By Olu Fasan
THE Yoruba are quintessential federalists. They are the Californians or Texans of Nigeria. California and Texas are powerful American states that have positioned themselves as bulwarks against the erosion of federalism in the US. For instance, Texas sued the Obama administration 48 times and, so far, California has sued the Trump administration 32 times. Both have won several legal battles to safeguard the federalist principles. The Yoruba are doing something similar in Nigeria: fighting to move this country towards true federalism.
As everyone knows, Nigeria is not a true federal state. Considerable power is concentrated in the centre, and those living in the Abuja political bubble want to extend the monopoly of power so that they can tell everyone else in the country what to do. But the Yoruba have often pushed back on the insidious power grab, and it’s largely thanks to them that Nigeria has some semblance or pretence of a federal system.
Last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo wrote that, as the Attorney General of Lagos State, he led the legal team against the Federal Government and won several landmark cases at the Supreme Court that helped deepen fiscal federalism in Nigeria. From who should own VAT revenue to who should grant building and other development control permits, from whether states could create their own administrative units to who should have supervisory authority over local government finances, Lagos State did what California or Texas would do: defend the principles of federalism. And now the South West has given us Amotekun!
Of course, the biggest win, the ultimate trophy, is the restructuring of Nigeria, but that too will happen. The restructuring of this country is, as Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State rightly put it, “inevitable”. But while we await that restructuring, while we hold our breath for a new and enduring political and constitutional settlement, we must acknowledge and celebrate the little steps that are taking us there. And one of such steps – in fact, a major one – is the birth of the Amotekun regional outfit.
I was thrilled to bits when I saw pictures of the geared-up, ready-to-go Amotekun personnel and their patrol vehicles. The South West governors did not indulge in months of empty posturing and grandstanding. There was no threat or blustering. They simply quietly got on with the job. They consulted leaders and traditional rulers in the South West, they consulted or sounded out the Inspector-General of Police, and, with aplomb, Amotekun was born. It’s the kind of efficiency you would expect from serious-minded people: action not words!
Another hugely exciting aspect was that Operation Amotekun is a regional initiative. In fact, its official name is Western Nigeria Security Network, WNSN. Nigeria will be strong when its constituent parts are strong, when they become regional powerhouses. And the Yoruba are showing the country that regionalism and regional integration can work in Nigeria. One of the six South West states is controlled by the PDP, the others by the APC. Yet they put the region’s best interests above partisan considerations. I say kudos to them!
Of course, we mustn’t forget how we got here in the first place. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Amotekun was not conceived out of malice to antagonise the Federal Government or another ethnic nationality. It was a child of necessity. Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State put it eloquently:”Our regional integration should be seen in one light and one light alone – that we are coming together to fight a common enemy. That enemy is not Nigeria.” And, of course, we know what that common enemy is: the monster of insecurity that has ravaged the South West over recent years.
That’s why it was utterly misguided of the Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi to say, in criticising the Amotekun initiative, that “national security is an exclusive responsibility of the Federal Government”. Really? Where was the Federal Government when the rampaging herdsmen maimed and killed people in the South West with impunity, culminating in the dastardly murder of Olufunke Olakunrin, the daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the Afenifereleader, last year? Leaving aside the fact that, as Chief Afe Babalola helpfully pointed out, the Constitution imposes clear responsibility on citizens to ensure the security of their lives and property, self-defence is a well-established right in international law. But, for me, the bigger picture is that Operation Amotekun represents a clear assertion and defence of the principles of federalism. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, initially wasted his time trying to oppose the creation of Amotekun, reportedly declaring it “illegal”. What kind of federal Constitution makes governors the chief security officers of their states and yet denies them the right to create the security apparatus necessary to perform that role?
We are told that Nigeria practises the American system of government, but does the US have a centralised police operation? Does New York Police or Los Angeles Police take orders from Washington? Even in the UK, neither the Scottish Police Authority nor the Police Service of Northern Ireland reports to the Metropolitan Police in London. State or regional police is a common feature in federalist countries, except in Nigeria where the megalomaniacal centralists want to police the entire country from Abuja!
The key characteristics of a truly federal system, according the Encyclopaedia Britannica, are non-centralisation and local autonomy. Nigeria’s “federalism” lacks these characteristics; hence it is not a true federalism. But Amotekun is built on those principles of non-centralisation and local autonomy. The Federal Government put itself in an invidious position by initially opposing Amotekun, although to save face it later endorsed the initiative, saying that it should be aligned with its so-called “community police strategy”.
Of course, what Nigeria needs is proper restructuring, but with Amotekun, a symbol of true federalism, the Yoruba deserve credit for inching the country towards it. Well done!