Critical Conversations

Can Arming Regional Outfits Tackle Current Security Challenges?

Few days after the latest violent attacks by scores of gunmen on Igangan, an agrarian community in Ibarapa North Local Government of Oyo State; the state governor Engr. Seyi Makinde had bemoaned the recurring wanton destruction of lives and properties in the region. He is calling on the Federal Government to permit governors in the South-West to equip the Amotekun Corps with sophisticated weapons, such as AK-47. To tackle rising insecurity, especially banditry and kidnapping in the geo-political zone Makinde feels the regional militia must be adequately armed.

Makinde disclosed the keynote address that he presented at the opening of the two-day 2021 National Democracy Summit, with the theme: ‘The Future of Democracy in Nigeria,’ held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan.

The governor, who said he took responsibility for the incident, however, expressed frustration with the challenges being faced by governors who are called chief security officers of their states but lack the required power. He said: “With what happened at Igangan, the people can hold me responsible for letting them down and when I go there, I will take responsibility because those killings were needless. Even though I continue to take responsibility for the security situation in Oyo State, we all know that, in reality, the Commissioner of Police has to wait for orders from ‘above’ before taking specific actions to benefit the local population. So, looking at the federal security agencies here in Oyo State, they have to get clearance from the Federal government. We will continue to do our best. Here in the South West, we were able to kick-start Amotekun. But even with Amotekun, people ask how the killings happened. Were they not there? But we have several limitations to what Amotekun can do and even the firearms they can carry.

On the need to improve the quality of arms the Amotekun Security Corp bear, the governor lamented further “You have dane guns, and you are faced with people carrying AK-47. If it is in terms of investment, if we are given the authority, I will also buy AK-47s for Amotekun, if given the license.”
In the same vein, Senator Kola Balogun has called on the Federal Government to hasten efforts to grant the southwest Security Network codenamed Amotekun the license to bear arms. The lawmaker who represents Oyo South Senatorial District made the call recently in wake of the relentless attacks on communities under his Senatorial District. He appealed to the IG and the police to grant them the license to be well-equipped as long as what they are doing is in support of what the police should be doing.

Western Nigeria Security Network, popularly known as Operation Amotekun or Amotekun Corps came into existence as a child of necessity. Governors from the South West region came together with a harmonized security strategy by floating the indigenous security outfit to assist in inter-state operations and intelligence sharing in combating the surging menace of violent banditry, herder-farmers clashes, and kidnapping in the zone. The governors felt obliged to do something; with the seeming limitation of the Federal security forces to effectively contain cases of violence in the region. The governors of the six states in the region launched Operation Amotekun on January 9, 2021, in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to provide security for the people within the region.

The Amotekun formation was able to withstand the initial stiff opposing stance of the Federal Government that was made evident in the early days of the outfit’s emergence through the Attorney General of the Federation who stated that his office was not properly consulted on the issue. He also tried to point out that the current Nigerian constitution does not accommodate the formation of regional security architecture. However, most of the southwest states weathered that constitutional storm by enacting laws in their respective state house of assemblies to back up the creation of Amotekun.

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In February 2020, following the plan by South-West governors to apply to the Inspector-General of Police, for the personnel of the Amotekun corps to carry arms, the police authorities have given conditions for them to be issued the license. The Force Public Relations Officer said the request would be assessed within the confines of the law. He noted that there cannot be gun license issuance to any security outfit or state apparatus without conforming with the contents and provisions of the Firearms Act. He further stressed that the police did not have the discretion of issuing gun licenses because the licensing is governed by law and it works with the provisions of the Firearms Act.

According to the Fire Arms Act, only the President and Inspector General of Police are authorized to issue the license for firearms. Part Two of the Fire Act states: No person shall have in his possession or under his control any firearm of one of the categories specified in Part I of the Schedule hereto (hereinafter referred to as a prohibited firearm) except following a license granted by the President acting in his discretion; in respect thereof by the Inspector-General of Police, which licenses shall be granted or refused under principles decided upon by the National Council of Ministers.

Section 18 of the Amotekun draft bill in Ekiti State goes as follows: “The Ekiti State Amotekun Corps shall, subject to the approval of the Inspector General of Police have the power to bear licensed arms in the performance of its duties and as may be incidental to the operation of its objectives under this Law”. Till date, however, the permission or license to carry arms has not been given to the Amotekun Corps in Ekiti or any other of the other states within or outside the Southwest.

In January 2021; in an interview programme regarding the issue; popular human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana (SAN) said it is illegal for the Federal Government not to license Amotekun Corps to bear arms. He argued that if a private citizen can apply for a license to bear arms for self-defense, the Amotekun Corps are also entitled to the same benefit.
He tasked the state governors in the region to approach the authorities in Abuja for the Amotekun operatives to bear arms to effectively tackle the myriad of security challenges ranging from kidnapping, banditry to rape, among other challenges, confronting the South-West region in recent times. He also added that it was suicidal for the operatives of Amotekun to carry on without bearing arms because the criminal elements they were to confront use sophisticated weapons.

