Publicity Secretary of pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in this interview, examines issues surrounding the launch of a security outfit for the South-West region, Operation Amotekun, saying the birth of the platform does not foreclose the need for regional autonomy. He dismisses arguments against the outfit, saying any society facing threats posed by suspected herdsmen, kidnappers and others could have done the same.
BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Editor
How true is it that Afenifere was not carried along during the planning of Operation Amotekun?
We didn’t complain about not being carried along. What we are saying is that Amotekun is not the total solution to the problem of insecurity in the South-West region. In October last year, the daughter of the Yoruba leader, Pa Ruben Fasoranti, was killed in broad daylight in Ore. Till date, the police have not said whether she was killed by an armed robber, committed suicide or the driver skidded off the road. Nothing has been identified by the police as being responsible for such a high profile murder. If someone of prominence in the region could be killed like that without proper investigation, what would be the fate of lesser people in Yorubaland? Our women are kidnapped and raped on a daily basis. All kinds of atrocious crimes are committed on a daily basis in Yorubaland and we can’t find succour in the police. The police force is largely ineffective or indifferent to what is happening to our people.
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Alaafin of Oyo
At a time, the Alaafin of Oyo set up a vigilante group in Oyo and they arrested herdsmen with guns and many dangerous weapons. There was one that removed a man’s genitals and the police were not even ready to charge him to court. Within that context, we welcome any attempt by governors to put together the security outfit to put some measures of security for our people. I said some measures because we are in a cage today to the extent that we have no control over our lives. The element of federalism that allows every tier of government to make laws and enforce them is not allowed to work not only in the South-West but also in entire Nigeria. Everything about the structure of Nigeria is about conquest and domination. We have a situation where a group tells others that they can’t be in charge of their affairs. No matter the tokenism the Amotekun represents, we have to appreciate it. What we are saying is that this alone cannot put an end to the evil in the land. The failure of security agencies to stop those responsible for the insecurity is what made Gen TY Danjuma, retd, to say that former President Obasanjo’s cry about colonisation agenda is real. When we are faced with a situation where the state allows herdsmen to carry AK47 around as if they are above the law, what do you do? Instead of stopping the herdsmen from carrying guns around, the government is opening our borders for people to come in without a visa. When we are faced with such a situation, we don’t need anyone to tell us that we are facing insurgency of great magnitude.
Don’t you think Amotekun would respond proportionately to the fears you highlighted?
Amotekun can only do little in the face of what we have at hand. We need autonomy to control our internal security and other internal affairs. Afenifere is not opposed to Amotekun in any way. We are just saying that we need more than Amotekun. We cannot say that because of Amotekun, we would abandon our quest for regional autonomy and self-determination.
We know that the Oodua Peoples’ Congress, OPC, made inputs in the formative stages of Operation Amotekun, hunters and other participating bodies also made contributions. What were the contributions of Afenifere as the prime pan-Yoruba sociopolitical organisation?
We are not hunters and we are not OPC. We are a socio-political association of the Yoruba. Afenifere has been in the vanguard of the clamour for a regional approach to the security challenges in the country. Afenifere has nothing to do with the recruitment of participating bodies. That is not our business. Our business is how well we can secure our land, secure our region and work with other Nigerians to ensure that the interests of everyone are protected.
By coming together, irrespective of party affiliations to have a common stand, the current crop of South-West governors seem to have done something of great significance. But some outside the region are condemning their action. What can you say about this?
The governors have not gone against President Buhari or anybody.
They only exercised their powers in a federal system. They are supposed to even have control of the police in their respective states. They have the right in a federal system to set up their police. As chief executive officers of their states, they have the powers to control the police in their states but the abnormal federal system we operate does not permit them to do so. Such a situation makes it impossible for the governors to have state police. What they are doing now is not policing but a token step towards addressing insecurity in their respective states.
Southwest governors have not gone against any law. In any case, before now, how many states introduced Sharia in the North? Do they not have their Sharia police in uniform? Do they not have powers to arrest people and destroy cartons of beer being brought to their state? Who is stopping them? The Civilian JTF is helping the military to fight Boko Haram. What has the governors of the South-West states done differently from what others in the northern part of the country did? South-West governors are even more cautious. We learned that one of the South-West governors met the Inspector General of Police over Operation Amotekun a day before the outfit was launched. When they introduced Sharia in most states of the North, who did they discuss with? The South-West governors have done nothing wrong.
