The report was treated like a footnote in the main press, but social media and online news platforms gave it a wider play. It’s the story of the launch of a nomadic vigilante service by Miyetti Allah, a group of herders turned political pressure group, comprising mostly Fulani.
The national president, Bello Bodejo, said in Lafia, Nasarawa State, where the launch took place, that the vigilante service, which had already recruited 1,144 Fulani youths, would assist security agencies in the state to combat criminal activities.
Four years ago, the Nnamdi Kanu-led separatist group, IPOB, made similar doubtful claims when the group set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN), for the South-east states. But federal security agencies crushed it. Yet, in a move that seemed to suggest that one vigilante group is greater than the other, the Nasarawa State Police Commissioner was a special guest at the Miyetti Allah vigilante service launch last week.
There was a report on Wednesday that Bodejo had been arrested by the DSS, but the DSS has since denied. While no one is sure of the whereabouts of Bodejo, he appears to have launched a vigilante service that, regardless of the pretence of confusion surrounding it, bears the mark of official approval.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that this once mostly feared and despised association of herdsmen and the police are in bed after only one evening of flirting. Of course, Miyetti Allah may have been motivated more by group self-interest, relevance and survival. But the dalliance with the police, the indifference of the main press, and the muted public response, are not an accident.
Epidemic of desperation
They are a reflection of the despair and desperation over the growing insecurity in the country, especially its latest franchise in form of widespread kidnappings, even in places once thought to be safe havens.
As a result of multiple internal security challenges from banditry and insurgencies in the North-east, North-west and North-central, the unrest and violence by separatist groups in the South-east, not to mention pipeline vandalism in the South-south, the police have almost been reduced to Boys Scouts, while the military is doing more for less.
A recent report by The Economist, citing ACLED, a global monitor of conflict, said more than 3,600 people were kidnapped in 2023, with the sharpest rise in May – the most ever – while almost about 9,000 Nigerians were killed in conflict last year.
In a horror story that spooked memories of the Chibok girls, the family of Mansoor Al-Kadriyar was attacked in their home in Bwari, Abuja on January 2, and six of the girls were abducted. The eldest was killed and the other five released after 19 days in captivity and N55million reportedly paid in ransom.
It’s in light of this widespread misery and what appears to be a general state of helplessness that Miyetti Allah, a symbol of Fulani hegemony, launched its nomadic vigilante service in a region fraught with a variety of deadly clashes, the latest of which has been the murderous rampage of ethnic violence in Plateau State that has, so far, claimed nearly 200 lives in less than two months.
Thanks to elite hypocrisy, after years of playing the ostrich, we are back where we started: a realisation that the current policing model is not working. With broken noses, bleeding hearts, and a variety of poor imitations, we’re dragging ourselves back to the very thing that we have always tried to run away from: state police. State police is not a silver bullet, of course. But in the last 25 years, we have seen improvisations that have barely dented the monster.
The Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), for example, founded by Fredrick Faseun and Gani Adams was a citizen vigilante-led attempt to curb insecurity in the South-west. It’s still active in many parts of the region. But former President Olusegun Obasanjo with those close to him who feared it was a South-west agenda towards state police, kept OPC in check, often deploying an iron fist.
In a watered-down attempt to devolve more policing powers from the centre, we’ve seen attempts by the Federal Government at so-called community policing end up with greater Federal control, with the notorious pay-as-you-go police protection being enjoyed by the rich, especially politicians, who can afford them. It was only when the farmer-herder clashes threatened to ruin some states in the South-west that governors in the region, led by late Rotimi Akeredolu, rallied to form Amotekun.
The South-east followed this lead with Ebubeagu, and a number of states in the North-west, especially, also set up their own vigilante services. In August 2022, then Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, launched the Community Volunteer Guard.
In spite of states drifting towards it, in spite of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) including state police in its manifesto, and in spite of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu being one of the most notable champions of it, the idea is still something of anathema.
Constitutional Conference report
Ten years ago, state police was one of the most hotly debated issues at the Goodluck Jonathan-brokered National Conference, a conference whose report, unlike those of a number in the past, has proved quite durable.
A summary of the 2014 conference report presented at the Second Chris Ogunbanjo Lecture Series in 2017 by a member of the conference and Chairman Emeritus of PUNCH, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, said, “Any state that requires it, can establish a State Police for that state, which should operate in accordance with the provisions of the law setting it up, to be passed by the State House of Assembly.
“Its powers or functions will be determined by such legislation and should not be in conflict with the duties and powers of the Federal Police.”
The conference also made suggestions about changes in nomenclature and structure of the police and also in the relevant sections of the constitution. Of course, nothing significant has been done since, which is not a surprise. Former President Muhammadu Buhari whose lot it was to get it off the ground, told me during an interview nearly two years after he took office that he had not read the report and was not interested.
If Buhari preferred treading the beaten path, Tinubu cannot pretend that we can continue the same way, or that he is unfamiliar with the merits of state police.
There’s a familiar trope against it, and I have heard it over and over again: that state police in the hands of the states would be used by governors against their opponents. That’s a genuine concern, especially in a country where governors behave as if the states were their fiefdoms. But isn’t it warped to argue that it’s OK for the Federal Government to use the Federal police against its own opponents in the centre and in the states while we’re all held hostage by the fear that the states would abuse it?
Bull by the horns
In the case of Miyetti Allah’s nomadic service, which potentially is worse for regulation than Amotekun which is at least under the control of the states, whose weapon would the vigilante be? The Federal Government’s, the states’ or the battering ram of an unrepentant ethnic militia called Miyetti Allah?
Ethnic militias are festering because the elite, especially members of the National Assembly, that are supposed to take the bull by the horns have refused to do what they should do to emplace structure and regulation by amending the constitution to allow the states play a more active role in policing.
Tinubu cannot afford to allow the drift to continue. He cannot manage the country’s security the same way that Buhari did for eight years and expect a different result.