A scheduled meeting between the Presidency and South-West governors on Western Nigeria Security Network, Operation Amotekun, was called off on Tuesday.
It is now rescheduled for Thursday (tomorrow).
While South-West governors could not meet the Presidency on Tuesday, various groups in the zone held rallies in state capitals in support of Amotekun. In Lagos, police barricaded the venue of a pro-Amotekun rally.
South-West had launched the operation on January 9 in Ibadan to help address rising security challenges, particularly kidnapping and banditry, in Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Lagos, Ekiti and Ondo states.
South-West governors, who made 120 patrol vehicles available to the security outfit, had said it would complement police and the military in terms of intelligence gathering.
But on Tuesday last week, Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, said Operation Amotekun was “illegal.”
He stated, “The setting up of the paramilitary organisation called Amotekun is illegal and runs contrary to provisions of the Nigerian law.”
A few days later, Chairman of South-West Governors’ Forum, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, said South-West would go ahead with the security outfit.
Akeredolu, who is also Ondo State governor, said South-West would first seek a political solution to the problem, then go to court if the first step failed.
But a legal luminary and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Mr Afe Babalola, on Sunday, advised South-West governors to proceed with the implementation of Amotekun and leave the Federal Government to challenge the matter in court.
As part of efforts to find a solution to the problem, the governors sought to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari.
But in the Presidential Villa, schedule sighted by one of our correspondents on Tuesday, the meeting was timed to hold at 12noon and to be presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the absence of the President.
However, by 12pm when none of the governors came to the Villa, it was learnt that the meeting was shifted to 2pm.
At 2pm, the meeting was eventually rescheduled to Thursday, though Osinbajo was in the office.
A source said the meeting was moved to Thursday when most of the 36 state governors would be in Abuja for National Economic Council meeting.
The source stated, “Thursday seems convenient for everyone; all the governors are coming for their monthly NEC meeting.
“South-West governors’ meeting with the Presidency too can take place on Thursday. It’s more convenient that way. Besides, two of the South-West governors are not in the country now”, the source added.
However, it was further gathered that the meeting might have been rescheduled to coincide with Buhari’s return on Thursday so that the governors would meet with him directly.
“It’s a delicate issue, which the VP too may be trying to handle with caution because of possible political backlash at his home base”, another source claimed.
Police stop pro-Amotekun rally in Lagos
While the governors and the Presidency could not meet, policemen barricaded Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, venue of the pro-Amotekun rally in Lagos.
It was observed that over 20 vehicles with armed policemen prevented protesters from accessing the park.
Lagos State Coordinator of the protest, Mr George Akinola, in an interview with journalists, noted that police prevented the group from entering the park despite paying for the venue.
He said, “We are Yoruba people that have come here on a peaceful rally to support the initiative of governors of South-Western states of Nigeria to set up a protective force called Amotekun which is supposed to work with the police and other security agencies to protect the Yoruba land. We paid for the venue but for reasons best known to the Nigeria Police, we were prevented from entering.
“Our message today is that Amotekun will stand because it is a protective force for Yoruba land and it must be allowed to stand. No going back on Amotekun.”
Another group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, condemned the presence of armed policemen at the venue.
SERAP, on its Twitter handle, noted that the invasion of the police at the rally was unlawful. The group tweeted, “It is unlawful and unconstitutional for @PoliceNG to stop Amotekun protesters or any protesters for that matter. Rather than stopping peaceful protesters from exercising their constitutional right, Nigerian authorities should be protecting protesters from violent attacks by others.”
In Akure, Ondo State capital, groups, under the auspices of Yoruba World Congress, started their pro-Amotekun rally at MKO Abiola Democracy Park, moved to the palace of Deji of Akure, Mr Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi, and stopped at the Governor’s Office, Alagbaka, in the company with security agents.
Coordinator of the group, Mr Oluyi Akintade, said Operation Amotekun had come to stay in South-West states, stressing that no amount of threats would intimidate the Yoruba.
He said, “We will do everything to support these brave governors as they work tirelessly to see to a more secure South-West people and states.”
Also, Chairman of the solidarity walk, Mr Toyin Ogunlakaka, who explained that over 80 Yoruba groups made up tYWC, said that the support given to the initiative of the South-West governors should not be seen that the Yoruba were against the Federal Government but against Malami’s stand over the issue.
Receiving the group on behalf of Ondo State governor, Chief of Staff, Mr Gbenga Ale, who lauded the people for the support, said citizens would not be abandoned to their fate amidst the security challenges.
In Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State capital, stakeholders from the 16 council areas of the state gathered for a peaceful rally in support of Amotekun.