Since political leaders and heads of bodies like Afenifere hadn’t agreed on issues affecting the Yoruba for a long time, what does the unanimity brought about by Amotekun mean to Afenifere?
It is commendable. In the build-up to the formal commencement of Amotekun, we saw the solidarity displayed by the six governors in the zone. All of them were attending the meetings leading to the formation of Amotekun. They all made inputs. It is, however, surprising that only three governors attended on the day of the unveiling. We expected the kind of solidarity they displayed to have played out on the day of the official commencement. We expected that six of them would be present.
Don’t you think the success of Operation Amotekun presents an opportunity for Afenifere and other ethnic associations in the larger South clamouring for restructuring to go beyond rhetoric?
The call for restructuring is not just rhetoric. It is a project that we are committed to and it even influences our choices in elections. In the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBF, we are committed to it. We said it during the last elections that we needed a (presidential) candidate that would convince us that he would restructure this country. We are not abandoning our stand. That is why even initiatives like Amotekun, as commendable as they are, cannot be taken as a substitute for the struggle for autonomy, self-determination, and a restructured polity. We are committed to the struggle for a country that would operate as a true federation. That is far more important to us than any other issue. We are not opposed to ad-hoc solutions but, ultimately, our concern is about a restructured Nigeria where every region would have the autonomy to run their internal affairs without being at the beck and call of Abuja. It is saddening that governors would have to take permission from Abuja before launching Amotekun or any kind of outfit for their states.
One of the arguments against the regional security outfit is that it is against Section 215 of 1999 Constitution…
We are waiting to see how their duties would clash with the police. Are there clashes between the police and Hisbah, Sharia police, in Kano? Hisbah goes about arresting people drinking and selling alcohol and prostitutes. In fact, there was a report that Hisbah arrested a conventional policeman. We are waiting to see how Amotekun will clash with the police. Problems can only arise if Amotekun goes against the law. If the officers work within the law, there wouldn’t be any problem.
A few days ago when it was announced that Amotekun would be launched, the Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi issued a statement, stating that they are also threatened by the type of insecurity in the South-West. They even said that any measure being taken to protect Yorubaland should not exclude any part of Yorubaland…
Of course, there are Yoruba in those states but the Nigerian state created artificial boundaries. Unfortunately, lines were drawn without considering the cultural and ethnic background of Yoruba in those states. That is why we are calling for restructuring to correct these anomalies. There should be a referendum for such people to determine whether they want to be with their kith and kin here or be with those they have no cultural and ethnic relationships with. At the level of Afenifere, we appreciate their concerns and we are deeply concerned about it. That is why we are saying that we should address the question of artificial boundaries. The issue of the Yoruba in Kogi and Kwara are some of the issues that would be addressed by a restructured Nigeria.
Operation Amotekun was launched does not ignore the fact that there are questions about Yoruba unity. For instance, when Afenifere talks some would say it depends on the Afenifere that is talking…
We have been on the path of unity. For instance, we had the Yoruba congress in Ibadan which was held in 2017. All Yoruba came together to state their position on national issues. At the meeting, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and Middle Belt Forum attended. We have also had other fora just to foster unity. The bond among us must be sustained to ensure that we have a restructured Nigeria because we don’t have a nation yet. What we have is a group of people on the precipice. Unfortunately, the kind of exclusive governance we have had at the centre in the last four years has further created divisions across Nigeria to the extent that people no longer see themselves as Nigerians.
How do you think the aims for creating Operation Amotekun can be realised?
They should ensure that they perform their functions professionally. They should concentrate more on intelligence gathering. As local people, they understand the terrain and language. Their greatest strength over the police is their capacity to gather intelligence. They should not allow governors to use them for political purposes. They should not become an outfit that would be settling irrelevant issues like land matters. They should concentrate strictly on security so that their success would boost the case for state police. They should show that our people can handle such responsibilities responsibly.