It has been almost two years since the Southwest regional security outfit code-named Amotekun commenced operation. In this report, Southwest Bureau Chief BISI OLADELE, YINKA ADENIRAN (Ibadan), ERNEST NWOKOLO (Abeokuta), TOBA ADEDEJI (Osogbo), OSAGIE OTABOR (Akure), OYEBOLA OWOLABI (Ikeja), and RASAQ IBRAHIM (Ado-Ekiti) assess the outfit’s effectiveness in achieving its set goals.
The question that keeps rearing its head whenever terrorists or bandits attack any Southwest community nowadays is: where is Amotekun? From Igangan, in Oyo State, to lately, Owo, in Ondo, the rhetorical question has kept popping up.
In the Southwest, killings, kidnapping, armed robbery and other forms of criminality reached intolerable levels in 2019, with intelligence reports indicating that the thick bowels of government reserve forests of the zone are now home to these criminals. The pressure for a solution forced governors of the six states in the region to embrace the idea of a regional security outfit, an idea generated by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission to help bring these crimes to a halt.
The birth of Amotekun later that year, initially met with a brick wall, as the Presidency declared it illegal. It argued that the Nigerian constitution does not provide for a regional security outfit as the federating units are not regions but states. This realisation forced the six governors to go back to the drawing board, and urged all their Houses of Assembly to adopt a common security edict, which were given accelerated hearings, passed and accented to by all the governors. All the states – Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti – adopted a uniform name, law, operational guidelines and agreed to cross border cooperation for regional effectiveness of the outfit.
One year on, Amotekun, a statement of resilience and a testament to what is possible should there be political will, has recorded some successes and failures. It has also faced some challenges. In some of the states, Amotekun personnel have had running battles with criminals, and some of its men have been killed by bandits. The Nigeria Police Force also had a challenge accepting Amotekun, with the federal government grudgingly accepting its existence on the commitment that the corps would not bear arms.
Like the Chairman Southwest Governors Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, recently observed, the refusal to approve arms for the corps remains the single most debilitating challenge to the effectiveness of the security outfit in achieving set objectives. Other factors militating against this are: inadequate funding, and lack of prosecutorial powers in virtually all the states. Here is a state-by-state analysis of how Amotekun has fared so far in the six states since inception:
Inside Oyo’s 1,500 men-strong Amotekun
Oyo, the most plagued state among the lot, had launched Amotekun with 1,500 men. The locals rolled out drums to celebrate its establishment, which they saw as a saviour against the prowling bandits who have turned their communities into a killing field. It was largely welcomed as a grassroots/community security outfit that would help in gathering intelligence capable of strengthening policing at the grassroots. Farmers, residents and indigenes of agrarian communities especially in Oke Ogun and Ibarapa areas of the state welcomed Amotekun as the best solution to herder-farmer clashes and killings in blighted communities.
However, having suffered a lot in the hands of criminal herders and armed robbers, residents in the areas are not fully satisfied with the performance of the security outfit. Residents, who spoke to The Nation in confidence, expressed worries that attacks are still going on as farmers and their farmlands are still being attacked, while rape, kidnapping and other criminal acts are still rife despite the presence of Amotekun in their communities. A community leader who preferred not to be mentioned said the sad situation killed the initial enthusiasm and warmth with which the people of Oke Ogun had welcomed the birth of Amotekun.
Available data showed that in Oyo State alone, Amotekun recorded 286 cases of violent attacks in the last year. They ranged from murder, robbery, theft, motorcycle snatching and rape, to malicious damage to farmlands, among others. A breakdown of the cases showed that it recorded murder cases (6), robbery (26), theft (95), burglary (24), kidnapping (14), ritual killings (3), fraud (8), defilement and rape (11). Other crimes include malicious damage to farmlands/produce (27), banditry (5), motorcycle snatching (20), automobile theft (2), vandalism (4), assault (15), extortion (4), cultism (5) and thuggery/hooliganism (17).
A closer analysis showed that the crime rate increased in the first six months of this year with cases rising to higher numbers than those recorded in the whole of 2021. Forty-nine robbery cases were recorded between January to June 2022, as against 46 cases recorded throughout 2021. Defilement/rape cases were eight as against three cases recorded in 2021. In the same vein, the corps recorded 12 cases of assault this year, as against three recorded in 2021. It recorded 14 thuggery/hooliganism cases as against three cases in 2021. But the agency recorded a decline in malicious damage to farmland/produce from 22 cases in 2021 to five in the first half of this year.
Commenting on the outfit’s performance, its commander, Col. Olayinka Olayanju (rtd), said the decline in the areas of herders/farmers clashes was as a result of the adoption of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) strategy by the corps, which he said has been yielding better result than the use of force or coercion. He said the agency has neutralised kidnap cases with a series of successful rescued cases of kidnapped victims in the last couple of months. He stressed that the agency was also working round the clock with the support of sister security agencies and the backing of Governor Seyi Makinde to ensure that the people of the state are safer and more secure through the use of technology-driven initiatives.
