By Femi FAlana, SAN
The governors in the south west zone launched the South West Security Network otherwise called “Operation Amotekun” at Ibadan, Oyo State on January 10, 2020. The Police Authorities endorsed Amotekun while the Attorney-General of the federal government and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN has questioned its legality. Even though I had cause to join issues with Mr. Malami over his legal opinion on the security outfit I was compelled to call on each of the south west governors to forward a bill to the house of assembly of each state for the formation of Amotekun.
In the absence of an enabling legal instrument for the establishment, structure, functions, control, funding and operation of Amotekun various interest groups in the country have continued to express divergent views on the needless controversy that has trailed the official inauguration of the security outfit. On their own part, the south west governors have been assuring the federal government that Amotekun is not a regional paramilitary organisation but a zonal security outfit being set up to assist the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies in combating incessant killings, kidnapping, armed robbery and other violent crimes that are on the ascendancy due in the region due to the negligence of the federal government to effectively police the country.
Apart from those who are strenuously opposed to Amotekun the concerned people in the south west zone who have embraced the security initiative are entitled to know the law setting it up. Therefore, the attorneys-general in the states in the south west zone should be saddled with the urgent responsibility of ensuring that the enabling laws for amotekun are enacted by the respective houses of assembly without any further delay. The Lagos State Neighbourhood Watch Law coupled with the Lagos State Security Trust Fund Law may be modified or adopted for Amotekun.Once the laws are enacted the federal government will be at liberty to test the constitutional validity of Amotekun in the Supreme Court.
However, the federal government should not resort to force or self help in resolving the constitutional dispute.
In order to appreciate the duty imposed on all public officers in Nigeria to operate under the rule of law and not under the rule of rulers it is pertinent to draw the attention of the federal authorities to the case of Attorney-General of Lagos State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (2005) 2 WRN 1. In that case, the Supreme Court criticised the resort to self help by President Olusegun Obasanjo who had ordered the duspension of the payment of the statutory allocations of Lagos state local governments because of the creation of new local governments by the state government.
It was the view of the supreme court that the decision of the President to suspend the payment of the fund by executive fiat was antithetical to the tenets of democracy and rule of law. Speaking for the apex court Tobi JSC (of blessed memory) said inter alia:
“If the Federal Government felt aggrieved by Lagos State creating more Local Governments, the best solution is to seek redress in a court of law, without resorting to self-help. In a society where the rule of law prevails, self-help is not available to the Executive or any arm of government. In view of the fact that such conduct could breed anarchy and totalitarianism, and since anarchy and totalitarianism are antitheses to democracy, courts operating the rule of law, the life-blood of democracy, are under a constitutional duty to stand against such action. The courts are available to accommodate all sorts of grievances that are justiciable in law and section 6 of the Constitution gives the court power to adjudicate on matters between two or more competing parties. In our democracy all the Governments of this country as well as organizations and individuals must kowtow to the due process of the law and this they can vindicate by resorting to the courts for redress in the event of any grievance”