Amotekun and the North’s fears By Lasisi Olagunju
(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 13 January, 2020).
Amidst ruffled feathers, south-western states of Nigeria took their destiny in their hands and launched their Amotekun on Thursday. The Yoruba people know that a madness that takes years figuring out how to be naked will never dance in the marketplace. They have seen the king’s selective potency – and his selective impotence. They also see criminal sticks blinding the unwary in other places everyday without consequences. Igi ganganran má gún mi l’óju…is a proverb that commands the Yoruba to be proactive in combating threats. Two weeks ago, suspected Fulani herdsmen killed many in a village in Kogi State. The president issued a condolence statement condemning the killings and reprisal killings. Last week, ‘unknown gunmen’ murdered many in Plateau State. The president issued a condolence statement condemning the killings and reprisal killings. Instead of having their arms in slings, the Yoruba, with Àmòtékùn, have decided to fold and carry them on their heads.
Someone asked why Nyesom Wike’s Neighbourhood Watch was not allowed to live while Operation Àmòtékùn was launched with drums and flutes. That person should not have asked that question. The territorial and psychological terrains are not identical. You teach other people how they will treat you and get what you condone. Really, there were initial fears – and feelers – that the Federal Government would stop the launch of that operation. But it backed off. Why? Forbes’ Margie Warrell said when you own your worth and tell your truth yourself, you won’t settle for less than you deserve – and even the most inveterate enemy would know his boundary with you. Besides, for the Yoruba people of western Nigeria, power resides in the streets, not in the palace. Once the Yoruba people buy into an idea, it becomes a moving train for even the king’s greed to halt. Wheelbarrows of politics do not cross the pathway of the Yoruba resolve. That was why politicians and other powerful insiders who loathed the Àmòtékùn initiative could not come out clearly to oppose it. They knew they had their thrones of respect and relevance and stability to lose once they are shown fiddling with treachery. It is a fatal charge.
The Nigerian security architecture was constructed to serve all the Nigerian people equally, harassing none, favouring none. But that has not always been the case. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi in 2003 conceptualized the Nigerian military of 1966 to 1999 as an unusual case of regional/ethnic militia. He said the security forces served the interest of the Hausa/Fulani with the unapologetic mindset of ethnic militias. That was a very deep and unflattering verdict rooted in facts. History is there to lecture anyone who disagrees with this. A lot of fundamental changes, post-1999 and pre-2015, were to later change that orientation. But what is the situation today? Buhari’s deliberate mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity has reversed every gain made in having security as a common national patrimony and asset. We are back to the pro-North prejudices, the narrow-mindedness and the impunity of 1966 to 1999.
The choice of code, totem and emblem of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) should tell its import. Leopard is Yoruba’s emblem of power – and protection and victory. Leopard’s fearful symbolism extends to a people’s triumph over the wild. A prancing leopard in full flight and charge is reacting to an existential threat. What we are seeing is a common sense of deprivation and insecurity fostering ethnic nationalism. I learnt certain northern interests were alarmed that the Yoruba governors spoke with one voice. There is a problem where some people feel that unity of purpose should be a monopoly enjoyed only by their clan. In a piece titled ‘The Nigeria which is not at war’, Stanley Meialer in ‘Africa Report’ of January 1, 1970 quoted then Colonel Abba Kyari, Governor of now defunct North Central State, as saying that “being divided into separate states would not prevent people from thinking alike.” The suggestion the writer got from the Kyari thesis was that “if the Muslim Hausas and their Fulani rulers are ever threatened by an outside force, their states could easily unite into a Muslim state almost as powerful as the old Northern Region.” The west just did that with Operation Àmòtékùn.
