After it was legislated into existence in each of the six states in the Southwest, Amotekun now navigates the landmines in its mission to rid the region of kidnapping, killings and other acts of criminality, reports Associate Editor ADEKUNLE YUSUF
Five patrol vans branded in screaming red colour had hardly pulled to a halt when the steely-eyed occupants jumped down in a frenzy of rage. The outriders on black colour motorbikes followed suit. Theirs was a mission that must not fail. They had journeyed several kilometres passing through many towns before reaching the narrow dirt road that led to the ‘theatre of war.’
By their mien, they left no one in doubt that they were battle-ready as they disembarked and spread in different directions. Suddenly, ongoing operations at the huge gold mining field, which had been illegally opened up in the belly of a thick forest, went on a pause mode. The field, humming with earthmovers, mining drills, loaders and other giant instruments for underground gold mining, had succumbed to the intimidating power of the invading ‘army.’ Like soldiers captured in war, scores of illegal gold miners in Ido Oko, a bucolic settlement in Obokun Local Government Area of Osun State, hurriedly submitted to arrest even without a whimper.
After their arrest around 12.45 pm on July 3, six Chinese and scores of their Nigerian partners in crime simply raised their hands in capitulation, as they were ordered into the waiting vans of the Osun State Security Network Agency (codenamed Amotekun) that conveyed them to Osogbo, the state capital. Many other successful raids have been carried out by ad-hoc members of Amotekun in the state, leveraging on the partnership of the people who readily provide tip-offs to record feat after feat. Unlike the invasion of Ido Oko that was done during the day, most other arrests were made between 12 am to 3am, as illegal miners seemed to have devised more ingenious ways of using the façade of the night to carry out their dangerous occupation in the middle of the forest. From gold miners arrested in the forest sandwiching villages around Ile Ife and Ijebu-Jesa to the ones picked up for stealing Kaolin around Iwo, Amotekun has leveraged on its popularity among the people who willing assist ad hoc members with information about movements of criminal suspects in Osun communities.
According to Comrade Amitolu Shittu, who was appointed as Director-General at the inception of Amotekun, boasted that, since his appointment, Osun has not recorded issues of kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, ritual killings and other activities that can threaten the peace of the state. “With the help of the ad-hoc personnel, we arrested cannabis farmers in Esa-Oke. Three armed robbers were arrested at Owena; we arrested ritualists and even destroyed illegal shrines in the state. Some kidnappers who were hiding in our forest around Iwo were chased away. By the provision of section 4 sub-section 1 of Amotekun law, which saddled us with the responsibility of patrolling highways and waterways, we have discovered that our commonwealth is being cornered by some greedy and influential personalities in our state through illegal mining. We have arrested 26 Chinese nationals. Other arrests we have made, including Malians, Ghanaians and Nigerians, were 36 which we have handed over to the police,” Shittu said.
Having crossed all expected and unexpected hurdles, the Western Nigeria Security Network (code-named Amotekun), described as a child of necessity by several prominent leaders in the Southwest, has begun operations full blast, ready to start making life unbearable for criminals who choose to ply their nefarious trades in the six states in the region. After initial controversies, Amotekun has grown into a people’s response for handling the horrendous crime wave in Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti – with each state government has given birth to its version of Amotekun through legislative authority.
Amotekun supervisory boards inaugurated in Osun
Governor Adegboyega Oyetola signed the bill establishing the popular initiative into law on March 23. Officials said recruitment exercise to pick from over 14,000 people who applied for the job has reached an advanced stage, leaving the outfit with the services of ad-hoc corps who have been placed on allowances since April when it began operations. However, Amotekun in Osun has grown beyond an initiative peopled only by ad hoc corps members, as Governor Oyetola has inaugurated governing board as well as complaints’ board for the security initiative. The Amotekun Corps Board and the Amotekun Independent Complaints’ Board are both a creation of the Osun Security Network Agency and Amotekun Corps (Establishment) Law 2020, with 15-member Osun Security Network and Amotekun Corps Board chaired by General Ademola Aderibigbe (retired) while General Bashir Adewinbi (retired) will serve as the Corps Commander. The two retired generals also went through legislative approval at the Osun State House of Assembly, which confirmed their nomination on July 28, 2020, after intensive scrutiny.
