In bad faith

©Vintage Press Limited

WITH the near-contempt Abubakar Malami, SAN, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), attempted to shoot down ‘Operation Amotekun’, is the AGF morphing into some legal leviathan: giving the law, interpreting it and implementing it, all by himself?

The AGF as legal leviathan; first burst on public consciousness in 2007, during the uproar that faced then Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Chukwuma Soludo’s “Strategic Agenda for the Naira”. By that, Prof. Soludo, waving the CBN Act 2007, announced a policy diktat that would strengthen the Naira by re-decimalising it.

But Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, SAN, then AGF, roared above the uproar to halt the controversy: “I, as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation,” he thundered, “hereby stop all actions on the re-denomination of the Naira. This is because the action of the CBN Governor violated Section 19, sub-sections 1 and 2 of the CBN Act. Therefore, the actions must abate. All actions of the CBN in the re-denomination must be in accordance with the CBN Act. So, until an approval is sought and obtained in writing from the president, all actions on the re-denomination must stop.”

Indeed, all the “nonsense” about Soludo’s Naira re-denomination abated; and the legal leviathan galloped home in victory!

Compare Aondoakaa’s show to Malami’s brusque attempt to shut down ‘Operation Amotekun’, the South West’s regional answer to rampant insecurity in that geo-political region, and you can be excused to think maybe the AGF, as some federal law leviathan, is taking root. Incidentally, both have happened under taciturn presidents: Aondoakaa, under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; and Malami, under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Hear Malami’s offhand dismissal of Amotekun, the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), coordinated by the Development Agenda of Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, the region-wide think-tank, headquartered in Ibadan, Oyo State; and funded by the six state governments of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti:

“The setting up of the para-military organisation called Amotekun is illegal and runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian law,” Malami declared. “No state government whether singly or in a group has the legal right and competence to establish any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or any of its constituent parts.”

Why, he even threatened fire and brimstone against whoever went against his legal diktat — he, a mere appointee of the president, against the will of the South West people and their six elected governors, and allied mandate custodians, both at the National Assembly and the six state legislatures!

But in a hurry to play the legal almighty, might the revered silk have got his opening premise irredeemably flawed? What in the world was he talking about: Amotekun, a defence agency? If the AGF misled himself to see a regional army where there is none, how can he and his office logically sustain that wild claim?

Besides, conflicting “defence” with “security”, as the AGF did in his released statement, is rather sloppy. While “defence” could be a military lingo for threats that involve opposing armies, “security” could be many-layered, going down to the most basic of human rights: self-defence. That is why the police, though an integral part of the state security infrastructure, are not part of the defence forces.

So, how could ‘Operation Amotekun’, designed to aid police work, to push back rising kidnapping and banditry in the region, suddenly become a “para-military agency”, as the AGF claimed? How can putting together a regional community network, to rid the region of these crimes, be alien to the Constitution? Is the constitution itself alien to common sense? Is the AGF then saying birthing a common security shield against a common threat, never before witnessed in the region, a crime? Then self-defence and communal preservation, its logical collective sequence, must be a crime! That would be tantamount to saying life itself is a crime — which it is not!

Besides, the genesis of Amotekun bears re-telling, just as the emergence of Hisbah police in some northern states and the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), in the Boko Haram-plagued states of Borno and Adamawa, in view of the AGF’s constitutional claim that the central government has exclusive right to protect every inch of Nigerian territory.

Of Amotekun, Civilian JTF and Hisbah, Hisbah is the most contentious, for it has religious roots, in a supposed secular state. Still, its legitimacy must come from the reality of a secular state that nevertheless boasts a multi-religious people. So, Hisbah’s legitimacy cannot strictly come from the Constitution. Since Nigeria is a constitutional federal state — even if in practice that federalism is rather warped — you cannot, under crass legalese, wish away the legitimate aspirations of the local Muslim population, and their “right” to have Hisbah police — warts, controversy and all. Hisbah therefore derives its legal legitimacy from a federal arrangement that can’t be complete without local peculiarities.

Both JTF and Amotekun came from far more pressing and existential needs. When the Boko Haram insurrection started, a conceited Federal Government must have felt any mention of Civilian JTF — task force with bloody civilians! — was infra dig. But it has soon eaten crow, after realising every sphere of the population must pool their talents to combat a common threat. That is why the Civilian JTF is now part and parcel of the state defence — beyond security! — shield against Boko Haram.

Like Civilian JTF, like ‘Operation Amotekun’ — except that the South West governors and people are being much more proactive, while the federal authorities appear lulled in blissful conceit! Yes, the police have the constitutional right to fight crime. But against the upsurge of equal opportunity kidnappings, banditry and allied violent crimes in the South West interior, the police have proved impotent — not because they are incompetent per se, but because they are over-stretched, among other reasons. That was when Amotekun sprouted, a popular regional complement to the police to face down this common menace. The Federal Government ought to praise this patriotic initiative, rather than raze it.

Certainly the AGF and his office were not in Mars when non-native kidnappers turned the South West into a panic chamber, daily screaming and wailing about the insecurity plaguing their people? Where were they when the crime took an ethnic hue, with emotive voices tarring the entire Fulani herdsmen for the crime of a few criminals? They were certainly not in Jupiter when other stakeholders were being consulted over the Amotekun framework? How come then they just jerked into life, to declare Amotekun “illegal”, after the launch of the network?

Besides, how do you endorse Hisbah Police and Civilian JTF and condemn ‘Operation Amotekun’, citing the same body of laws? Is the AGF’s a legal fort like Animal Farm (to parody George Orwell’s novel) where northern animals are more equal than south western ones? That is the ethno-regional tension the AGF is unleashing by this ill-advised legal bluster.

Though the AGF couldn’t have spoken without recourse to higher quarters (indeed, his Amotekun take is nothing more than presidential legal advisory made public), President Muhammadu Buhari (as taciturn as Yar’Adua) had better trigger the doctrine of plausible deniability; and seek accommodation on the matter with South West leaders. Otherwise, he could well have inflicted on an unforced error (as they say in tennis), which could rip years of carefully wrought detente. It could have devastating consequences for national unity, security and cohesion.

Though the Amotekun cause is just, legal and legitimate, this is no time for ego and undue bluster. The South West people, from the anger sparked by the AGF pronouncement, have bought into it. So, its social legitimacy is beyond question — self-preservation is, after all, very basic.

Therefore, the next step is giving it a formal legal teeth. So, let each of the six states domesticate Amotekun in its laws, as a regional cooperative security agency, complementing the police and other federal security agencies, to further secure their people. Its operational regime should also be clearly stated, while stepping up dialogue with the requisite federal agencies. It can only be a win-win.

When Lagos State introduced the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) — its traffic police — someone caught a cold in Abuja and tried to stop it. Though it wasn’t the same party in power at the centre, it was a Yoruba man, President Olusegun Obasanjo, that was president. Now, LASTMA is settled, and has even sparked the establishment of similar agencies in other states. That is simply because LASTMA came to address a critical need.

Like LASTMA, ‘Operation Amotekun’ is a crucial initiative to tackle a critical existential need. It would take more than a legal bluster, from a deluded Leviathan AGF, to shoot it down. But to both sides: less bluff, more dialogue.