I have read online some Kogi, Kwara Yoruba asking how they could key into the Àmòtékùn initiative. Someone from Kwara State, in lamentation, asked why his state was not ‘Amotekunised.’ I wanted to tell him that the history of his state is the reason for its not being a leopard but a prey to big cats. That history is a spur from the frantic moves we are seeing up north against the western security outfit. But there is really nothing the North can do about it. In 1999, the North pushed forward a retired Major and ex-Military Intelligence Officer, Sagir Mohammed, to launch what they called Arewa People’s Congress (APC). The aim, Sagir announced then, was “to protect and safeguard the interest of the North wherever it is.” It was the North’s reaction to what it thought was its loss of decades of power and privilege. The South, that time, noted the right of the North to protect its interest. Nobody killed their APC – it ran its course unmolested by the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo.
And, in fairness to the Buhari presidency, it may be rabidly pro-North in colour and texture; it may have, with arrogant greed, warehoused all the security chiefs and chiefdoms in Buhari’s part of the country, but it has restrained itself from speaking out publicly against the latest effort of the Yoruba to protect themselves. A husband that has abdicated the bed chambers cannot be heard complaining about his wife’s self-help. Buhari may have heard the national president of the Northern Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Alhaji Isah Abubakar, urging him to kill the leopard birthed in the South’West last week but he has not heeded the call. The president heard the man as he declared that “Amotekun is no different from Boko Haram and IPOB in their formative stages.” But Buhari is wise; he has not seen an enemy in a friendly, self-help construct. The president has ignored the northern youths’ charge that the “Nigeria Police, DSS and Army shouldn’t take this (Amotekun launch) lightly with the governors of the South-West.” We hope he maintains his wise distance – and silence.
And the Yoruba are not finding it funny that the Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore through its national secretary, Alhassan Saleh, is reminding them that the Fulani would “fight back” because they have their “own defence mechanisms” and that they “fight injustice anywhere, not only in Nigeria.” It is funny that some people could flaunt their history of battles without reminding themselves that the object of their threat has a history of wars and victories too. Those who launched Àmòtékùn have not said they did it because of the Fulani. So far, what we’ve heard from them is that the project would combat crimes, criminals and criminality in the South-West within the provisions of the law. Did these characters listen to Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi’s explanation that “Àmòtékùn is a complement that will give our people confidence that they are being looked after by those they elected into office.”? It is very abnormal to hear “innocent” outsiders wail because someone has decided to fortify his family house against murderous burglars and kidnappers.
How much of impotence can a marriage suffer? When really should enough be enough? The Nigerian people from Katsina to Borno, through Benue to Lagos and Port Harcourt are tired of reading daily condolence messages from the president. He was not employed to eat, pick his teeth and fly about in fanciful fare. He was chosen primarily as the Chief Security Officer, not as chief undertaker and condolence giver. I know the president is old, frail and lacks digital skills but he has aides who should show him what even his Katsina people post daily as comments and reactions to his condolence messages. They wail in uncontrollable frustration. They complain that he does not speak to their own pains and deprivations. They say criminals have virtually wrenched the levers of their state from the state. They wonder why death is cheap and security is impotent. They dream daily of a past of peace and security and slim prosperity. They wish that their own governor would rally others around to copy the Yoruba initiative and stop feting murderers.
But let no one in western Nigeria go to sleep, thinking and believing that this Operation Àmòtékùn is a gbogbonse, a cure-all. Without the backing of all, it may turn out an overrated balm for a helpless people’s trauma. Even if the operation will work, the governors and other stakeholders should let history be their anchor – and guide. The Àmòtékùn exponents have history to fear if they won’t fall, fail and be shamed by friends and foes. Faced by threats similar to what the Yoruba of today contend with in Nigeria, Alaafin Oluewu called an all-Yoruba warriors council meeting in about 1825 to shake off the yoke of the rampaging Fulani. War chiefs and warriors came with enthusiasm from everywhere and war was levied. But what was the result? Treachery, fired by rivalry and contests for power, rooted the Yoruba out of victory and peace. They lost Oyo Ile and Ilorin forever – not to the treachery of Afonja of about 1813 but to the intrigues of that Fulani – Yoruba war of 1825 -1826 where battlefield sabotage delivered victory and the head of that Alaafin to the Fulani.
We wait to see how this slim, rasping leopard goes about its snarling flight – and its growling prance against the enemy.