On the challenges confronting the outfit, Olayanju said many people in the state ignorantly aid crimes by hoarding information that could help the agency prevent criminality and arrest criminals. He pointed out that some parents, guardians and residents have knowledge of the atrocious ways of life of their children, neighbours and community members but would not make such available to security operatives until they fall victim to their criminal acts.
The Nation also gathered that there was a need to increase the number of Amotekun personnel across the state. Thankfully, Governor Makinde had just approved recruitment of 500 additional personnel into the agency. It is believed that additional facilities and equipment will also help the corps to be more effective. An Igangan resident told The Nation that some of the personnel initially misunderstood their operational role, but later adjusted and earned the confidence of members of the public. He added that the corps has improved intelligence gathering and is swift in response to nipping criminalities in the bud, which has boosted public confidence. He added that the combination of Amotekun, vigilance and other non-conventional security organisations has helped reduce crime growth rate in the state.
As expected, some personnel have been found to abuse their privileges; while some have been killed during the operation. No fewer than 13 personnel have been killed and 37 dismissed. Some have sustained varying degrees of injury during operations. The families of each deceased officer got N2.5 million in compensation from the state government. Another resident said the government must do more in the areas of training and retraining of Amotekun personnel in weapon handling, crime investigation, intelligence gathering and proper documentation of cases.
A security expert, Taiwo Falade was optimistic that Oyo State residents will soon witness a respite in crime and criminalities going by the level of investment in the corps by the government. Part of the investments include the recent donation of additional 100 operational vehicles, the unveiling and commissioning of Amotekun headquarters in the state located at Agba-Akin, Moniya, in Akinyele Local Government area of the state, among others.
Osun Amotekun: Giving criminal elements a tough time
Last year, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola inaugurated the Amotekun Corps with 350 officers in Ejigbo on September 7, urging residents not only to own the outfit, but to provide them with credible information to aid their operations. To mark its second anniversary in September, the state government plans to recruit additional 350 personnel to strengthen the corps. Checks by The Nation revealed that since inauguration in the state, the corps has embarked on over 200 notable operations, which led to the arrest of over 250 suspected criminals in the state.
It has raided kidnappers’ dens, ritualist havens, drug peddlers’ hubs, and nocturnal meetings of cultists, where drugs, guns, and other dangerous weapons, charms and other substances were recovered. Speaking about the development, the Field Commander, Comrade Amitolu Shittu, revealed that the corps had arrested 250 suspects in connection with several crimes. “We have arrested over 250 suspects since we commenced Amotekun in Osun. We arrested kidnappers, rescued scores of their abductees unhurt, drug peddlers, rapists, ritualists, burglars and cultists among others. We handed them over to the police and Department of State Service (DSS) for prosecution and many of them are now in correctional centres; while some are standing trial in court.
“We have identified many dark spots where they grow Indian hemp in Osun State, and we have raided some of them, though it is very deadly because we faced gun battle but God showed Himself strong. Among the places they are growing weed are Orile-Owu, Ikire, on the Gbongan axis, and Ila-Orangun. One of their deadly spots is a village in Ijesa land. At that place, workers on the farm start work around 10pm and work through the night as they will come putting on a generator set to illuminate the farm. They have guards who wore military uniforms to scare people off the farm. But we raided the farm and discovered many atrocities they have committed on the farm land. They have killed some innocent people who strayed to the farm and buried them on the farm,” Amitolu said.
Lagos Amotekun: A modified version
The Lagos State Neighborhood Security Corps (LNSC) operates in the place of the Amotekun corps because, according to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, the corps operates on the law which established the LNSC. “The government resolved that the LNSC should continue in the stead of the Amotekun Corps to avoid creating double agencies that by law are discharging the same functions. The Amotekun Corps law is a modification of what we have as LNSC in Lagos. But we support the Amotekun Corps and everything it stands for. We also support ideas, materials and everything needed to make it function well.
“The LNSC is doing so much and the government keeps employing more people into the corps. They are good at providing intelligence because they live within the communities themselves. They have been very effective and many crimes have been busted through their active support.”
On the statistics of their operations, Omotoso said: “I do not have figures of their successes but I know they work very well with the police and the peace in Lagos State is partly due to the work of the neighbourhood corps in conjunction with the police.” On challenges the corps face, Omotoso said: “Of course there is nothing in life that doesn’t have challenges. The challenge of people coming into Lagos unrestrained; they move in huge numbers every day without any address, with no means of livelihood; they cannot be traced yet they keep coming in droves because they believe Lagos is a land of opportunities, and they want to come and fulfil their dreams.
