“Tell us What Makes Amotekun Illegal and Hisbah Legal” appears to have emerged as the poser whose resolution will equally resolve the contestation over the Federal Government’s decision to outlaw Amotekin, the emergent South West regional self-help security mechanism. The ban has predictably drawn the ire of leaders of the component units of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, (SMBLF), who are calling the ban a diktat that cannot stand. It said so in a statement signed by Yinka Odumakin for the South West; Gen CRU Iherike for the South East; Senator Bassey Henshaw for the South South and Dr Isuwa Dogo for the Middle Belt, those being the component regional units of the forum.
Their stand is among the first few major reaction to the declaration of the security initiative as illegal by the Federal Government. Governors of the region, many of whom are of the ruling party have reacted by promising their own perspective on it. The decision of the FG and the reactions to it is bound to dominate the Nigerian public sphere in the week and beyond. Certainly, Amotekun is not the issue but just the spark. There are thicker interests clashing also. Against the background of sundry discourses of ‘true federalism’, violent restructuring and claims of Fulanisation as well as the recurrent framing of the Buhari regime as enactment of a Northern mandate, those who see this as a dangerous turn in the national question may not be dismissed just as Nigeria also has a rich history of mysteriously managing its internal disagreements.
For now, the SMBLF leaders are asking the governors of the South West region to ignore Abubakar Malami, the Minister of Justice, saying he has the option of going to court to challenge their decision because “he cannot constitute himself a court over elected governors”. The second contention of the regional leaders is that Nigeria is not under military rule as for what they call a diktat to stand.
According to the signatories, what the governors have done is what individuals and neighborhoods can legally do to secure their lives and property, arguing that the right to preserve one’s life “cannot be under any exclusive list other than the list of those who have no value for human lives”. In their own analysis, the action of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice has further exposed Nigeria as a country under command and control and governed by a conquest mentality. The clincher in the statement must be where the signatories are asking the Minister “to tell us what makes Amotekun illegal and Hisbah legal”.
They also want him to explain what makes Civilian JTF legal in the North East where there is war and in Kaduna and Kano where there is no war while Amotekun illegal, concluding ominously that “This is a defining moment to decide if we are under segregation and different laws in the country”.
Distinguishing the outfit as a security rather than a military initiative, the SMBLF said it considers the Justice Minister’s declaration an abuse of office aimed at suppressing the rights of federating units to secure themselves and in furtherance of the widely – held suspicion that sections of the country are deliberately being rendered vulnerable for herdsmen and other criminals by the Federal Government.
The security situation is what made a senior citizen to suggest recently the option of a National Conference as a way out but some observers fear the suggestion will most likely not be attractive to the powers that be because Chief Afe Babalola who made the suggestion is an ally of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo whose relationship with his two time distant successor and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari is part of the current crisis.
In the opinion of some assessors of the situation, the National Conference would have enable ‘conflict parties’ as it were to clarify positions. For instance, while the SMBLF sees Fulanisation in what is happening, the government at the centre or sections of it sees much of what is happening as typical Southwest attitude to harass every government headed by a Muslim Northerner as a government of cabals, inept leaders or religious zealots. These are the sort of misconceptions that a National Conference would have enabled the different parties to clarify. If a National Conference is not coming, then what next?