Oyetola noted that the two retired generals were selected on the strength of their capabilities as proven military tacticians and astute administrators. The Amotekun Independent Complaints’ Board is a three-man team headed by Justice Moshood Adeigbe. “It is our hope that the Osun Security Network Agency and the Amotekun Corps will offer improved security of lives and property and close the gaps created by the obvious overstretching of the conventional security agencies, while the Amotekun Independent Complaints Board will act as checks and balances for the activities of the Corps personnel,” he said.
Can Amotekun rise to the task in Ondo?
Last week, the Ondo State Security Outfit, also known as Amotekun, was jolted into action when some residents were abducted in broad daylight. Pronto, Amotekun corps rose to the occasion, arresting three persons suspected to be members of a kidnap gang that has been terrorising the state. The suspects were arrested after abducting one Kunle Agbayewa, in Ido Ani, Ose Local Government Area of the state. The incident happened barely 24 hours after the Medical Director of the General Hospital in Idoani, Dr. Olufemi Adeogun, and two other health workers were also abducted by the hoodlums.
The suspects were said to have stormed a saw-mill and held Agbayewa at gunpoint before taking him away to an unknown destination. Eyewitness account in Idoani alleged that the abduction suspects were herdsmen, who were seen roaming about the streets of the town. Reacting, the Commander of Amotekun Corps in the state, Adetunji Adeleye, confirmed the incident and said the victim was rescued shortly after he was abducted by the suspects. “Our men led the police and soldiers to rescue the victim shortly after we heard the news of his kidnap. After foiling their kidnap plot, we arrested the three men before handing them over to the police. They have begun giving confessional statements,” he said.
Chief Adeleye, a retired Deputy Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), was appointed to head the Amotekun Corps. In June, it began recruitment into the Corps and the forms were offered free for all eligible residents in Ondo state. Each applicant was asked to get the endorsement of their village head and the chairman of their Local Government Area. In the first phase of the recruitment exercise, eligible applicants were to be between the ages of 18 to 70 years while educational qualification ranged from First School Leaving Certificate to Doctorate Degree level. On August 11, the Ondo Amotekun Corps began operation after a passing out parade held at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Arcade. Members of the corps displayed what they learnt during training. Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who commissioned operational vehicles, motor-cycles and other communication gadgets provided for the Amotekun Corps at the passing out parade, said criminal elements would no longer be allowed to trouble the relative peace being enjoyed in the state.
However, two days after the Amotekun Corps began operation, kidnapping activities resumed in Akoko axis of the state. The two victims were released after a ransom was paid. But in a chat with The Nation, Chief Adeleye said the security outfit will rid the state of bad elements, reeling out achievements recorded within a few weeks after the security outfit was inaugurated. “We have done a lot in terms of curbing nefarious activities of criminal both in the urban and rural areas including the highways. Within our few weeks of operation, we were able to salvage some farmers whose crops were destroyed by herdsmen. We made the herdsmen apologise and pay for the corps they destroyed. That was somewhere in Akure metropolis.
“In Owena, we were able to rescue trucks of cocoa, which were stolen from farmland. Our men ensured the crop was returned to the owner. In Ijare, some persons who stole goats were caught. The owner got her goats back. In Ikun Akoko, somebody was kidnapped; our men went into the forest. Our men crossed the river and rescued the victims. At the same place on the highway, within three hours, our boys rescued the victim. There are many we are doing to ensure that Ondo is safe,” Adeleye said.
On the non-use of a firearm, he said that was a major problem as his men make use of non-prohibitive firearms. He said that would however not deter his men.
Over 47,000 applied for 3,000 Amotekun jobs in Oyo
In Oyo State, top government functionaries are ecstatic that Amotekun corps in the state will soon be having their baptism of fire as they flush out bad elements that are hell-bent on rupturing public order and tranquillity. Over 47,000 applicants jostled for 3,000 slots of jobs available in the Oyo State Security Network Agency (codenamed Amotekun). The chairman of the agency’s board, Gen. Ajibola Toogun (retired), disclosed to The Nation that the job seekers submitted their applications within one week of opening the recruitment portal between August 5 and 12, 2020. He noted that 3,000 qualified persons were recruited in the first phase, with another 2,000 to be added in the second phase.
