Neighbourhood Watch, Amotekun, Community Police and Nigeria’s Complex Security Network
The Editorial Research and Intelligent Unit of the National Association of Online Security Reporters, NAOSRE, in this report, examines Nigeria’s uncoordinated security initiatives arising from the federal government’s centralist community policing and southwest federalist Amotekun.
In the past 10 years, Nigeria has been fighting Jihadist terrorism. The situation has been worsened by the importation of agents of Al Qaeda and the Islamic Caliphate into Nigeria from other countries in the Sahel.
As if terrorism by home-grown Boko Haram is not enough, citizens, since 2016, have been victims of bandits, kidnappers and killers.
Several Nigerians, including farmers, have lost their lives, farms, and businesses to herdsmen attacks.
So terrible is the situation that several development partners have warned their citizens against traveling to many parts of Nigeria.
But given that the condition of Nigeria’s security is of utter concern to NAOSRE, whose preoccupation is bridging the communication gaps between functional security institutions cum operatives and citizens, the association is worried about the distracting bedlam eclipsing federal and state governments’ funding, control, and sustainability of security initiatives by NAOSRE Reporters.
Only recently, advocates for state police found another fertile opportunity to advance their persuasions following the gruesome murder of Funke Olakunrin, the second daughter of late Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti.
Before then, Mudashiru Obasa, the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, on two occasions in 2015 and early 2016, raised the need for a collective security outfit with a will and goal to support the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, especially in the South-Western part of the country.
The first was at a meeting with some youths, most of whom he often relates to gauge the pulse of the majority.
The second was when he sat with a few lawmakers, aides, and friends during a non-formal discussion.
Obasa understood what he meant even when the concerns about threats from bandits and kidnappers were narrated in hush discussions. He observed that the call for state and community policing had constantly hit the brick wall.
To Obasa, it would make sense to have an organisation that is considered closest to the grassroots.
Obasa never discarded the thought. He single-handedly sponsored the bill, which later became a law establishing State Neighbourhood Safety Agency. The agency, which also controls the activities of the Vigilante Corps in the state, is the result of that thought.
Thus, Neighbourhood Watch was born. The first test case for Neighbourhood Watch was Badoo, the dreaded cult-like body that had a particularly strange way of killing their victims mainly in Ikorodu.
At that time, the police, under the supervision of Edgal Imohimi as commissioner, was having sleepless nights. Communities affected were in disarray, those not yet hit could not live in peace. Local vigilante groups were set up.
Then, Neighbourhood Watch drafted its men to support the police. It took a little more time for the cult group to be run over. Its leaders were arrested and peace returned to Ikorodu.
Since its establishment of the Neighbourhood Watch, the organisation has assisted in cooling tensions, supported the state’s traffic management agency in resolving traffic issues, liaised with law enforcement agencies and carried out emergency activities.
However, it is not certain whether Obasa later sold the idea to any of the governors in the South West.
But whether he breathed the idea to others or not, what is not in doubt is that the establishment of the Neighbourhood Watch was the forerunner for the creation of Amotekun almost four years after.
As it turned out, Obasa’s agitation soon gained national currency, a development that got Abuja thinking on the fastest solution to an endless agitation.
The federal government’s latest “community police” which has been launched across tiers of government is, to say the least, an attempt to dig deeper into the hole of solutions.
The first to launch Amotekun is Ondo State and as of the last count, many States in South West have followed Ondo in the full implementation of Amotekun.
Just last week, Ekiti State Board Security Network announced the commencement of the recruitment of personnel into Amotekun.
The recruitment is a sequel to the passage of the State Security Network Bill by the state House of Assembly and signed into law by Governor Kayode Fayemi in March 2020.
As it seems, Amotekun and community police, twin-drivers of the latest security controversy, must be placed in requisite conceptual blocs of a clash between federalist and centralist pulls in a country craving a workable security balance.
It must, however, be noted that this has been long in coming, dating back to pre-independence Nigeria.
Back then, local police in the pre-1st Republic turned out an epochal miscalculation due to gross regions’ abuse.
It was on the basis of that experience that many top Nigerians like former President Ibrahim Babangida fear that State security control can easily get abused by desperate politicians and at best, the idea of State police is not only immature but a catastrophe waiting to happen.
But in some important respects, Aminu Bello Masari, Katsina governor, complains his State has become a comfortable zone to bandits of all hues. He submits that Katsina State, incidentally, President Buhari’s home state, is thinly policed. His lamentation arises from federal security agencies’ clinical inefficiency.
Therefore, with the failure of the central security apparatus, the Amotekun concept of decentralized policing, spiced with a vibrant local content, to aid intelligence-gathering and forestall crime, seems the sane way to go vis-à-vis Masari’s security woes.
Nonetheless, as interesting as these initiatives are, NAOSRE is basically concerned about funding which has, from time immemorial, been the bane of photo-finish execution of government initiatives.
At the moment, for instance, Abuja has hinted plans for states to fund the central government’s superfluous community policing. They have also requested the Southwest states to submit control of their community police system to the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force.
To many, it is illogical. The interpretation is that indeed, community police, unleashed from Abuja, would be a violent contradiction in terms.
Perhaps it could offer some comfort if it were conceived to link the central Police command with the outlying communities to savage the butt of the serious insecurity crisis. That way, there would be some built-in flexibility in the operational command structure, featuring Abuja and local players. But the state players see Abuja community police portraiture, under Inspector General of Police control, is much of antithesis of expectations.
It seems as a design for yet another bureaucratic layer, which further pushes urgent solutions away from a crying crisis. Therefore, Abuja’s request for wholesale control of Amotekun is not well reconceived.
Some have argued that it was the failure of the existing security architecture to tackle the menace and secure life and property in the Southwest region that led to the clamour for Amotekun.
To them, it makes no sense to place the same Amotekun under an organization that has proved incapable and inadequate to provide the much-needed security in the first place.
Adequate funding fears which have gripped critical stakeholders appeared to have been addressed by Abuja when it announced that N13 billion has been released for community policing across the 36 states by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, it appeared citizens rejoiced too early as what ordinarily would have allayed their fears has turned another round of intrigues, debates, and propaganda.
Already, the Yoruba World Congress (YWC) has expressed support for Akeredolu and Makinde on the decision not to put Amotekun under the control of the Inspector General of Police, saying the body should not be subsumed under the police.
President General of the group, Professor Banji Akintoye, said in a statement that the governors’ position on the issue was in the right direction.
He said, “We support the stand of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State that the Southwest security outfit codenamed Amotekun shall not be subsumed under the control of the Nigeria Police Force. “Amotekun, as rightly posited by the governors, is an independent security outfit necessitated by the clear danger of murderous herdsmen internationally accepted as terrorists, heartless bandits and sundry criminals who have turned Yorubaland into killing fields.”
In light of this, NAOSRE is worried that there is yet any point of agreement on the workability of the various security initiatives.
The association sadly observes the inability of both Abuja and State governments to find a common path of resolution since they both accepted the need for new approaches to law enforcement in all parts of the country and therefore tasks legislators to pluck the courage and do the needful through constitutional interventions by redesigning the governance of Nigeria’s security architecture.