Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami came under severe criticisms on Wednesday for dis declaration of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), codenamed Operation Amotekun, illegal.
Senior lawyers and critical stakeholders, including former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) National President Olisa Agbakoba, rights’ crusader Femi Falana, public analyst Jiti Ogunye and Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland Gani Adams among others, concluded that the AGF erred in his declaration.
They defended the establishment of the security outfit by the six states in the Southwest.
Governors did no wrong, say Agbakoba, Falana
Dr. Agbakoba and Falana said the governors of the region have done no wrong with the formation of Amotekun corps.
They said governors were not under any obligation to consult with the AGF before taking security measures to protect their domains.
They were reacting to Malami’s declaration that Amotekun is illegal.
The two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) spoke on Wednesday at the 16th Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) Annual Lecture/Symposium (Fawehinmiism) organized by Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ikeja Branch and held at Oranmiyan Hall, Airport Hotel, Ikeja.
Agbakoba, who was a guest lecturer at the event, said no one has the power to overrun the constitution.
He explained: “What they are doing is not policing but security measures.
“The Inspector-General (IG) was involved when they started but I don’t know what happened and he backed out. May be they had a re-think.”
Agbakoba said the constitution being operated gave the governors wide and enormous powers, which he noted, they have not exhausted.
According to him, there is enough space in the constitution for everybody to advance.
“We all need to have the Gani spirit. May be, the association of Attorney Generals would need to go to court on the matter to determine who is wrong,” he said.
The former NBA boss remarked that the way restructuring of the country was been canvassed was wrong and that was why no progress has been made.
“We need to lower the temperature of the language. We need to convince our Northern brothers that restructuring will not break Nigeria but that it will benefit everybody, that it will make the regions more powerful and independent,” Agbakoba said.
He urged Nigerians to jettison restructuring and advocated cooperative federalism in its place.
Falana said what the governors are doing is not more than protecting and securing their people in line with the constitution.
He remarked that the only prohibition against any group is section 22 of the constitution which said nobody shall set up a military wing.
The activist-lawyer remarked that restructuring is no longer a southern affair even as he expressed regret that the All Progressives Congress (APC), which had it in its manifesto and once set up a committee look into it’s no longer committed to it.
In a statement on Wednesday night, Falana described Malami’s proclamation that Amotekun is outlawed as hypocritical and discriminatory.
He recalled that, before the official launch of Amotekun at Ibadan, Oyo State last week, IG Mohammed Adamu held a meeting with Southwest governors, represented by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.
Falana noted that, at the end of the meeting, the Police chief endorsed the security initiative.
He said: “By virtue of Section 318 of the Constitution the word ‘government’ is said to include the Government of the Federation, or any State, or of a local government council or any person who exercises power or authority on its behalf.
“Thus, through the Inspector-General of Police the Federal Government has ratified the establishment of Amotekun.
“Therefore, the statement of the Attorney-General of the Federal Government that he was not consulted before the establishment Amotekun is totally uncalled for and ought to be ignored by the south west governors.
“With respect, Mr. Malami’s purported proscription of Amotekun is hypocritical and discriminatory on the grounds that the Civilian JTF operating in Yobe and Borno states is constituted by 26,000 well-armed volunteers who have been assisting the armed forces to combat terrorism in the north east region.
“Similarly, the governments of Kano and Zamfara states have established the Hisbah Commission.
“It is common knowledge that the Hisbar operatives in Zamfara state recently arrested a policeman who was alleged to have been caught in the company of three women. The Lagos State government has equally established the Neighbourhood Watch to assist the Police and other security agencies in protecting the life and property of every person living in Lagos.
“No doubt, section 214 of the Constitution stipulates that there shall be only one police force in Nigeria. But the federal government has breached the Constitution by setting up other police forces.
“For instance, the Nigerian Security and Defence Corps is another police force established by law. The State Security Service is also a police force established by law. Its operatives are well armed. They wear masks even in broad daylight.
“The federal government has also authorised the officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) the Independent Corrupt Practices and Offences Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Correctional Service and other paramilitary agencies to bear arms.
“To that extent the federal government cannot stop any state from setting a security outfit.