Ekiti Amotekun trudging on amidst challenges
Despite the establishment of Amotekun in Ekiti State, security challenges such as farmer-herder clashes, kidnapping, banditry and other forms of criminalities have not abated in the state. The last 12 months have not been a good time for residents of the state as they have been terrified by criminals.
Both residents and travelers have suffered in the hands of armed robbers and kidnappers. Hot spots include Igbara-Odo-Ikere, Ayeyoro-Ewu, Ilumoba-Ijesa-Isu-Ikole, Akure-Ikere, Ise-Ikere and Ado-Ijan roads. Recently, about 10 people were gruesomely murdered in the state while scores were kidnapped, including traditional rulers and other influential persons, by unknown gunmen. Amotekun has, however, made some success through collaboration with sister security agencies in tackling kidnapping and banditry. It has foiled some abductions, apprehended some kidnappers, and rescued victims. It has also prevented and resolved some farmer-herder clashes.
Speaking on the achievements of the outfit so far, its commander, Brig. Gen Joe Komolafe (rtd), said the corps had recorded significant progress in tackling insecurity in the state. “One of our singular achievements is that we have cleared our forests of criminals, although we still have pockets of crimes in the state. If you move around our major highways, you will see our men on patrol and we are arresting kidnappers in the forest and handing them over to the police for prosecution.”
However, the corps is still perceived as a toothless security outfit by some residents as kidnapping, banditry and killing remain rampant in the state. A community leader in Awo-Ekiti, Alhaji Abdullateef Omoboriowo, said Amotekun has fallen short of people’s expectations as it failed to achieve its primary objective of stemming activities of kidnappers and banditry.
Ondo Amotekun winning converts
One area critics of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu agreed he has performed well is the provision of security, particularly with the establishment of the Amotekun Corps.
Distressed individuals in the state now prefer to call themselves Amotekun operatives.
Last month, security agencies from Edo and Kogi states collaborated with operatives of the Ondo Amotekun to flush out criminals operating in Ondo border towns of Akoko.
The commander of Amotekun Corps in the state, Chief Adetunji Adeleye, said the collaboration helped to chase out kidnappers and armed robbers operating in borders in Akokoland. He listed the challenges of the outfit to include inadequate funding, insufficient equipment and support from the people; while urging residents to continue to support and provide intelligence that will make the task easier.
In the past two years that Ondo Amotekun was established, incidences of farmer-herder clashes have reduced tremendously. This is because many herders have been made to pay to farmers whose crops were destroyed. Checks showed that the corps has resolved over 600 conflicts between farmers and herders in the state. The signing of the Anti-Open Grazing bill into law also helped to boost the morale of farmers in reporting incidents of herders’ destruction of farmlands. It was gathered that over 5,000 violators of the law have been arrested since it became effective.
Its ‘Operation Clean Up’ and regular patrols have led to the arrest of over 4,000 suspects between January and May this year. Speaking on the successes of the corps, Adeleye said lots of the successes were due to the synergy with other security agencies, boasting that the crime rate in the state has dropped to 70 percent. “We have reactivated 12 control points in and out of Akure town. This will help us to barricade the road if there are criminal acts. We have sent a reasonable number of arrested criminals to correctional centres while diligent investigations are going on. Our routine recruitment would now be a yearly affair.
“The 350 personnel we are recruiting are to meet specific security challenges especially now that we are inviting more investors especially in rural areas where the investments will be cited. We want the state to be investor-friendly. The new recruits will beef up security architecture in the area of maintenance of law and order in the state especially in the suburbs.
Grassroots security is the solution to insecurity. We know the terrain better than other agencies. Neighbouring states have seen the results in Ondo State. I advise that they set up their own security outfit. If the government of Ondo State had restrained from using Amotekun during its own election, you can be sure of our neutral position in political activities. State-based grassroots security is the solution to insecurity across the country. The bottom line is grassroots security.”
In the Gateway State, Amotekun has attained some commendable feat. Its commander, Mr. David Akinremi, disclosed that Amotekun has arrested over 200 suspects in the last one year in the state. Akinremi added that between April last year and June, this year, the corps foiled over 50 crimes ranging from kidnapping, stealing and other sundry offences. “We started on April 1 last year. Since inception, we have arrested over 200 suspects for crimes ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, assault, stealing and cultism. We arrested a number of suspected cultists and we even engaged in shoot-out with them a couple of times.”
But some residents said that the presence of the Amotekun Corps is not felt in the state. They demanded that its manpower strength be urgently increased and deployed to tackle the recurring issues of herdsmen attacks and theft of farm produce in rural areas. Oyeyinka Oduwole said Amotekun’s impact is not felt in remote areas and farm lands. He posited that inadequate personnel and logistics are hindrances to their operation. He advised Governor Abiodun to urgently deploy Amotekun to tackle recurrent kidnapping cases in Ijebu-Ode and environs as well as tackle herdsmen attacks and theft of farm produce in rural communities, particularly in Ogun West area of the state.