There were strong indications on Wednesday that intrigues among South-West governors and interference by the Federal Government were threatening the Western Nigeria Security Outfit codenamed Operation Amotekun (leopard).
The PUNCH gathered that although all the South-West governors agreed to set up the security outfit at a summit organised by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria in June last year, some of them had started developing cold feet.
The summit, which was attended by the governors, traditional rulers and other stakeholders in the South-West, was convened following serial killings and kidnapping in the zone by Fulani herdsmen.
Gunmen, suspected to be herdsmen, had in June killed Funke Olakunri, a daughter of the Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, on the Ondo-Ore road.
In May, a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof Olayinka Adegbehingbe, was abducted at the Ikoyi/Apomu junction of the Ibadan-Ife Expressway in Ikire, a border town between Osun and Oyo states.
There were also many cases of kidnapping and killings on other major roads in the zone.
But one of our correspondents gathered on Wednesday that some elements within the Presidency as well as the police high command, were not favourably disposed to the regional outfit because they considered it as part of restructuring agenda, the South-West had been pushing for.
It was learnt that after understanding the body language of the Federal Government, some governors’ interest in the security outfit began to wane.
A top Federal Government official, who confided in The PUNCH, said, “Having studied the ‘body language’ of the executive at the federal level, some of these governors who do not want to be in the bad books of ‘Abuja’ are secretly going behind to give the impression that a particular governor among them was the one pushing for the regional outfit.
“Some of these governors have ambitions for positions at the centre, do not want to give an impression that they are confronting the centre through the setting up of the regional security outfit.
“We understand that a section of the Presidency and the police high command are uncomfortable with the idea of a regional security outfit which they do not have direct control over.
“The same governors are in quandary because they equally don’t want to give their people the impression that they are not interested in promoting a regional response to a real and present threat of an invasion of their ancestral lands.”
But at least, three of the South-West states on Wednesday said they would attend the launch of the security outfit which would take place in Ibadan on Thursday.
When one of our correspondents enquired about the event, the Chief Press Secretary to the Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, Kunle Somorin, earlier on Wednesday said, “I have my reservation about that because he (governor ) has not mobilised us. He has not asked us to get set for Ibadan.”
But later on Wednesday, the CPS said his boss had given the signal of his readiness to participate in the proposed launch.
He said “the Chief of Staff (Shuaib Salis) has called me that we should prepare to go to Ibadan tomorrow (Thursday) for the launch of Amotekun.”
It’s early to say whether Sanwo-Olu will attend or not – Aide
The Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Gboyega Akosile, said the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, was in support of the Operation Amotekun.
Akosile, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “It is part of his itinerary to attend the launch of the scheme on Thursday but it is too early to know if he will attend in person or not. He is cooperating with other South-West governors to safeguard lives and property in the region.”
The Chief Press Secretary to Osun State Governor, Ismail Omipidan, said the state would participate in the launch.
He said the state had received an invitation to the launch of Operation Amotekun and would be at the venue in Ibadan.
120 Amotekun vehicles head towards Ibadan
The Special Adviser to Ekiti State Governor on security, Brigadier General Ebenezar Ogundana (retd.) also confirmed that the launch would take place in Ibadan as scheduled.
He said, “The launch is taking place in Ibadan on Thursday (today). The headquarters will be at Ibadan. All the states in the South-West are already gathering in Ibadan in readiness for the launch.
The security adviser said all the 120 branded Operation Amotekun vehicles – 20 vans from each of the six southwest states – would be there in Ibadan for the launch. He added that after the launch, the vehicles would be dispatched to the respective states.
Ogundana said that the size of the troops would be determined by what each of the six states had capacity for and based on the level of security threat.
He stated, “Every state government will fund the troops in its state. It is the capacity of a state that will determine the size of troops it needs.
“Each state will determine what it needs and what it can afford. You know the states are not the same; the threats are not the same and the strengths are not the same. It is when we come back from the launch now that we will determine our actual needs.”
The Ekiti State Commissioner for Information, Muyiwa Olumilua, dismissed a rumour that South-West governors had been invited to Abuja on Wednesday for a meeting over Amotekun, fuelling fears the launch might be halted.
Fayemi went to Abuja on Wednesday – Commissioner
He said, “The inauguration still holds tomorrow (Thursday). As I speak, all other South-West governors are in their states preparatory to the launch. The launch is going on tomorrow (Thursday) as scheduled. Governor Kayode Fayemi left for Abuja after the state Executive Council meeting in Ado Ekiti today (Wednesday).
“All the issues concerning Amotekun have been resolved and the launch will go on tomorrow (Thursday) as scheduled.”
Nothing is stopping Operation Amotekun – Ondo govt
On his part, the Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Security Matters, Alhaji Jimoh Dojumo, said officers of the state were already in Ibadan for the launch.
He said, “I don’t think anything is stopping the launch of Operation Amotekun tomorrow (Thursday). We are already in Ibadan for the launch, on the instructions of Mr Governor. All the teams from other states are here too for the programme. So the operation would be launched as scheduled.”
It’s not an alternative Army – DAWN
But the Director-General, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, Seye Oyeleye, said Operation Amotekun was not an alternative Army.
Oyeleye, who spoke in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the outfit’s headquarters would be in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
He stated,”I want to disabuse the thinking that we want to set up an alternative army. This is community policing and in 2020, policing has to be local. That is the idea behind Operation Amotekun.
“I have heard people say the police will not allow it to work. But I say Operation Amotekun will, in fact, help the police because they are the local people that know everywhere and understand the terrain very well. The police cannot say they know all the forests and bushes in the South-West.”
Oyeleye described as untrue a report that the personnel of Operation Amotekun would be paid N13,500 monthly.
He stated, “Someone said on Tuesday that they would be giving the personnel of the security N13,500 as monthly salary. This is not true. I can’t give you the figure they will be paid but no state will pay below the minimum wage. The payment would be done by the individual state. You see, Amotekun is a regional thing but it will be run under regional collaboration. It still has the state elements there.
“Their operation will be seamless. If something is happening near the Oyo border, the Ogun Amotekun can cross into Oyo and vice versa. They will be working and communicating together but the states are, at the moment, solely responsible for the payment of salaries.”
Oyeleye recalled what brought about Operation Amotekun was the increase in banditry and kidnapping in the South-West.
“ The states said we are contiguous in that we share common boundaries and we speak same language, let’s do something jointly among the states so that someone driving from Lagos to Ogun would have rest of mind. Even if something is happening you can approach them and the men of the Operation Amotekun will also call the police for backup.”
Fayemi, IGP meet
Meanwhile, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has endorsed the Operation Amotekun.
This followed the visit by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State to the IG at the force headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday.
Fayemi, who is also the Chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum reportedly met with Adamu where they discussed the operational modalities for the regional security outfit which would be inaugurated in Ibadan, Oyo State, on Thursday (today).
A source said, “Governor Fayemi has met with the IG and both men agreed on the need for the security outfit to take off as soon as possible to address the security challenges in the South-West. They also discussed the technical details and the IG fully endorsed the initiative.”
The police spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, failed to respond to inquiries on the regional security outfit as calls to his phone rang out. He had yet to respond to a text message as of the time of filing this report.