“In fact, having lost control of the monopoly of violence to armed gangs in the various parts of the country the federal government lacks the legal, political and moral right to challenge security outfits set up by state governments and individuals to protect the lives and property of the people of Nigeria.
“It is pertinent to point out that as chief security officers in the respective states, governors have the power to adopt measures deemed fit within the ambit of the law to ensure the maintenance of law and order. In Attorney-General of Anambra State v Attorney-General of the Federation (2005) 9 NWLR (Pt 931) 572 the Supreme Court held that, “The Constitution in section 215 subsection (1) clearly gives the Governor of Anambra State the power to issue lawful direction to the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State in connection with securing public safety and order in the State.”
“Since Amotekun is not an outfit set up by south west governors to harass or intimidate political opponents it cannot be prohibited under section 227 or any other provision of the Constitution. In other words, the Constitution has not prohibited the establishment of security outfits for the defence of the people of Nigeria.
“However, if Mr. Malami is convinced that his position is backed by law he should approach the Supreme Court to test the constitutional validity of Amotekun”.
Falana advised the governments of Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Ogun and Oyo states to ignore Mr. Malami’s purported proscription and proceed to enact the necessary laws similar to the Neighbourhood Watch Law of Lagos State.
Another SAN, Tayo Oyetibo, who spoke on the topic “Is judiciary under siege by the executive,” noted that while judicial officers must exhibit high degree of competence and diligence, uncompromising sense of discipline, an unscathed level of probity, integrity, transparency and incorruptibility, the Executive must never, in any circumstance, employ self-help in the guise of correction of the Judiciary.
“The Rule of Law must at all times and in all situations be observed. The test of the maturity of any democracy can be measured by the preparedness of its organs to observe the Rule of Law even in extremely difficult situations.
“The Bar, on its part, must also not relent in performing its role as the “guardian angel” of the independence of the Judiciary. It is axiomatic that the Bar is a major casualty of an attack on the judiciary.
“When the judiciary is cowed by the executive, the Bar suffers because litigants, who are clients of lawyers, are not able to obtain, from the Judiciary, decisions which are rendered by courts constituted in such a manner as to secure their independence and impartiality which is an essential ingredient of the right to fair hearing guaranteed by the constitution”.
Oyetibo emphasised that the Bar has a duty to ward off, through the instrumentality of the law, any tyrannical attempt by the executive to subject the Judiciary to intimidation with a view to subjugating it to subtle control.
“The Bar must fight with fervor and pursue with resilience the cause of justice without yielding to any form of intimidation. It is, however, my belief that the Bar, too, must live above board and let integrity and probity be its watchword”, he said.
In a statement issued on Wednesday night titled: “Amotekun is not illegal”, Batunde Fashanu (SAN), noted that the Southwest created the outfit to help in the area of providing security for their respective states against criminal activities.
According to him, only the court has power to declare the group illegal and not the AGF.
The lawyer said: “In the first place, it does not lie within the province of the AGF or indeed the President to declare Amotekun illegal as that can only be done through a duly constituted court of law as the Constitution recognises.
“Nigeria as a federation and has set out the powers of the federating states where disagreements and con?icts are to be settled through the judicial arm of government.
“Even though it is true that under section 4(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, only the National Assembly has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List and that item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List in the Second Schedule, Part I to the Constitution, lists out “Police and other security services established by law.
“However, by the combination of sections 5(2) and 176(2) of the Constitution, the governor of a state is the chief executive of that state with powers vested in him to be exercised by him directly or through others including of?cers in the public service of the state.
“It is now beyond argument that as the chief executive, the governor is also the chief security of?cer of the state, hence, is enjoined to do everything possible to maintain peace and order and to secure the lives of the citizens and residents of the state.
“To all intents and purposes, the Amotekun does not purport to be a police out?t within the meaning of that word in the Constitution and is not ‘…government security services established by law’ as law in this context, in my opinion, means law as legislated but all the governors have done is to set up a vigilant out?t in each of their states in aid of law and order just like most residents associations have done in virtually all states of the federation and Abuja.”
Ikeja NBA Chairman Prince Dele Oloke described Gani Fawehinmi as a human right colossus whose relevance to the society remained unparalleled.
