Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has said that that the new Ametokun security force established by the Southwest’s six governors is illegal (Nigeria Politics & Security – 13.01.20). He insisted that the constitution does not allow any state, individually or jointly, to establish ‘any form of organisation or agency for the defence of Nigeria or its constituent parts.’ 

Southwest Nigeria’s new Ametokun security force

Unsurprisingly this led to a backlash from the region. The Afenifere pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group immediately urged the governors to ignore Malami. One senior lawyer, Femi Falana, described his position as ‘hypocritical’ and ‘discriminatory’ and cited the establishment of similar northern self-defence groups. 

Miyetti Allah — the umbrella body for Nigeria’s Fulani herdsmen — warned that the Southwest governors should back away from Ametokun or risk losing the chance of becoming president in 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari leaves office. It claimed that Ametokun is part of a subtle plan by the Southwest political leaders to push their agenda in order to restructure the country at the expense of the North.  

So far, the Southwest’s most influential politician, Bola Ahmed Tinubu — who is currently the most likely person to succeed to Buhari — has remained silent on the issue. On 18 January a little-known group, calling itself the Safe Lagos Group, issued a 24-hour ultimatum for Tinubu to speak up on the issue but did not say what will happen if he did not. 

Southwest political leaders have been boxed into a tight corner. If they back down about Operation Ametokun, they would be seen as having sacrificed the region’s security on the altar of their political ambitions to succeed Buhari and would lose a lot of political credibility in the region. 

If, however, they insist on going ahead with Ametokun, they risk a direct confrontation with the Federal Government and possibly with Northern groups who see the initiative as a direct attack on Fulani herdsmen. It would threaten the plans of anyone from the Southwest to win the Presidency because it could scare conservatives in the North from voting for any Southwest candidate. 

Tinubu has been silent about the issue because his presidential aspirations have been put in jeopardy. He is not likely to speak openly against Ametokun for fear of losing relevance in his home region. A confrontation between the Northwest and Southwest now looks to be brewing which could destroy the alliance that was established in 2015. It would therefore not be surprising if the North starts courting the Southeast to form an alliance ahead of the 2023 presidential election.

This excerpt is taken from Nigeria Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Nigeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

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