This was followed with interviews of shortlisted applicants in each of the seven zones in the state. The recruitment exercise would hold in applicants’ local governments in each zone, because Amotekun personnel will work in their local governments for local knowledge advantage, among others. The zones are Ibadan City, Ibadan Less City, Ibarapa, Oyo, Ogbomoso, Oke-Ogun 1 and Oke-Ogun 2. Each applicant must have his/her application endorsed by the community head and the member of the House of Assembly representing his/her community.
To ogun further explained that members of the agency’s board include the police commissioner, commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), heads of the military and other paramilitary organisations in the state. Communities have three representatives on the board. Each represents a senatorial district, and one of them must be a woman. According to him, Amotekun has the power of arrest and investigation but will hand over suspects to police for prosecution with a strong caveat to follow-up such prosecution. “We will work with all security agencies, sometimes having joint operations,” he added.
On those being recruited, he said members of vigilante groups, Agbekoya, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and hunters are among the applicants. He said experience in security may also help determine their selection for the job. On measures put in place by the state government, Toogun revealed that the government has procured over 30 vehicles equipped with communication gadgets for the use of Amotekun personnel across the state, as the agency is expected to have an operational presence with a vehicle in each of the 33 local governments of the state with the expectation of additional materials and equipment over time.
COVID-19 delaying Amotekun take-off in Ekiti
The Ekiti State Security Network Agency, codenamed Amotekun Corps, is yet to be inaugurated because of the Coronavirus pandemic that is affecting the take-off plans. According to Brig-Gen. Joe Komolafe (retired), the sudden upsurge of Coronavirus cases and the consequent ban on a large gathering of people to flatten the curve has affected recruitment of corps for the security outfit.
Governor Kayode Fayemi had, in March, signed into law a bill for the formation of the network, after scaling through the hurdles of legislative processes. The commander, in a chat with The Nation, disclosed that 3,261 applicants have been shortlisted for screening out of 3,443 that applied for the Amotekun job. He assured interested applicants that the recruitment exercise would commence soon.
On the level of interstate cooperation that exists between Ekiti and other five states, Komolafe said Ekiti Amotekun corps is on the same page with its counterparts in other states of the Southwest. “Although Amotekun is not a regional security architecture, I can assure you we are on the same page. We talk regularly and cross-fertilise ideas on issues bordering on security. The law establishing Amotekun in all the six Southwest states is designed in such a way that there is uniformity in the modus operandi and cooperation among us. To the extent that if you commit a crime in Ekiti and you run to Ondo or Osun, as you are crossing the border Amotekun in Osun will be out to look for you and the one in Ondo will be there to look for you also. So, we have that cooperation and synergy,” he added.
Amotekun already in Lagos, Ogun on course soon
Unlike in other states, the commencement of the operations of the Amotekun corps in Lagos is not expected to be accompanied by any fanfare-like special recruitment or inauguration. This, according to Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso is because the initiative is not new to the state – only a change in nomenclature. Because it is a system that has been on the ground with the name Lagos Neighborhood Safety Corps (LNSC), Amotekun has been activated and has been working 24hours in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. According to Omotoso, since Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu signed the amended bill into law after it was passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly, Amotekun corps has become part of LNSC . “There has never been a vacuum about security in the state and there is no security issue that calls to question the effectiveness of Amotekun because there is a structure on ground that is working,” Omotoso said.
Months after Governor Dapo Abiodun assented to its bill passed by the Ogun State House of Assembly, Amotekun is yet to fully take off as a security outfit in the state. However, the Special Adviser to Governor Abiodun on Security, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Olusola Subair, said the state is “on course with Amotekun,” explaining that a little thing needed to be put in place to allow for its smooth take-off.
- With reports from Bisi Oladele, Ibadan; Osagie Otabor, Akure; Rasaq Ibrahim, Ado-Ekiti; Ernest Nwokolo, Abeokuta; Toba Adedeji, Osogbo; and Oziegbe Okoeki, Lagos
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