“In all his travails in the hands of the state, he was unwavering in his beliefs and convictions that only strict adherence to rule of law is the premise upon which a just and egalitarian society can be founded,” Oloke said.
A former vice presidential, NBA, and chairman, organising committee, Monday Ubani, noted that Fawehinmi used laws as instrument of social change in every area of national life.
Why AGF got it wrong, Ogunye
Public affairs commentator Jiti Ogunye faulted the declaration of the WNSN as illegal by the AGF
Ogunye said Malami seemed to have misunderstood the purpose for which Operation Amotekun was established.
According to the lawyer, who spoke on Tuesday on Channels Television, the outfit was not set up by the Southwest to defend Nigeria or its constituent part as suggested by the AGF.
Ogunye said: “The Federal Government or the AGF in the statement stated that no state of the federation or a group of states has the legal right or competence to set up a paramilitary force to defend Nigeria or any constituent part thereof.
“If that is the reason (for the AGF’s statement), I will tell you that it is not in consonance with the Amotekun that has just been declared.
“Amotekun was not set up, from what we’ve heard, to defend the Southwest. It is not defending Nigeria or the constituent part of Nigeria.
“It was set up to defend the lives and properties of human beings, of people. Nobody is talking about defending a territory here.”
The lawyer said there seemed to be “a disconnect between the raison d’etre, the reason for Amotekun and what the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation is talking about.
“If Amotekun was set up to defend the integrity of the Southwest, against other parts of the country, or defend Nigeria against an external aggressor, we can then say it has taken over the job of the military or the Nigerian Armed Forces, and let me quickly say that life and property are very invaluable things.
“In this country, we’ve seen so many things happen in the last few years or so, owing to organised banditry, kidnapping and all that. Judges have been kidnapped, Justices of the Court of Appeal have kidnapped, policemen, police officers, up to the rank of Commissioner of Police have been kidnapped.”
He stated that when a staff member of online newspaper Premium Times was kidnapped recently, the police advised that ransom be paid to the abductors.
“So, Nigerians are that helpless and I am saying that citizens have a right to self defence,” he added.
Responding to the AGF’s observation that his office was not consulted before Amotekun was set up, the lawyer distinguished between the Federal Government and the AGF’s Office.
Ogunye said: “My presumption was that the Federal Government was carried along, because they are in the same party, largely, except for Oyo State that is an opposition party. So, my presumption was that they had an understanding and they got the green light to go ahead and launch Amotekun.
“If the AGF is now saying he was not carried along, as distinct from the Federal Government of Nigeria not being carried along – because I understand that the AGF is not the Federal Government of Nigeria – if he is saying that personally he has not been carried along, then I would want the government to go and carry him along, because life is very important.
“But, if this is all about fear, I would say that once again the Nigerian government has missed an opportunity to experiment with the idea of having a federalised policy in the country whereby you have a regional arrangement.
“By the way, those who are saying that this thing is unique to Nigeria, we don’t need to have state police and all that, the Egba United Government set up a police force in 1905, from there we started having the Oyo Police, Native Authority Police forces all over Nigeria until 1970.
“So, for 65 years, this existed in this country. Many people don’t know this. The police force that we have now, this current arrangement has not even lasted for 65 years.”
He advised the Federal Government to “think outside the box and re-engineer the security arrangements in this country for the protection of life and property because, again, as we always say, the security of life and property is the primary purpose of government, so says Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution.”
Tread softly, Gani Adams counsels AGF
Otunba Adams, who reminded the AGF that the right to life is universal, chided Malami for describing the joint Operation Amotekun as “illegal”.
Likening the AGF’s utterances as “illegal, unlawful, and immoral”, Adams said Malami’s position does not confer on him the authority to declare a security outfit unlawful, adding that that position is the prerogative of the court.
Adams, who stated that the right to life is universal and goes beyond the restriction by any individual or forces, described carpeted the AGF for condemning Southwest governors’ action instead of lauding it.
He said: “I find it disturbing your statement of Tuesday, (January 14) declaring the security initiative of Southwest governors – Operation Amotekun – as illegal.
