This week, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the end of the civil war. Going through the various commentaries in the mass and social media, the reality we face as a nation is that the bitterness and recriminations remains very strong. The reason is obvious, Nigeria has not addressed the issues related to perceptions of injustice that led to the war in the first place. These include the lack of balance and equity of our federal system, manipulating numbers in relation to the 1962/63 census, ethnic and religious bigotry, electoral fraud in 1964 and above all the reckless use of the powers of incumbency to marginalize or to discriminate against the other. The two key issues that have dominated the news this week show elements of related injustice similar to what obtained half a century ago.
The first is the decision of the Federal Government to declare the regional security outfit, Amotekun, formed by states in the South West geopolitical zone as illegal.Governors in the region had announced the formation of the regional paramilitary outfit last week saying that it was being established to complement the work of the Nigerian Police. Amotekun was launched in Ibadan at an event attended by political and traditional leaders across party lines from the South West. On Tuesday however, a statement from the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, stated that establishing the organisation “runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law.”
The minister argued that security “is a matter that is within the exclusive operational competence of the Federal Government of Nigeria. He added that:“No other authority at the state level, whether the executive or legislature has the legal authority over defence.” The argument he made was that military and paramilitary outfits to defend Nigeria and its citizens are determined by the Constitution so “no State Government, whether singly or in a group has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organization or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts.” The Minister of Justice then warned the state governments establishing Amotekun that the law will take its natural course in relation to excesses associated with organization, administration and participation in “Amotekun” or continuous association with it as an association”.
The establishment of the organisation was public knowledge and the organisers have told the world that federal security agencies had been both informed and invited. Why then did the Minister wait for the outfit to be inaugurated before making his position public? What is even more interesting is the language of the minister shifting from security that the organisers have been talking about to defence of territory. Its important to recall that the Constitution designates State Governors as the chief security officers of their States so it is difficult to make the argument that they have no role in security matters affecting their States.
Apparently startled by the statement, the chairman of the South West Governors Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, has said there is no going back on the operation of the regional security agency, Amotekun, which they are prepared to pursue to its logical conclusion. Governor Akeredolu emphasised that the governors of the region were committed to improved security provisioning and are particularly keen to address the rising wave of banditry, kidnapping and farmers and herders’ clashes. The stage is therefore set for a major confrontation between the Federal Government and the South West States.
The problem for the Federal Government is that for decades, States have been setting up security agencies and had never been challenged. The Attorney-General did not speak to this fact in his statement and what Nigerians want to know is why he is now speaking when there is a regional approach by the South West. According to Thisday (13 January 2010) so far, 23 States in the country have established security outfits of their own before the emergence of Operation Amotekun. The examples they include are as follows.
In April 2018, Kaduna State established a security outfit known as the “Kaduna State Vigilance Service” to assist security agencies to tackle criminality.The Sokoto State Government also established a local security outfit called “Yan Banga,” which operates in almost all the villages in the state to track criminals and hand them over to security agencies for prosecution. In Zamfara State, former governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, had established ‘Yan Sakai’ Local Vigilantes.Kano State has established the Hisbah Corps, a religious police force set up in 2003 to enforce the Sharia law. It operates under the jurisdiction of a Hisbah Board comprising government officials, secular police officers, and religious leaders. Each local unit is supervised by committees composed of officials and citizens in the communities in which they operate. Many other States also have the Hisbah. In Borno State, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) was created under the last administration called BOYES (Borno Youth Volunteers). They work in collaboration with the military to fight Boko Haram.Also working for the security of the state are local hunters and vigilante groups, which have been around even before insurgency. The other North East States have similar outfits. In Taraba State, the Taraba Marshalls is a local security outfit set up by the state government in 2018 to tackle insecurity and other violent crimes.
Other organisations are the Rivers State Government’s Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency. Ebonyi State Government also has theNeighbourhood Watch Group with membership drawn from the 13 local government areas of the state to complement the efforts of security agencies to control crimes and other security challenges in the state. The Benue State Government has the Livestock Guards established in 2017 to engage the farmer-herder’ conflicts and so on. The reality is that the establishment of security agencies by State Governments has become a reality in Nigeria and before Amotekun, no one had ever been challenged. The difference with Amotekun is that there is regional cooperation. Even at that level, there has been collaboration between Kaduna, Katsina and Niger State Governments on tackling bandits who run to nearby States when they are confronted in one State.
I am not even a supporter of State police or the proliferation of security agencies but the Federal Government cannot have a discriminatory attitude towards such outfits turning a blind eye on many and challenging just one. As most of these States are ruled by the APC, I also wonder why they did not discuss the issues internally before engaging in a public dispute.
My other concern this week is the Supreme Court judgement which nullified the election of Emeka Ihedioha of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) as governor of Imo State.A seven-member panel of justices of the Court unanimously declared the APC governorship candidate winner of the March 9 election in the state. This created raised eye brows as the 9th March 2019 election results indicated the newly sworn in Governor Hope Uzodinma as the 4th in terms of valid votes cast. However, reading the judgement on Tuesday, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, held that the votes from 388 Polling Units were wrongly excluded and should be added to Mr Uzodinma’s votes.The judge said Mr Uzodinma has satisfied the mandatory constitutional requirements to be declared governor and he is today the new governor.
My problem is that the new votes from the 388 polling units were not from INEC, they were brought to court by a police officer. I do not have all the facts on the case but I do know that the jurisprudence in such matters is that evidence has to be produced and witnesses called from all the polling units in dispute but this time, the words of one police officer, without concordance from INEC were accepted in establishing the veracity of the votes from 388 different polling units. It is very disturbing that the total number of accredited voters for the election has been surpassed by over one hundred thousand making it clear that many of these votes must have been fraudulent. In that case, shouldn’t the best approach have been to cancel the election and organise another one.
The new APC governor does not even have a single elected legislator from his party. If people voted massively for him, how come his State legislators could not get support. My confidence in the judgment has also been shaken by the fact that two weeks before the judgment was read, a priest announced with great confidence that Ihedioha would be removed and replaced by Uzodinma, did he have access to the judgment or was his prediction based on his spiritual powers. As we await more details on the judgment, I am greatly concerned about how such rulings could encourage more politicians to “manufacture” results and use the courts to validate them.