Fellow citizens of our great country, since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999, every January of a new decade has presented our nation with a major contentious national question that not only reveals the flaws in our present constitution, but also challenges us to revisit our national foundations and renegotiate, as it were, “a more perfect Union.”1
In the year 2000, it was the question of the constitutionality of state religious laws when, on the 27th of January that year, Sharia law was instituted in Zamfara State – a step that was soon replicated by eleven other states in the Northern part of our nation. I recall how the then president waved aside the ensuing bitter regional and religious contentions and labelled the matter “political Sharia,”2 even as we, as a nation, swept the issues under the carpet, instead of candidly addressing the underlying questions of constitutionalism and nationhood at the table of brotherhood.
In January 2010, at the turn of yet another new decade, the wake-up call was the sensitive question of regional governance rotation at a time when the incapacitation of a sitting president led to power hijack by a cabal in the presidency. Although that situation led to an unprecedented people movement that forced the National Assembly to invoke the Doctrine of Necessity to bridge constitutional gaps, and although the lawmakers followed up that action with subsequent constitutional amendments, the palpable tensions that continue to define governance transition periods in Nigeria, especially among the different zones, attest to the fact that the underlying foundational issues are yet to be resolved.
And now, in January 2020, at the commencement of another decade (of our monopoly democracy), the contentious constitutional question that once more beckons on us to examine the foundations of our nationhood relates to the newly instituted Western Nigeria Security Network, code-named “Operation Amotekun.”
Up until the South-West governors and the Attorney General of the Federation reached an agreement under the moderation of the vice president, I carefully followed the arguments for and against the regional security outfit. I also took note of the positions of the moderates who preferred to stay in the middle of the two dominant poles. I welcome the fact that this sensitive issue sparked some form of ideological debate and created a semblance of leftist, rightist and centrist approach to policy discourse. This is what democracy is all about and, if well managed by political actors, this discourse can
provide us with an opportunity to strengthen our federal governance architecture.
Nevertheless, when one considers the argument for and against Amotekun, one will find a recurring reference to the issues which we, as a nation, have failed to deal with in past decades. The proponents of Amotekun, particularly in the South, justify the move by referencing the Sharia police or Hisbah as a northern version of regional policing.3 The opponents, on the other hand, particularly from the North, express fears of possible regional political motivations.4 These are clear indications that the issues we swept under the carpet in past decades are still staring us in the face. We cannot continue to hide under the umbrella of one finger. It is time to address the underlying issues of nationhood and reset Nigeria on the path to predictable progress.5 No amount of ringworm medicine can cure leprosy.
The way forward for these recurring questions of federalism, including that of regional or state policing, is neither to the left nor to the right, nor is it in the centre of the discourse; the way forward is to travel downwards to revisit the constitutional foundations while looking upwards with unwavering faith in our divinely ordained destiny as one strong, united nation, with a strong federal government and strong federating units; a nation in which government as an entity is close enough to serve the people and strong enough to protect them.
Now that, thankfully, steps are being taken to address the legal deficiencies surrounding Operation Amotekun,6 one can only hope that the enabling laws that will be enacted by the respective states will cater to the questions of the appropriate security architecture, including the recruitment, screening, training and deployment procedures, as well as seamless tactical operations between the outfit on the one hand, and the conventional federal police commissions in the South-West states on the other hand.
Nevertheless, the agreement between the federal government and the South-West governors notwithstanding, we must not let this moment pass by without once again telling ourselves some home truths regarding the underlying issues of constitutional federalism that have continued to confront us. We must not lose sight of the main issue in the Operation Amotekun debate, which is that the current mono-level security architecture has proved inadequate to combat the security challenges that confront not just the South-West but every zone in our nation – security challenges such as kidnapping, herdsmen attacks, cattle rustling, terrorism and the porosity of our borders.
We must not forget that, while the debate over the legality or otherwise of regional security efforts like Amotekun were raging during the past week, Nigeria was, once again, plunged into mourning with the murder of a chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lawan Andimi, by regional terrorists. We must not forget the fact that tens of thousands have lost their lives to criminal elements who have taken advantage of the national security gaps in the
respective zones of our federation. This is why I believe that, even though the efforts of the South-West governors towards taking responsibility for the security of the zone are commendable, our nation needs a more strategically effective approach to national, regional and local security. This point was highlighted in my address to the nation in October 2019, titled “Resetting Nigeria on the Path to Predictable Progress.”7 I did say in that address that:
Subnational governments must be empowered to provide security alongside federal structures…However, to create lasting change, we must institutionalise security interventions rather than respond with a fire brigade approach to emerging challenges. We already have too many task forces littered across the length and breadth of the nation duplicating efforts. What we need is the restructuring of our police force to allow for multilevel policing. Therefore, we must, as a matter of urgency, create police forces at the state and community levels under the control of the respective state and local governments.
In addition, given the zonal delineation of security threats, state governments within each zone must come together to constitute Zonal Security Councils, to push for constitutional amendments to recognise and empower such councils, and to have them represented at the National Security Council.8
Such a holistic, systematic and collaborative approach to national security reforms will, of necessity, bring the diverse interest groups and stakeholders to the dialogue table, beginning on the platform of the Council of State which brings together the President, the Vice President, former Presidents, all former Chief Justices, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, all the Governors of the Federation and, notably, the Attorney General of the Federation. This will not only address separate regional efforts but will provide the platform to work out lasting foundational solutions to national, regional and local security challenges.
Having said that, good as the Amotekun Security outfit and similar initiatives across the nation are, we will have fewer security challenges when government at all levels focuses urgent attention on job creation for the massive army of jobless youths in our nation. Youth joblessness is the breeding ground for the various forms of crime that have bedevilled our land. Evidently, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”9 Even our present constitution, flawed as it is, stipulates that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”10 Consequently, we cannot prioritise the security of the citizens above the welfare of the citizens; the two must go hand in hand. When that happens, the crime rate will drastically drop as our youths across the length and breadth of the federation are gainfully employed or helped to become job creators themselves.
By taking these bold steps, we will be building a nation where our homes, schools, streets, villages, highways and cities are safe and secure, where Nigerians can work, play or travel with their minds at rest, and where families can go to bed with their two eyes closed and their hearts at peace. I remain committed to seeing the emergence of that dream nation.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless our beloved nation, Nigeria.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare