As a secondary school pupil, I did Yoruba as a language in my first two years in the early 80s. And I remember vividly how I often wrote letters in Yoruba language for my late aunty. The letters were mostly sent to our relatives in Ajase Ipo, Kwara State. At that time, many of my age mates could not write such letters.
For this reason, I was my aunty’s favourite letter writer. But the truth is that most of the words I could piece together in Yoruba were what I learnt in primary school reading that famous Yoruba book: ‘Alawiye’ by J. F. Odunjo. It has six parts to cover six years of primary school education. The books were written in simple Yoruba language with pictorial illustrations for easy reading.
So, we learnt names of animals and objects reading the books. The books were readily available in bookshops and even by roadside booksellers. I also remember taking delight in reading ‘Atoka,’ a Yoruba weekly magazine, sold by vendors in South West Nigeria in those days. It sold like hot cake then and one of our neighbours never missed the weekly magazine. While my Yoruba could be described as ‘Yoruba Eko’ (Lagos Yoruba language variety), reading ‘Alawiye’ and ‘Atoka’ was quite helpful. So, reading these books and magazine made me to know that ‘Kiniun’ is Lion, ‘Ekun’ is tiger and ‘Amotekun’ is Leopard. Last week, after the South-West governors launched the ‘Amotekun’ security initiative in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, I engaged some of my colleagues in a discussion on the initiative. We dwelt much on academic exercise as to whether ‘Amotekun’ should have been adopted or not as the name of the security outfit.
The reason the name was wrong according to one of my colleagues was because we don’t have ‘Amotekun’ in Africa. I vehemently disagreed because I knew right from my primary school that Leopard is called ‘Amotekun’ among the Yoruba. So, I made up my mind that my column this week will centre on the security outfit and the danger of our indigenous languages going into extinction since our children don’t know how to speak our indigenous languages and we as parents feel there is nothing wrong as long as they speak English Language through their noses but can’t say a word in their indigenous languages.
But beyond our discussion, which was a mere academic exercise, at least two of us agreed that the security outfit wouldn’t last. We knew the Federal Government will find a way to give ‘Amotekun a bad name and justify why it should be hunted down. My thinking was that some of the personnel of the outfit will be arrested and the police will claim they were arrested with illegal weapons and this will be used as an excuse to ban the agency. The signs are obviously there following the gale of opposition from northern youths and elders who got paranoid immediately the security outfit was launched.
The governors of the South West didn’t wake up overnight with the idea. It is a reaction, an initiative and a good one at that, following unprecedented killings, kidnapping and general banditry in the South West and other parts of the country. It is a desperate situation that requires a desperate solution.
Yes, it’s true that we have police and other security agencies that should be capable of dousing the security challenges. But the truth is that they are overwhelmed and appear hopeless and helpless. Criminals are obviously ahead of our security agencies from what we have seen so far.
Whereas, security of lives and property is a constitutional responsibility of the government and the government has failed in that regard. Criminals have become so emboldened because those arrested have not been prosecuted while the majority still walks freely on the streets.
If government cannot provide basic amenities for its people, it should at least ensure they and their property are safe so that at least they can hang on to life, hoping that tomorrow will be better. After all, they say when there’s life, there is hope. When government fails in its responsibility, it’s natural that people will resort to self-help This is why various communities have formed vigilance groups. For how long are people going to continue to fold their arms while bandits overrun their communities, kill and maim them? We know that the best the government can do is to condemn the attacks, commiserate with the families who might have lost their loved ones, sympathise with those injured and at best take care of the burial expenses of those killed and pay the hospital bills of those injured.
This is the predictable and vicious circle each time there are killings in any part of the country. Then the president or governors will visit those injured for photo ops, which will be sent to media houses with its attendant pressure for them to be published. This is fake. Nipping crime in the bud by ensuring people can sleep with both their eyes closed will be appreciated by the people than the government issuing statements each time there is destruction of lives and property. For those who think the Buhari administration can never go wrong because it’s always as right as rain and may want to toe the line of illegality as foisted on the ‘Amotekun’security outfit by the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, we need to ask: where was the Federal Government when different vigilance groups were being formed in the North? What makes ‘Amotekun’ illegal but makes Hisbah police or civilian JTF legal in the North? What will happen to over 20 security initiatives in different parts of the country now that the government has realised that a similar outfit in the South West is illegal? If something is sauce for the goose, can’t the same thing be sauce for the gander? In August 2019, about 40 bandits attacked the convoy of Nasarawa State Deputy Governor, Mr. Emmanuel Akabe, killed three policemen and a civilian driver. Last year, Boko Haram laid ambush for and attacked the convoy of the Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum and just a few weeks ago the terrorist group attacked the convoy of the Commander of Lafiya Dole Major-General Olusegun Adeniyi. The Army chief was lucky to have escaped. And` on Tuesday, bandits killed no fewer than 30 people including two health workers at Makossa village in Zamfara State.
This is a state that gave bandits amnesty a few months ago and employed the services of hunters as part of efforts to curb the incessant killings in the state. This is aside effort by the residents to ensure their safety. There are communities where people even contribute money to give bandits in order to prevent anticipatory attacks.
Travelling on Abuja-Kaduna Road is now suicidal. Many roads in Nigeria have become too risky to travel on because they have been taken over by bandits. On paper, the governors are the chief security officers of their states. But in reality, the commissioners of police don’t take orders from them. I was at a forum recently where a governor said he gave a directive to the commissioner of police in his state concerning a security matter and the senior police officer told him to his face, that he would rather wait until he gets a similar order from a minister who is also an indigene of the state.
The said governor and the minister are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). You can imagine what happens in the states where the governor and the minister representing a state are not from the same party. This is how far we have sunk as a nation. What sort of federalism are we practicing? Resorting to self-help is a viable option as far as security issue is concerned in Nigeria. If Malami had been asked to pursue ethnic agenda, as I want to believe, is it difficult for him to tell truth to power that government’s inefficiency and inability to curb killings, kidnapping and general banditry gave birth to ‘Amotekun.’ And this made it a child of necessity. Banning ‘Amotekun’ when the government cannot raise the bar to curb insecurity is like beating a child and asking the same child not to cry.
The AGF should be able to tell his conscience and by extension those of his ethnic stock beating drums of war over ‘Amotekun’ that it is the height of irresponsibility to play politics with people’s lives. What happens if after the ban, bandits now step up attacks in the South West? The AGF should have sought the intervention of the court if he’s sure of the illegality toga he gave ‘Amotekun.’
Since some of his senior learned colleagues have faulted his position, I am of the view that the governors should seek legal redress in court after ensuring that their respective houses of assembly have legislated on the matter. We should not miss this opportunity to put to test our legal system. Let the court decide that if the North is ‘Hisbahlised’, the South West cannot be ‘Amotekunised,’ so that we can all learn from learned men in the temple of justice.