“The AGF also threatened that the full course of the law will be applied to anybody promoting the Amotekun security initiative.”
He reminded Malami not forget he is the attorney-general of the country the AGF for a section of the country.
Adams said the AGF has no right dish out instructions to elected governors, explaining that such steps negates the spirit of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
He said: “The right to life is universal and no government can legislate against that. I don’t need to bother you about killings, kidnapping, banditry and other criminal vices in the Southwest recently.
“Recall, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, the daughter of Yoruba leader Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed and nobody has been arrested in respect of all these killing.
“One thing is clear: Nigerians has the right to protect themselves. Not only that: Southwest people have a right to protect and defend themselves against attacks.
“Amotekun is an initiative by the Southwest governors to defend our people.
“Where you are getting it wrong is this: The Amotekun initiative has nothing to do with the territorial integrity of Nigeria. If there is a breach of the territorial integrity of the country, the military will come in immediately.
“So, nobody is rising against Nigeria, as your letter to the governors, directly or indirectly, implied.
“What is happening is that our people no longer feel safe because the land has been invaded by some elements from within and outside the country.
“It is unfortunate that rather than praise the governors, you are condemning their action, thereby strengthening the hands of those who believe the Federal Government is against some sections of the country.
“As a lawyer and a senior advocate, you should know that you are not the law. You are only the Attorney-General, not a court.
“It is only a court of competent jurisdiction that will decide if what an individual, group of individuals, an entity or a state does is legal or otherwise.
“So, it is only a court that can invalidate the Southwest joint security initiative, not you.
“I want to establish this fact that the Yoruba have a right to protect themselves from attack or violence of any sort.”
Outfit has come to stay, NANS tells Fed Govt
To the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the regional security organisation set up by the Southwest states to combat crimes in the region, has come to stay.
The students’ body said that the tactical moves by the federal government roll back Operation Amotekun and expose the region to continuous attacks by bandits and herdsmen would not be allowed.
NAN’s Coordinator in the Southwest, Kowe Odunayo, said students received the AGF declaration with shock, urging the chief law officer “not to play politics with the individual and collective security” of a people.
Kowe called on governors of the six Southwest states to stand on their feet and ensure that “this laudable Amotekun initiative is not killed by some enemies of peace in Yorubaland.”
According to him, the porous security situation in the land prompted the establishment of the outfit.
YCE to Buhari: Call Malami to order
The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) joined those condemning the AGF pronouncement on Operation Amotekun, describing it as provocative.
The Senior Elders’ Forum of YCE urged President, Muhammadu Buhari to call Malami to order.
Col. S. Ade Agbede (rtd), who spoke for the Forum, described the statement by Malami as provocative and unbecoming of such an exalted office.
Urging President Buhari to caution Malami and any other member of his cabinet that may not be at peace with the security initiative, Col Agbede said: “Amotekun is a Yoruba project and that what the governors did had the blessings of every son and daughter of the Yoruba nation.
“It sounds absurd and ludicrous that a security initiative made to secure the lives and property of the people that voted the governors into power could be declared illegal, whereas the marauders parading themselves as herdsmen, who have been kidnapping, killing, maiming and assaulting our people have been moving about freely.
“The minister would have to tell the whole world the legal instrument that empowers nomadic herdsmen going about with AK 47 without any form of arrest or caution by our security agencies or the Sharia police that are in operation in some states in the northern part of the country.
“Amotekun has come to stay as an outfit to ensure that our people live peacefully and move freely within our God-given space and as law abiding people, the outfit will operate within the ambit of the law, cooperate with the government security agencies for as long as our rights are not trampled upon.”
Col. Agbede, who is the immediate president of the YCE, described Amotekun as a child of necessity, recalling the gruesome murder of the daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti (Mrs. Olakunrin), the abduction of Chief Olu Falae, the incessant kidnap and killings of other Yoruba sons and daughters too numerous to mention as part of the reasons that made the initiative more compelling.”
The elder statesman called on Yoruba traditional rulers to give maximum support to the security outfit in their respective domains, stressing: “we are at a very critical stage in the life of this nation that we must hold our destiny in our hands.
“We can’t fold our arms and pretend as if nothing is happening when our people are losing their lives.”