The South-West geopolitical zone which used to be a relatively safe haven is fast joining the league of unsafe regions in the country, no thanks to the activities of kidnappers, killer herdsmen and bandits.
The people of Yorubaland have in recent years become prey to hoodlums who attack them at will and kidnap soft targets on highways and other places.
The activities of criminal elements in the South-West hit the climax in 2019, forcing the governors to quickly come up with the Amotekun Corps initiative in order to rescue the zone from worsening insecurity.
By this time, the Ibadan-Ife-Ilesa-Akure, Benin-Ore-Shagamu, Ondo-Akure-Owo-Benin expressways, among others, had become homes to blood-thirsty men and kidnappers.
The region had also recorded brazen attacks on some notable individuals. A prominent Yoruba leader and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, was abducted by suspected herdsmen on his farm.
Farmers could no longer go to their farms for fear of being kidnapped, while women were raped and maimed by criminal herdsmen.
In July 2019, Mrs Funke Olakunri, a daughter of the leader of a Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed on the Ondo-Ore Road by suspected herdsmen.
The killing of the nonagenarian’s daughter triggered a serious protest, which forced the governors of the six states of the South-West region and other stakeholders, including traditional rulers, to hold a crucial meeting in Ibadan with a view to finding a lasting solution to the sudden menace.
The crucial meeting led to the decision to set up the Western Nigeria Security Network, also known as Amotekun Corps, in order to tackle the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
But Amotekun Corps would soon encounter its hurdles. Barely a week after the initiative was born, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, declared the security outfit illegal noting that it was unknown to the law of the land.
Malami’s outburst sparked off criticism and protests within and outside the South-West. However, various social and political groups in the South-East, South-South, Middle Belt and other geopolitical zones backed the creation of the WNSN.
The overwhelming support given to the new security outfit in the face of growing insecurity forced the AGF to make a swift volte-face on the issue. Some stakeholders in the South believe Malami was only serving as the mouthpiece of some power blocs in the country who believed Amotekun was set up as a prelude to secession.
The AGF later bowed to pressure and this enabled the governors to make arrangements with their state houses of assembly and subsequently passed the laws that gave the Amotekun Corps the needed legitimacy in each of the six states in the region.
The governors later inaugurated the WNSN in Ibadan and it was agreed that each state in the region should subsequently recruit, train and launch its operation. The security outfit is expected to complement the efforts of the police and other security agencies.
The Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, who is the Chairman, South-West Governors Forum, quickly inaugurated Amotekun, after which Ekiti and Oyo states followed.
Since this period, Amotekun Corps in the various states have contributed to the relative peace being enjoyed in the various states where they have become operational.
However, analysts have come to believe that the recruitment and the training of the personnel are inadequate, following the recent reports of extrajudicial killings. Notably, the criticism against Amotekun has been very loud in Oyo State.
The Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, during the inauguration of the corps warned them against harassing innocent members of the public, as well as desisting from all forms of extortion and any act that could bring the name of the agency to disrepute.
However, shortly after this, Amotekun was accused of killing a 400-level student of the University of Ibadan, Kolade Gbadebo, in Oyo town.
The family of the slain student cried out, accusing the security agency of recklessness and extrajudicial killing. The father of the deceased, Ganiyu Gbadebo, said his son was shot dead due to the alleged recklessness of Amotekun personnel.
He added that another son of his had earlier been harassed and assaulted by the same Amotekun operatives in Ibadan. This incident and similar ones have triggered the calls for continuous training of members of the security outfit in all the South-West states.
But while reacting to the criticisms against the personnel, the Commandant of Amotekun Corps in Oyo State, Col. Olayinka Olayanju (retd.), said some persons were working to make sure the security outfit failed, adding that his men would not play into the hands of such people.
He said, “There are some people who are not happy with Amotekun. State and non-state actors are among those persons who don’t want the outfit to succeed. They are adversaries and that is why they have been saying negative things about Amotekun. Those who are accusing Amotekun of killing innocent people should look at the circumstances surrounding such incidents before they conclude.
“You don’t expect Amotekun to go and attack armed robbers with charms when the armed robbers in question are in possession of charms and guns. We know where the adversaries are coming from. We will continue to train and retrain our men. Emerging threats will push us to retrain them and we are doing that already.”
While stressing that his men did not only carry out their operations in towns and cities, Olayanju said they had stopped foreign Fulani herdsmen from trooping into the state through the Saki border of the state.
He noted that Amotekun and other security agencies were working to ensure that the people of the state enjoyed adequate security at all times.
