The Federal Government opposition to Operation Amotekun, the Southwest security outfit launched recently, is expectedly building up tension in the region.
In this interview, Prof Adebanjo Akintoye, leader of the Yoruba, insisted that there is no going back on the initiative that enjoys overwhelming support of the people of the Southwest.
Different reactions have been trailing the recent launch of Operation Amotekun – the Southwest security outfit; did you expect the response you are getting from the Federal Government?
Naturally! Every Yoruba person who is knowledgeable about the Yoruba nation itself expected that the Yoruba people would be overwhelmingly happy with it. And they are overwhelmingly happy with it. We expected that the Federal Government and its agencies would try to stall it and they tried to thwart it before it was inaugurated and they have not stopped it even up till now. But we are not going to let them be able to cancel it and it is not going to fizzle out. So, we shall see what happens. We expected that peoples of the Southeast, South-south and Middle Belt will emulate it and we are beginning to get information that they are seriously considering emulating it.
It appears some powers-that-be are unhappy with the initiative seeing it as an indictment on the government for its inability to provide security for the helpless citizens?
(Cuts in)…Yes, it is an indictment, but we didn’t do it in the spirit of an indictment. We did it in the spirit of protecting our own interest, our children, our lives, our women, our men, our villages, our farms and our means of livelihood. We didn’t do it in order to pass an aspersion on anybody. We did it just to help ourselves. That’s all. The people who are criticizing Amotekun don’t know what is happening. As the rampaging Fulani in the Southwest, Southeast, South-south and Middle Belt are determined to pursue their agenda of conquest, more and more people are beginning to realise that they have to defend themselves. As General Danjuma once said: “Defend yourselves. If you don’t defend yourselves, you’ll all die one by one.” So, people are gearing up to defend themselves. And we are beginning to see evidence of that in Yoruba land. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) issued out a warning some few days ago that this persistent attacks of farmers will lead to an all round messy war all over Nigeria. We Yoruba don’t want that type of generalized war to happen in our land. Rather than allow that, it is better for us to create a defensive mechanism whereby we can defend the same town, the same farm and the same village without a generalized war. Amotekun is the answer to that.
Expectedly, the Miyetti Allah is already kicking, threatening to avenge any injustice done to the Fulani in the region. How do you see their reaction?
What is injustice in this? Their great grandfather used to come peacefully and reared their cattle peacefully without hurting anybody. But now, they are part of the agenda of conquest. They are coming to deliberately destroy our farmland, hurting villages, killing people and they are asking for justice. What type of justice is that? To continue to kill, maim people and destroy their means of livelihood? If that is what they want, they will never get it. Since cattle herders started to come to our land about the beginning of 20th Century, we have been able to tolerate them. The reason we were able to tolerate them was because they were peaceful and they didn’t hurt our people. But now that they have become part of the conquest agenda of our land, and aggressively destroying our land, we have to tell them that the relationship between them and us has come to an end and that is what we have done.
But they are also right to say that they have the fundamental freedom of movement. Isn’t it?
They have the freedom and they enjoy the freedom. We don’t question that. If they return to the peaceful rearing of their cattle, maybe it will return to that. But now that they said they cannot do it without hurting people, killing people and kidnapping, then there is no question of justice anymore. They are free to move around, but they are not free to hurt our people. The moment they abandon the agenda of hurting people, claiming land, and return to the traditional peaceful rearing of their cattle, they will be able to enjoy their freedom. But as long as they want to kill and destroy, they cannot have their freedom in our land.
The more the authorities try to shy away from the issue of restructuring, the more and more new challenges are thrown up. Is this a step towards restructuring?
If we restructure and each state is managing its own affairs, fighting poverty among its people and improving the quality of lives of the people, all of these things will not happen. But the people who clampdown on the lives of the nation, because the British gave them the freedom to do so at the beginning of independence believe that it is their right to continue to dominate and so they will not allow restructuring of the country. As long as we do not restructure, the more confusion spreads in the country. As many people have said, it will be impossible to keep Nigeria together without restructuring.
So, is the launch of Amotekun a step towards restructuring?
Amotekun is a temporary measure by the Yoruba people to defend themselves. It is not a permanent thing. The struggle for restructuring continues. The noise of applaud of this initiative is very loud. People are applauding it at home and abroad. It is the best direction to go to avoid chaos in our land. People in the Southeast are already urging their governors to emulate what the Southwest has done. The people of South-south and Middle Belt are doing the same thing with their governors. I am hopeful that in the next one month we would see other governors of other regions doing what the Southwest has done.
So, it’s a pace setting initiative?
Absolutely! It is a very carefully thought out thing. We Yoruba are very grateful to our governors for doing this. And we assured them of our full support.
What about the fears that an outfit of this nature may be a prelude to what the government is running away from?
What is the government running away from?
Breakup of the country
There are two answers to that. First, we are not taking security in our hands in Yoruba land. What we have done is to create vigilante group that can go to the nooks and crannies of our region in order to protect our people there. The police are there to protect town and cities. This is essentially for the rural areas. Anybody at the launch would hear me and the governors in attendance say that there will be no clash between them and the police. There is nothing for the Federal Government to fear. If Nigeria is going to breakup as a result of this, it will be because the Federal Government is trying to stop it.
Earlier before the AGF came up with the government’s position, the Police had said they would resist any attempt by Amotekun to take law into their hand. Is it an arm-bearing outfit?
The police are doing the bidding of their master and it is understandable. Government is the employer of the police. The Federal Government is nervous about it and so the police are nervous about it. They had better stop being nervous. They had better stop creating tension. They are creating tension by making such statements. For anybody to be threatening what our governors set up is really working towards trouble. We don’t want any trouble. Let’s do it quietly for a short period of its mandate and return to the status quo. Then, we will continue to fight for restructuring, state and local police.
Does Amotekun have the power to arrest any individual considered to constitute security threat to the region?
If they encounter Fulani herdsmen destroying farms, they can stop them and call the police to come and arrest them. The authorities that set up this have laid down the parameters and the people trained to do the job will operate within those parameters.
Is this initiative really sustainable, considering the financial implications for the states involved?
Anyhow we can do it, we will do it. I don’t think there is any doubt about that. It is our hope that other endangered parts of the country will find the same type of peaceful solution. This Amotekun will be the beginning of much desired economic integration of the Southwest.
What is the panacea for the unity and stability of this country?
My advice to the various zones of Nigeria is that in order to prevent a messy war all over the country, the best thing would be for each zone to develop an Amotekun programme to make sure that the boys who will do defence are well trained and will be under proper control. Allowing young people to begin to defend their land will lead to chaos. But mobilizing a few, training them and giving them order, supervising them properly and making sure that they carry out their work under strict order and supervision is a much better way of defending each zone than letting the young men go and fight on their own. Young men are now ready to fight back in Nigeria. Tension is building up everywhere, but we must not let it happen. It is better to have well organized vigilante groups under the supervision of the government than allowing young men to do the job of defence. As for the Miyetti Allah, I think they should mind themselves. In their own interest, they should tell the world that they are no longer part of the agenda for conquest. If they make the announcement and the rest of us are satisfied that they are serious about it, then they will be free again.