WITH crime assuming a dangerous dimension around the country in spite of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, it is high time the South-West governors fully implemented their regional security agenda named Operation Amotekun. The Brookings Institution rightly suggested that policing redeployment to cities to enforce COVID-19 lockdowns in countries would leave rural areas vulnerable to crimes of opportunity and crimes of desperation.
Specifically, there has been an upsurge in attacks by herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and opportunistic criminal gangs in the region. Communities in Ondo State are being hit hardest. In Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states, gangs such the One Million Boys, Eiye, Aiye and Black Axe are defying the inept federal security arrangements to wreak havoc on defenceless citizens. Experts say the pandemic has shaped the behaviour of some offenders, providing them with an alibi. This necessitates the pressing need to re-ignite the passion that originally accompanied the inauguration of the security initiative early this year.
Operation Amotekun ought to become functional immediately, because, after a deceptive lull, criminals are back in full force, killing and maiming. Two fresh incidents suffice. In Ekiti, bandits waylaid the state’s commissioner for agriculture, Folorunso Olabode, in a daylight operation, shot a councillor in the convoy dead and abducted the commissioner and his aide. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, gunmen kidnapped the two-year-old twins of an Islamic cleric in his house in Ojoo, a few days ago. In Lagos, criminals notify communities through letters of their planned invasion. These crimes warrant a quick response from the governors in the South-West, which should primarily be an immediate activation of the Operation Amotekun security outfit.
The itinerant herdsmen, on the pretext of grazing, have chased many people away in some villages in the Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo. The trespassers set farms on fire in the middle of the night, the victims lament. In Ondo North LGA, they set farms ablaze in four communities, injuring and allegedly raping some women, forcing farmers to flee to the relatively safer havens in the urban centres. Early in April, Fulani herders reportedly slaughtered three persons, including a farmer and his son, in Arimogija, Ose LGA. At another farming outpost in Oba-Ile, Akure North LGA, a motorcyclist and his passenger suffered an attack by the herders. The police claim that most of these attacks are false alarms, which partly explains their lukewarm response to the herders’ army of occupation. It was on a highway in the state that bandits murdered Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere leader, Reuben Fasoranti, in July 2019.
Other states in the region are similarly in torment. In Ibadan, hoodlums are taking advantage of the lockdown to invade homes, steal, loot and rape in the dead of the night. Residents of the border communities like Sango, Ota, Alagbado, Meiran, Mowe, Alagbole and Ojodu in Lagos and Ogun states have nothing but tales of woes to recount in the hands of merciless hoodlums. Residents of Ikorodu, Surulere, Mushin, Isolo and Ojota have formed vigilance groups, keeping vigils and making bonfires to ward off the intruders.
All this is an apt reminder to the governors to renew the impetus to secure the region using the Operation Amotekun initiative. From Lagos to Ekiti, Oyo to Osun and Ogun to Ondo, they have performed creditably in the fight to contain the COVID-19 plague, but the violent menace of Fulani herders will not wait until the end of the pandemic before instigating more havoc. Neither will the One Million Boys and other criminal syndicates, especially in Lagos State.
It is undeniable that the initial enthusiasm of the governors to implement Amotekun has waned. This is partially understandable. Just as they were about to take off full steam, the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. As of that moment, all the six houses of assembly in the geo-political zone had passed the bills to give the required legal teeth. But the governors now have a delicate balancing act: containing both the coronavirus and insecurity.
For the South-West to achieve relative safety, the challenge is for the people, the stakeholders, the legislative houses and the governors to regain the momentum despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the basic laws backing Operation Amotekun have been signed in the six states, the governors should re-energise to launch a coordinated recruitment scheme, ensuring that only locals with integrity make up the corps.
Operation Amotekun cannot wait any more. For the cooperating states to become a safer place to live, work, and visit, the region must kick-start the security outfit now, even with the skeletal personnel available. Providing intelligence to the police should be their preoccupation. Criminologists warned that crime is likely to go up once the stay-at-home orders are lifted. The other five governors should follow the pragmatism of Gboyega Oyetola, the Osun governor, who has just appointed the director-general of the corps in the state. The South-West should not abandon its aggressively progressive tactics on violent crime. With the end of the lockdown uncertain, these DGs should be empowered to collaborate in the groundwork necessary for its implementation.