However, the National President of the Yoruba Youth Socio-Cultural Association, Mr Olalekan Hammed, told our correspondent that the criticisms against Amotekun should make the corps better.
Noting that the security outfit, which has been working day and night, should not be discarded due to “little teething problems,” he stated that the highlighted issues should be addressed.
He also advised the government to recruit more young people, especially those with higher qualifications who could handle high-tech security equipment, in order to boost the capability of the security outfit.
Hammed said, “I would suggest training and continuous retraining for Amotekun Corps (operatives). They need more orientation as regards weapon handling, security ethics, crisis management, human relations and discipline.
“Moreover, they should stay away from drug consumption, especially narcotics. They should be monitored well so that they are not able to hide anything from their commanders. Disciplinary committees should be on the ground to sanction erring officers in order to serve as deterrents to others. Doing all these will go a long way to curtailing their excessiveness.
“Amotekun should be well equipped. The governors in the region should do more for the security outfit because they are drawn from the people and, with more support, they will become more effective. They should get experts who will train them on effective ways of gathering intelligence. They should also train them on how to handle simple technology than can assist them.”
He also posited that the operatives should be drafted to various forests across the region, noting that the majority of crimes perpetrated by bandits and killer herdsmen were done in the bushes.
“Deploying Amotekun in the forests will make criminals in our forests begin to feel uncomfortable and this will drastically reduce the mayhem unleashed by bandits. But governors should apply for gun licences for them to be fully equipped.
“If kidnappers are carrying AK-47 rifles, it would be suicidal to expect Amotekun with locally-made guns to face such criminals. Governors should work hard to get them the approval to bear sophisticated arms. They must be properly trained so that their carrying of arms won’t be counterproductive.”
A former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr David Omojola, told our correspondent that the killings which Amotekun officers were accused of perpetrating were accidental and that they should therefore not be condemned.
He said the security outfit had already instilled fear in the hearts of kidnappers, armed robbers and other hoodlums within the space of time their operations started.
Omojola, who was the DIG in charge of Information and Communication Technology, said, “The extrajudicial killings they are accused of are mainly accidents. They were not deliberate and I don’t think this is enough reason to condemn the security outfit. They dismissed and handed over an officer for killing a youth in Ibadan. That should show that the organisation does not condone such acts.
“They should not see the police as their enemies or rivals. Security should be collaborative and those who are not part of any security outfit also have roles to play. Amotekun (operatives) are the people who know the environment where they operate well and security will be boosted if they work with the police and other security agencies.
“Already, they are operating in the forests and the mere mention of the name ‘Amotekun’ sends fear into the minds of criminals. They should carry the police and even the army along whenever they are going inside forests because they don’t have sophisticated weapons like the army.
“The governors should also equip them, they should be well funded and I believe technology, like drones and tracking devices, will help them to be more effective. Technology is very useful now in the fight against crime, so investment in technology will make them more effective.”
The Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, advised the South-West governors to stop spending states’ resources on the police, which are a creation of the Federal Government.
According to him, instead of that, the governor should invest in Amotekun, employ more youths and train them with the necessary equipment.
The YCE leader said, “Amotekun has been launched by virtually all the states in the South-West, but it is not effective because governors don’t want to be in the bad books of Mr President and the attorney-general. In the South-West, we have one Peoples Democratic Party governor and, anytime they meet, he is in the minority.
“The second challenge Amotekun is facing is that governors donate equipment and vehicles to the police; that should stop. They should use the money in various states to fund Amotekun. This security outfit was created in order to better secure the people. As such, they should buy more vehicles, motorcycles, communication gadgets and other things they need. Let the Federal Government fund its police and state governors should fund Amotekun better.
“The governors are our chief security officers. You may say they don’t control the police and the military, but they now control Amotekun Corps. They also control the funds of their states. They must use Amotekun to create employment, fund them adequately and give them the wherewithal to police our borders.”
Olajide added that questionable persons coming into the region must have legitimate reasons.
“We are told that some considerable percentage of the Boko Haram and criminal herdsmen are not Nigerians. You must be able to prove that you are a Nigerian before you can be granted access here. You can’t say because you are a Nigerian, you should be left to start perpetrating crime and causing problems for the people in another state. No, that should not be allowed.
“The number of personnel recruited into Amotekun should be increased and governors should stop funding the Nigeria Police. There are a lot of youths, hunters and others who can do this job and are looking for employment; they should be employed, trained and well equipped.”
However, the next moves by the South-West governors towards providing adequate funding and leadership for the corps will determine if the security outfit will live to its billing.