The government of any country has three primary responsibilities to its people. This include 1) protection of its citizens from violence; 2) provision (or creation of enabling environment for provision) for its populace, and 3) investment in their talents and education. Considering the three-prong approach above, and with a review of activities in Nigeria, particularly since the advent of democracy in 1999, one is left in no doubt that the Nigerian governments – at all levels – have failed to achieve a pass mark in any of the three above. For this purpose, this write-up will focus primarily on the protection of citizens. The government protects its citizens through the training and equipment of an army and a police force through taxpayer’s monies; builds courts and jails; works with elected officials who pass and implement laws, and guides citizens on issues of laws. Furthermore, the government protects its citizens against foreign threats and aggression, mercenaries, insurgencies, terrorism and all forms of hostilities.

In Nigeria, apart from the civil war which left a permanent dark spot on the history of Nigeria and made the blood of many heroes past to flow unnecessarily, all forms of violence has been recorded, particularly from the year 2000 to date. Between 2000 and 2010, incidences of violence were primarily religious in nature. Starting in 21 February 2000 with the Kaduna riot, the Jos riot of September 2001, Miss World riot of November 2002, riot associated with the formation of an organization that transformed into Boko Haram by Mohammed Yusuf in late 2002, the Yelwa massacre of 2004 (February and again May), the Jos riot of 2008 and again in 2010 alongside many pockets of undocumented violence that have visited the people of Nigeria, Nigerians cannot willingly give a pass to its government in the areas of security of lives and properties. Between 2002 and 2009, Mohammed Yusuf organization code-named Boko Haram, the organization became more brazen and daring, often challenging the constituted authorities and administering its own form of justice, mainly in the northern part of the country. The event of July 26-29, 2009 transformed the violence completely from religious nature to real insurgency through the uprising and slaughter of a large contingent of military men by Boko Haram. By July 30, 2009, Mohammed Yusuf was executed in Police custody and a more radical Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership of the organization.

Since 2009, Boko Haram (and a recent brand, the Islamic State in West Africa Province [ISWAP]) had repeatedly attacked different locations in Nigeria, not limited to but primarily in the North-Eastern States but also other parts like the North West, North Central and Abuja. The Boko Haram conquered some territories and position its flags visibly in the major cities in North East Nigeria. Since 2012, the rapidity and regularity of such attacks have intensified, and in the last few years, such intensity is such that persons just pray and hope that, ‘We hope that it is not us next’. While credence must be given to the Nigerian security apparatus, largely the Nigerian Military for this unending battle and gallantry against the Boko Haram and other forms of insurgencies, it can be said without fail that the government is not winning the war against Boko Haram and these other variants of violence.

With the formation of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a loose group of militants, formed in Maiduguri, who combined with the military in its operations, Boko Haram Islamist fighters was ousted out from the city. The CJTF knows the territories, nooks and crannies of Maiduguri and their formation has increased the effectiveness of the military operations. As expected, the Boko Haram and ISWAP went underground and re-jiggle their operations, and changed tactics of attacks. These virulent attacks have led to loss of countless lives and properties in Nigeria. The situation is made more complex by the recent spate of kidnapping that have occurred right from the Abuja-Kaduna axis, the South Western and South Eastern Nigeria and other parts. Other preventable yet undocumented forms of violence kept occurring including from the uniformed men. The above has called for reasons to look inward and has led many (household, groups, estates, communities and states) to resort to self-help. Approximately 30 of the 36 states in Nigeria have one form of self-help group or another and have registered community Police with different names. It has become a necessity for community policing to be established to complement the effort of the Nigeria Police, whose quantity is largely insufficient. With a population of approximately 371,800 to police nearly 200 million persons, the country is seriously under-policed and localised crime can thrive.

On January 9, 2020, Governors of Nigeria’s six southwest states including Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Lagos, launched the Western Nigeria Security Network code-named ‘Operation Amotekun’. This single action had sparked numerous reactions from segments of the country with sharp divisions between views, sections of the country, people and opinion shapers. The governors hinged their decision on the act that security issue should be indigenized and localized, with an approximate population of over 50 million persons, and a paltry police population of 58,000 for the South-West Nigeria, it will appear that the region is also severely under-policed, as is other parts of Nigeria. It should be noted that a large proportion of the police force is also attached to dignitaries, political office holders and industries needing protection.

Now, that it is obvious that the Federal Police is not capable of securing lives and properties of Nigerians alone, Operation Amotekun is a great initiative and necessary intervention delivered on time. The federal government security agencies (military, police and other such agencies) should take Amotekun of South West Nigeria, and other similar initiatives in other regions, as complimenters not competitors. Since the goal of all these various efforts is for a safer Nigeria, other national security network should give necessary support to them to pursue this single goal. However, knowing the potential of an average politician, and a possibility of converting such regional effort to achieve political vendetta or for the oppression of the oppositions, including perceived enemies and labelled persons, the governors should go ahead to prove by their words, deeds and actions that the aim of the SWSN is noble and aimed at complimenting security only. In addition, the legal backing for the SWSN must be put in place in each of the affected states. States with similar socio-cultural and anthropological identities with the six current states, who may want to extend and be part of Operation Amotekun must be considered and possibly admitted. The operational protocol and guidance document for the agency must be put in place. Currently, the operationalization seems opaque and this raise suspicion from other segments of the society. The governors of South West Nigeria needs to come clean and reveal the whole agenda of SWSN to all Nigerians.

That said, a critical look at the South West Nigeria should warrant that other issues should be tabled. The welfare of the people especially the workers should be prioritized by the governors; a situation where a state owes workers in excess of six months in salary arrears, tendency to devolve into other actions including criminality to earn a living in not impossible. If the ordinary civil servants with meagre salaries and without guns are employed and unpaid, imagine the resultant effect of the employment of thousands of youths, trained in the use of weapons, with opportunities to extort ordinary citizens. An Operation Amotekun, as well as the larger South West community including residents and visitors must be cared for and catered for. Training for the local force must have standardized quality, and the monitoring and evaluation must be thorough. Staff of Operation Amotekun must be paid promptly and not allowed to go the way of other noble intention gone sour like the notorious SARS (Special Anti Robery Squad). We support Amotekun but we must be proactive to avoid nurturing and bringing official bandits into our society. May Nigeria succeed.

*Written by Engr. Bola Babarinde & Prof. Folorunso Fasina, National Chairman and General Secretary of All Progressives Congress, South Africa Chapter respectively.