel is too little too late at this point because even if the president were to change all heads of security agencies (he won’t), the people of Nigeria are too wizened to be hopeful; instead they would just “wait and see.” And, from all the evidence we have seen of late, even when personnel are changed, they are replaced with those who still change nothing anyway. It’s like those Russian dolls where the one inside perfectly resembles the one it came out of.
Secondly, grand statements and military press releases of how many bandits have been killed in air raids, etc serve no purpose but to drive a wider chasm between the people and the security agencies. Here’s a quick tip to public relations officers: if the story isn’t personal, then it’s fiction. Harsh, but that’s the reality of the business.
Third, trying to keep Amotekun in line at this late stage is a fool’s errand. Your chance to affect its structure, composition and whatnot passed because you were living under a rock and/or didn’t listen to your analysts who foresaw this turn of events. The AGFs gaffe of declaring Amotekun illegal, and the subsequent public outcry which forced the FG to make a complete u-turn and now appear to be working with the Southwest governors, should be proof enough that this ship has sailed and the FG is allowed on the stage as a cameo appearance of a token character that everyone knows is completely irrelevant to the story.
First thing the FG must do, if it intends to win back trust and, by so doing, re-establish control over how national security will be administered going forward, is ridiculously simple – be proactive.
The presidency’s natural instinct will be to speak about buying arms, etc, but Nigerians are tired of money-spinning arguments and the FG would be well advised that the people require commitment on a level that they can believe in. Nigerians are tired of insecurity and the usual bluster turns them off instantly. A significant act which shows the FG is willing to put itself to pains for the sake of Nigerians is the surest way to get back trust and, with it, control. Lol yes, I know, that’s precisely why it’ll never be done, but I still make my recommendations regardless. So what change would I make?
I would break the Department of State Services (DSS) into 3 completely separate organisations. Yes, I know, it seems completely irrelevant at first glance, but hear me out.
One organisation would be solely for VIP protection.
Another would be strictly for intelligence gathering and analysis, without the powers of arrest or prosecution.
A third would be in charge of counter-espionage operations within the country’s borders. It’s pertinent to note that counter-espionage is not simply against spies of other nation-states but also spies of non-state-actors, a threat angle that appears more relevant these days than traditional counter-espionage.
I chose the DSS for a handful of reasons, not least because true police reform is a quagmire that will take the kind of political will I do not believe Maj-Gen Buhari (rtd) capable of conjuring up, not even in his final term. Secondly, restructuring the DSS will cause much less disruption than the police or military. But, more importantly, restructuring the DSS will reposition its new parts to be better placed to tackle the new security landscape. It will also create a window for federal officers to become embedded with outfits like Amotekun in their daily operations. As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, this is crucial in order for the FG to maintain some level of oversight on protection units and, when eventually the threats to national security die down and everyone can go back to their regular lives, the FG will have a reliable database on everyone who has potentially sensitive training.
Funny enough, it can probably be done without affecting sensitivities or even breaking political alliances. If done right, the newly-created agencies can be established in such a way that they become examples of how security agencies should be run. After all, a large part of the fears people have expressed over the setting up of state police forces is that we will simply move from having one large despot to having 36 mini despots, a not-unreasonable argument. But, like I keep saying, the FG needs to get proactive if it is to have any control over how these organisations will be formed. Even in the case of state police, a proactive FG can create the framework that will be first employed and, in that way, help ensure a level, corruption-free, playing field for all. After all, when state police is eventually formed, its members are not going to drop out of the sky; first right of refusal will always go to those who have already dedicated their energies and risked their lives for the security of the state. These men and women will have already garnered experience and gotten used to a modus operandi that will then, inevitably, become infused as the culture of the state police.
In conclusion, it has been inevitable for a long time now that groups across the country would create their own protection units. The only question was what form it would take and if the FG would put itself in a position to work with the people or just muddy up the waters by throwing a tantrum in it. There is still a lot I would like to know about Operation Amotekun – scope of responsibilities, modus operandi, rules of engagement, hierarchy, even just what shape it will take – before I can make any kind of definitive conclusion on it. But the one thing I stand up to applaud the Southwest governors for is coming together to implement it. Every other group clamouring for their own protection units would do well to imitate the inclusivity exemplified by the coming together of 6 governors, not all of whom are from the same political party.