Read Also: From Amotekun to Ebube Agu: The Rise of Regional Security Outfits

Conversely, a former Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, has declared as unconstitutional for operatives of the South West Security Network codenamed Amotekun to carry firearms. Ehindero, who made the declaration at the formative stage of the Amotekun outfit; advised the operators to strictly adhere to the country’s constitution that “forbids them from bearing firearms in the course of their operations”.
He said Amotekun was supposed to be an information and intelligence gathering outfit rather than an arm-carrying one. The ex-IGP advised the outfit to key into community policing and work with special constables and the police to combat insecurity at the grassroots. He urged Amotekun officers not to be in haste to bear arms, appealing to them to exercise patience until the Constitution is amended.
Around that same period; The Ekiti State Council of Elders advised South-West governors to urgently engage with the Federal Government on the need for operatives of the State Security Network Agency codenamed Amotekun corps to bear firearms. The elders noted that the waves of kidnappings, killings, and other heinous crimes in the states would only be tackled effectively when the personnel of Amotekun are allowed to carry arms to defend the citizens against attacks from gun-wielding men.
Makinde’s recent call portrays the current helpless state of the governors in the southwest region; they achieved the watershed achievement of floating a regional security network against all odds (a landmark move that has since been adopted by the southeast governors too); but they cannot equip them with firearm without Federal approval. The President simply has to approve it; as the Inspector General will not arbitrarily approve a request of this magnitude.

The fact that attacks by gunmen and criminals in the region have continued unabated has lent credence to the claim that Amotekun are operating in fear and trepidation; with the lack of arms preventing them to operate at full confidence and capacity to effectively take on the heavily armed marauders.
This imbroglio begs the question: Is Amotekun created as a replacement to the South West Police or were they formed to assist existing federal security forces in the region with indigenous and local assistance especially in the area of crime detection, intelligence gathering, and sharing?

Setting up a security outfit like the Amotekun Corps without arms and ammunition exposes the lives of the men and women in that organisation to high risks while it is also akin to giving people a false sense of security. It defies logic to have members of the Amotekun Corps without arms and ammunition, yet asking them to confront armed criminals with AK-47 and rounds of ammunition.

On the other hand; the issue of arms and ammunition is one of sensitive significance; hence the reason for the limited approval of the government to some of its para-military agencies in bearing it. In the past; we have had requests to bear arms from the Federal Road Safety Corps and some Private Security Establishments rejected based on these same reasons. Personnel who carry arms and ammunition require a certain level of extensive training and cognitive evaluations to properly handle such sophisticated weaponry. The criteria for selecting Amotekun Corps officers does not factor in such requirements effectively. While subsequent training and tests can be conducted on the Amotekun personnel before granting arms; the process is more complex, delicate, and intricate than it appears on the surface.

Federal Government granting Amotekun the freedom to bear arms will resonate beyond the superficial translation as it tantamounts to granting state governors the legal authority to run their own “state police”. Trust the South-South and South-Eastern governors to follow suit and demand to arm their indigenous security network too.

It is important to note that no assurance arming these regional security outfits will result only in the desired objectives; we cannot exempt the risks associated with suddenly arming a group mostly made up of individuals who have lived most of their lives as random civilians. There are future chances of renegades or rebels emerging as militias splinter groups from these outfits based on certain unforeseen circumstances; you truly cannot underrate what an armed man can do or think of doing. There also exist the high risks of arms proliferation and illegal exchanges; or licensed arms finding their way to wrong hands, the risks of political manipulations of this group are also very high; which is in complete dissonance with their core mandate; but which cannot be ruled out; as they answer directly to the governors who act mostly unilaterally to pursue certain agendas.

While it is true that confidence and faith in the Federal Security forces have dipped; especially in Southern Nigeria where allegations of complacency have been made against the security forces in dealing with most of these criminals wreaking havoc; Amotekun and these forces simply have to aggregate responses and work together. None of them can effectively achieve successes as lone rangers. The animosity is so high that there are fears in some quarters that the two security forces (Amotekun & Nigerian Police) may leave the criminals and start tackling each other in a battle for supremacy. There are cases where the Amotekun Corps are said to always act on their own; without effectively carrying along the federal security networks due to mutual distrust; thereby leading to a disjointed, uncoordinated, and haphazard security response; a factor that may work in favour of the rampaging criminals.

Giving the reluctant attitude of the federal government to the novel idea of floating this Amotekun outfit; it will be quite surprising if any successes can be recorded in this call to permit arms-bearing for Amotekun.

Governor Makinde; and indeed all the Southern governors need to take more seriously the mandate of synchronizing and enforcing a mutually beneficial and smooth working relationship between their respective indigenous security networks who have no arms; and the federal security forces present in the region who have the legal backing to carry arms. That is the realistic option now.

Both must be made to eschew rivalry and opposition and strive to work harmoniously hand-in-hand to achieve the broader objectives. Only then can meaningful successes be recorded in reducing the spate of soaring insecurity in the region.

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