By Dare Babarinsa
It is not too surprising that the Amotekun security initiatives of the South-West is creating a flurry in many quarters. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami sees it as a challenge to the exclusive powers of the Federal Government as far as security is concerned. The irony is lost on Malami, a lawyer of great education but limited understanding, that it is the consistent failure of his masters that made the case for Amotekun and similar outfits in the federation so compelling.
The governors of the Yoruba heartland have not shied away from defending their position. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State who is the chairman of the Nigeria’s Governors Forum, affirm that the governors are only doing their duty to their people. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, a lawyer of national stature and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, reminded Malami that the Attorney-General of the Federation is not a judge. Only the court, according to the 1999 Constitution, can interprete the laws of Nigeria. In an interview, Ishola Williams, a retired major-general, said Malami must be suffering from Strategic Thinking Deficit, STD.
It is good that the governors and the people of the South-West are united in their support for the Amotekun initiative. Often in the past, it has always been difficult for the governors to seat together and hold regular meetings. Now something pressing is compelling them to understand the old dictum that unity is strength. Not everyone would agree to the strategies and tactics being used for this Amotekun. First what is delaying the bill for its establishment from being presented to the six Houses of Assembly? Why are Kogi and Kwara States not invited as strategic partners in this project knowing the importance of these two states with substantial Yoruba population and as gateways to the South-West? What are the structures and other modalities for its operations? We have seen the vehicles. We are eager to see it in action.
There has been rumblings from certain quarters over the true implication of all these moves. Aare Afe Babalola, the legal titan and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Abuad, said the laws and the Constitution permits the governors to take the initiative. “The Amotekun outfit is a protective and supportive outfit established by the governors of the Southwest,” Babalola said. “It has its roots in the 1999 Constitution and the previous Constitutions before it – 1960 and 1963.”
What I find strange is that some people who believe fervently that unity is good for Nigeria do not believe that unity is good for Yorubaland. Indeed, for the past 200 years, disunity has been the lot of Yorubaland where every little disagreement is allowed to develop into a millennia battle. The Action Group Party of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was able to bring a semblance of unity to Yoruba land when most of the Yoruba people found themselves under one government, the government of Western Region. Alas! It was not to last. By 1962, three years after Awolowo left the premiership, a rebel faction had ruptured the unity of the party and the effect lingers till today.
Nothing could show the weakness of the Yoruba more than the needless 100-years Civil Wars of the 19th Century which was ignited by the rise of the military class. Afonja, the Aare Ona Kakanfo, the commander-in-chief of Oyo Imperial Army, had rebelled against his overlord, the Alaafin and proclaimed the independence of Ilorin, the provincial town where he was based. The Alaafin tried to rally round the other commanders against the rebels but failed and that began the devastation of almost the entire Yoruba country. Other generals, perhaps envying the temporary success of Afonja in Ilorin, used the opportunity to seize the initiatives and in most places, the kings ruling in most of the kingdoms became nominal heads.
Despite the pressing danger to their independence, the Yoruba would not unite. Even after the Ibadan forces devastated the Ilorin hordes at the battle of Osogbo in 1840, the Yoruba could not press the advantage. The Fulani and their Yoruba supporters held on to Ilorin and later they took Offa and many towns in the Ibolo District. So much was the division in Yorubaland that when the Oba of Lagos, King Dosumu, sent emissaries to the Ooni, the Alaafin and the Awujale, to help him in his confrontation with the British, they were too busy to respond and it was easy, after a few artillery barrage, for the British to annex Lagos and turn it into their colony in 1861.
Though the Yoruba had 500,000 men under arms by the end of the 19th Century, the British seized Yorubaland and make it part of their Nigeria experiment. They quickly built the Agodi Prison in Ibadan and when some of the old commanders, including Ogedengbe of Ilesha, were reluctant to cooperate, they simply threw them into prison. Note that most of the towns destroyed and devastated in the 19th Century wars; Owu, Igbon, Iresa, Ikoyi, Ijaiye and others, met their fate in the hands of Yoruba soldiery and not their enemies.
It is good to learn now at this early stage that the enemy within is more dangerous. That is what should worry those who are in charge of this new initiative. In recent years, the Federal Government has shown disturbing incapacity to rein-in the terror gangs of kidnappers, robbers and sundry merchants of death. There is no doubt that the police have made tremendous progress especially with the special unit of the Inspector-General of Police, but a lot still needs to be done. It is good now that the governors are doing something.
The challenge would not only come from the Federal Government and those who fear that the Amotekun initiative is a ploy to break the country. The governors need to do the needful quickly and get the law passed in the Houses of Assembly. One ridiculous man always in funny headgear who called himself a professor was reported to have said that Amotekun was a ploy to oppress Muslims. How many Nigerians can recognize a Yoruba Muslim from a Yoruba Christian and one who is an Ifa devotee? There are many who navigates between the three!
The truth is that Yoruba don’t care too much about religious differences. It is of very little consequence or relevance to them. In his heydays as the Father of Nigerian Nationalism, Herbert Macaulay’s strongest support base were the Muslims of Lagos. So influential was he that he got one of his supporters elected the Chief Imam of Lagos. Alhaji Azeez Arisekola Alao, the late Aare Musulumi of Yorubaland contributed in building many churches across Yorubaland. My friend, Prince Bisi Olatilo, a staunch Christian, contributed in building a mosque in memory of his father-in-law in Ibadan. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist Christian, led others to raise money to build a mosque as part of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library complex in Abeokuta. Therefore, we need to watch out for this funny professor who may be serving the interest of foreign masters who are not necessarily in love with Yorubaland or Nigeria.
Amotekun is here to stay. The genie is out of the bottle. This initiative would serve as inspiration to other geo-political zones to come up with ideas about how to safeguard the Nigerian Commonwealth. It is also a pointer to us that we need to look at the grassroots for the Constitutional changes that people like Aare Babalola are advocating for. It is no good expecting the President and the Federal Government to take all the initiatives. What is important is that whatever is done must take into account the good of the majority of our people.
Amotekun has simply put paid to any attempt at self-help as some people have been advocating earlier especially after the brutal murder of Papa Reuben Fasoranti’s daughter by suspected rogue Fulani herdsmen. In 1969, peasant farmers, fed up with what they alleged was punishing taxation, organized a revolt against the government of Western State. The Agbekoya Revolt was a serious challenge to the Federal Government of General Yakubu Gowon who was then pre-occupied by the Nigerian Civil War. To bring peace, Chief Awolowo, who was now the Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council, volunteered to meet the Agbekoya High Command.
The meeting took place at Akanran village near Ibadan. Members of the Agbekoya High Command, led by a gangly old man, Chief Tafa Adeoye, wore the old purple uniform of the traditional Yoruba officers corps (the ordinary soldiers wore indigo blue). They had with them the Apete Oranmiyan (Oranmiyan Standard) which were only brought out in times of war. The last general to take it to war was Aare Latoosa who died at the Igbajo camp during the Ekiti Parapo campaign. After negotiation was concluded, Awolowo persuaded them to return the standard to its groove.
Every Yoruba should work hard to keep the Oranmiyan Standard in its grove for war and upheaval cannot benefit anybody. Amotekun should be used to keep that peace so that everyone living in Yorubaland should feel safe and secure no matter his or her roots or ethnic background. That is what the ancestors would want. That is what would keep the Oranmiyan Standard in its resting place.
- This article by Dare Babarinsa, a veteran editor and columnist, appeared originally in The Guardian Nigeria of January 23, 2020.