When I did my youth service in Zamfara, we were more afraid of Hisbah than the Nigerian police. In fact, in Zamfara State, saying that police is your friend is true. Then, if anything comes after you, you are sure the police will rescue and protect you if you manage to get into their barracks. But if Hisbah comes for you, just kneel down and pray for supernatural help because no one can rescue you.
This is just to show how strong and influential Hisbah was between 2004 and 2005 that I was in Zamfara. They were an authority of their own; a force no one toyed with. Hisbah was more than a religious police; it was Zamfara State’s security service. It worked independently and carried out its duties viciously.
I am stating all these not to attack Hisbah but to show that there is a security outfit in Nigeria that is not answerable to the police and any Nigerian military authorities, nor does it work hand in hand with them. Hisbah has its own modus operandi, which does not favour other citizens of the country, especially those that aren’t from the state they operate in. They follow a law that is foreign to many Nigerians and do not hesitate to judge, condemn and punish anyone that does anything prohibited by that law; your origin, religion and duration of stay won’t help you here.
Now, we are facing the birth of another security outfit called Western Nigeria Security Network, aka Amotekun. I, personally, am not against Amotekun but I have some reservations concerning its staffing and method of working. From what I gathered, this outfit will work hand in hand with the police and other national security outfits. They are more like the neighbourhood police, the vigilante, or, like we say in Anambra, “Police Willy” or “Police Eliza”.
It is ok, very ok, if Amotekun will liaise with the national police and the Nigerian Army, Airforce and others. But how sure are we that they will stick to this? What are they actually going to do? Arrest and detain suspects? Or do intelligent works and pass on information to the police for further action? These and many more are the things the masses need to know from the South-West state governors so that they, the masses, will know whether to join forces and demand that the federal government approves Operation Amotekun.
However, my little Zamfara experience has taught me that power, when not properly handled, can become intoxicating and destructive. To ensure Amotekun doesn’t become destructive later, these governors should ensure the following:
- Staffing Amotekun with people of integrity. We know how things work in Nigeria. Every politician and “Big Man” will want his brother that is wasting away in the village to be employed as an Amotekun so that he can fend for himself. I’m not against people helping their own but in this type of outfit, integrity and discipline must come first. This is just to say that no matter who that person that sent an unfit to be recruited is, the recruiters should reject him (the unfit) right away. You don’t give guns to people with instabilities.
- Training Amotekun staff on emotional intelligence. This is one area that is very important. In fact, this is more important than training them to use guns. If these people do not know how to restrain themselves during the heat of an argument, then Amotekun is going to end up a disaster. The gory stories of how Hisbah officials flogged those that resisted arrests in those days haven’t left my memory.
- Ensuring Amotekun does not have a holding cell. I don’t know the plans the South-West governors have for this outfit, but building holding cells for it will only end up increasing our problems. This is because it will create room for illegal arrests and detentions. And it will also encourage bullying and extortions. Let every arrest made be channelled to the police station, that is, if they are to arrest people in the first place.
- Making provisions for constant training and grooming. Training these people once and releasing them into society isn’t enough. They need to be constantly trained and retrained by experts. If there is no provision for such, and it is not certain if such a provision will be made in the future, well, I think the stakeholders need to sit back and rethink. You can’t release a leopard into society without taming it every now and then. Failure to do so means you and your loved ones will one day become its prey.
There are so many things to be considered but I believe the Yoruba elders will look into them all. I may not be from the South-West but I know something will definitely take me there every now and then. What I wouldn’t want to experience is the type of tension, restrictions and harassment I met in Zamfara State. If Amotekun is there to secure the lives of every respectable, hardworking and honest Nigerian living in the South-West, irrespective of tribe and religion, then I am all for it (but they have to be well trained anyway). But if it is there to compel citizens within the geopolitical zone to live according to a law that is foreign to every Nigerian citizen, then there is need for serious deliberations on the matter.