Those who joined the rally comprised traditional hunters, members of Oodua People’s Congress, Vigilante Group of Nigeria, Agbekoya, Oodua Union, Yoruba Koya, Man O’War, National Association of Nigerian Students and Ekiti Council of Elders.The police and operatives of the Department of State Services provided heavy security for the stakeholders.
Coordinator of the rally, Mr Praise Ayodele, said Amotekun had come to stay in the South-West. He stated, “We are not fighting anybody. The security of our people is very important. We are to do this to support our governors that we are happy with Amotekun.”
Also, no fewer than 14 groups held a solidarity rally on Amotekun in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital .
The groups held their programme at the Panseke Park, under a close watch of Police, the DSS and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps.
Chairman of the coordinating committee of Amotekun Solidarity Rally in the state, Mr Jimoh Taofeek, described Amotekun as a security outfit meant to protect lives and property in the South-West.
When asked of the number of the groups that participated in the rally. Taofeek said, “ We have 14 groups here for the solidarity walk for Amotekun”.
“If Hisbah can be in the Northern states, if there can be Civilian Joint Task Force, if there can be vigilante groups, some of them even carry arms, arresting people, so, there is no reason why we should not consider Amotekun in the South-West.
Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Kenneth Ebrimson, who visited the venue of the rally said, he was there to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order.
Different groups under the aegis of the YWC stormed streets in Osogbo, Osun State, to support Amotekun.
The protesters marched from the Nelson Mandela Freedom Park at 10:30am and moved to Okefia before proceeding to Olaiya Junction.
Bearing a large banner with the inscription “On Amotekun We Stand,” the participants urged all stakeholders in the region to support the security initiative since it was designed to check rising insecurity.
The coordinator of the event, Mr Akin Adejuwon, said participants were not protesting the seeming opposition to the initiative. He explained that the march was to sensitise the populace to the necessity of the Amotekun security initiative amidst rising insecurity in the region.
In Ibadan, Oyo State capital, President, Federation of Yoruba Consciousness and Culture, Alajobi, Mr Kunle Adeshokan, said Amotekun had come to stay.
Adeshokan, who spoke at a rally, said the entire Yoruba nation was determined to face the challenge of insecurity in the zone.
Amotekun: We mustn’t remain silent to please oppressors, says Atiku
Meanwhile, former Vice President, Mr Atiku Abubakar, on Tuesday, said no human power had the authority to criminalize the protection of lives and property.
In a statement titled, ‘Self-Defence Is International Human Right, Guaranteed By Article 51 of the UN Charter,’ he stated, “No human power has the authority to criminalise the protection of human life, and no human ambition is worth the failure to speak in support of the people in order to remain in favour with the oppressors of the people.
“As a nation, our police, armed forces and paramilitary bodies have shown great gallantry, patriotism and dedication to duty. They are our first line of defence against enemies of our nation and saboteurs within our midst. I laud, value and acknowledge them, which is why I awarded scholarships and gave other support to the children of some of our fallen heroes.
“Having said that, I must add that the reality on the ground in Nigeria today is that our armed and paramilitary forces are overstretched. To deny this is to unpatriotically put their lives at risk. This we must not do. They deserve better from us.”
He said that to say that Nigerians did not need the services of those who were patriotic enough to voluntarily put their lives at risk to ensure the protection of the lives and property of Nigerians was denying the obvious.
He said, “I salute groups like the Civilian Joint Task Force in the North-East, who provided and continue to provide an invaluable service to Nigeria and her peoples, at great cost to themselves, both in human lives and in productive hours, for which they are not well remunerated. Without their altruistic services, where would the war on terror be?
“It is easy to think that all is well when you are in secure State Houses, but the reality is that the security situation is far from fine for the average Nigerian citizen.
“In such circumstances, people have an inalienable God given right to self-defence. This divine right, as long as it is limited to self-defence, cannot be declared illegal by man. Not by any stretch.”
South-West Reps back govs
Members of House of Representatives from the South-West, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, urged the South-West governors to ignore the AGF.
Lawmaker representing Ikorodu Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Mr Babajimi Benson, said, “Nothing stops the governors from continuing with Amotekun until the Supreme Court says it is illegal.”
Also, the lawmaker representing Ede-North/South/Egbedero/Ejigbo Federal Constituency of Osun State, Bamidele Salam, dismissed the declaration by the AGF, asking the All Progressives Congress to implement its manifesto on decentralisation of the police.
The lawmaker representing Epe Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Mr Wale Raji, also backed the creation of Amotekun and advised the South-West governors to widen their consultations on the security outfit to include speakers of the state Houses of Assembly and members of the National Assembly from the zone.