Amotekun, 2023 And Battle For The Streets

Shuaib Shuaib writes on the real reasons the southwest governors set up the new regional security outfit code named Operation Amotekun.

Vehicles for Operation Amotekun / Photo credit: punchng.com
Vehicles for Operation Amotekun / Photo credit: punchng.com

You cannot run out of adjectives in describing Musiliu Akinsanya. Some people see him as an “Agbero”, an area boy or simply a thug.

But MC Oluomo as he is more popularly known is also a socialite, and a kind of celebrity. In fact, he is king on the streets of Lagos.

He not only controls the streets but is known to be untouchable. State officials, the governor and even the commissioner of police mostly let him be.

And with all the money in the world, MC Oluomo lives the lifestyle of a mini warlord. What gives him all that power, money and fame?

He is the chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers Union in Lagos.

In a state with nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population, transportation is big business. There are twice as many cars, buses and commuters in Lagos than any other state in the country.

Reaching every nook and cranny of the state, membership of NURTW is itself an electoral bloc. The union doesn’t just control the entire transportation sector in the state, it cashes in on a daily basis using force, when needed, to ensure there is compliance with its levies.

Sure enough, MC Olumo, who previously controlled the union in the chaos called Oshodi, has his rivals from different parts of the state and regularly engages in turf wars with them.

He has the battle scars and stab wounds to prove it. But what he really symbolises is how thuggery, politics and business have become interwoven in the state.

Going all the way back to the first republic, elections in the southwest region have always been the most violent.

Before every election cycle, there is always a general idea on which party will win in each geopolitical zone.

It is usually clear who will win in the north, who takes the southeast, leaving the southwest to determine the outcome of the elections.

But the violence is just as likely to be fueled by local politics in the southwest as it is by national politics. So it was in the 1960s when the Action Group, the ruling party in the region witnessed a split between Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola.

The two leaders weren’t just torn by differences on national politics and their approach to the party that ruled in the north and at the centre, but were both also engaged in a battle of supremacy for leadership of the Action Group and the region. The outcome of that fight was violence and an end to the first republic.

The union workers served two purposes for Tinubu. First as unofficial tax collectors. Second and most importantly, they served as political muscle in during elections. In fact, they gave him total control of the streets

Today, there are already signs of a split and promises of a similar battle playing out in the southwest. The only difference this time around is that politicians in the region are not divided about forging an alliance with the north. It is more about who best represents the future.

NURTW was and is a perfect front, though its strength is restricted to the southwest, specifically, Lagos. On paper, it is just an association of transport workers.

But they would come to define the politics of Bola Tinubu. Knowing the history of political violence in the southwest, Tinubu has somehow managed to maximise his ability to deploy it, yet also kept it under control in times of elections and political turmoil.

Right from the moment he was elected governor in Lagos, he wanted control of the streets. So he empowered street thugs giving them free reign on the streets.

They in turn imposed levies on every commercial vehicle and motorbike in the state. It is system that is now well entrenched.

The union workers served two purposes for Tinubu. First as unofficial tax collectors. Second and most importantly, they served as political muscle in during elections. In fact, they gave him total control of the streets.

But his real success was how he kept the close relationship out of public scrutiny. That was achieved because the union only puts on a show of force in the election season.

And if you are looking for reasons why Tinubu was able to survive all of Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempts to turn Lagos into a PDP state starting from the 2003 general election, and he keeps winning, look no further than the muscle and grip Tinubu had on the streets.

As president, Obasanjo may not have succeeded in taking over Lagos for his party.

But he succeeded in curbing the violence that has historically characterised elections in the southwest. He even suppressed grassroots politics by misleading Tinubu’s party colleagues who were governors on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy and imposing state leaders from his own party.

He didn’t need political thugs or a militia. He had federal might. The police and army were under his command and that was all the muscle he needed.

Even after leaving office in 2007, it took court rulings to dismantle the political structures Obasanjo had built in the southwest, and hand a number of the states in the region back to opposition AD. By then, the AD had been renamed Action Congress of Nigeria.

It was the 2010 governorship elections in Ekiti, however, that really changed things.

The military was exposed, through leaked audio recordings, for aiding a specific candidate, Ayo Fayose and the PDP to win the election.

They basically provided the needed muscle to suppress votes and manipulate the governorship election.

Since then, Nigerians have risen up against the use of the police and military for election duties. Yet, politicians are always seeking an advantage in the course of an election.

In assessing political events in Nigeria, the tea leaves are not so hard to read, whether or not political actors intend to show their hands. Nobody needs to be told that the government in Lagos is not keen on Amotekun, the security outfit supposedly launched by the six governors of the southwest last week

And the violence that was largely absent in the southwest during the Obasanjo years due to the strength of force by security agencies made a full blown comeback in 2019.

The build-up started much earlier.

And in 2023 when the presidency could be the prize on offer for politics of the southwest, the stakes could not be higher when it comes to who controls the streets.

Easily, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo could be named the most powerful man in Sudan. With no formal or military education, it is power he accumulated out of fear of the forces he commands.

He doesn’t exactly control any army formation or even serve in the country’s regular army. “Hemeti” Dagalo is head of a militia that was formed and had the backing of former dictator, Omar al-Bashir.

The militia, Rapid Support Forces, who transformed themselves from the more widely known and infamous Janjaweed, have been accused of war crimes.

On the streets though, they rule. Hemeti was so much a threat to the state, that today, he is a senior member of the transition government in Sudan.

His militia, when it was still Janjaweed wasn’t recognized by law. So, they gave cover to deposed President al-Bashir for crimes and atrocities committed on Sudanese soil, in the name of the state.

While they served al-Bashir’s goals and helped keep him in power, the very presence of the militiamen are usually signs of a failing state. And in the end, the state itself had to cede power to a militiaman with questionable background.

In assessing political events in Nigeria, the tea leaves are not so hard to read, whether or not political actors intend to show their hands.

Nobody needs to be told that the government in Lagos is not keen on Amotekun, the security outfit supposedly launched by the six governors of the southwest last week.

That is unless the Harmattan haze truly got as bad as it did in Kano and Maiduguri, enveloped the whole of Ibadan on Thursday and stopping Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu from flying to attend the launching.

You would also have to be blind not see that Amotekun is more about politics and 2023 than it is about regional security. The reasons are not far-fetched. The security outfit will serve as a counterweight to Bola Tinubu and his control of the streets.

No governor has said that or even shown any sign of thinking it. And for anyone waiting for it to be said, they will be waiting for eternity. In politics, suspicion alone is enough to warrant taking necessary precautions.

Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti is the most likely of the six governors to serve as commander-in-chief of Amotekun. He is the only that will not be seeking re-election and may be best suited to challenge for the presidency.

Within the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, he is seen to be a rising star. His brilliance is unquestioned.

And in the southwest, Fayemi has a track record of standing up for democracy when it was risky to do so and also in defense of MKO Abiola.

But to mount a political challenge for the nation’s highest office, he first has to take on Bola Tinubu in the southwest.

Security challenges and the search for solutions have provided one. But in more ways than one, Operation Amotekun is an ambitious undertaking

As a sitting governor, the most reasonable option open to him is coming together with all the other five governors in any guise.

Security challenges and the search for solutions have provided one. But in more ways than one, Operation Amotekun is an ambitious undertaking.

Fayemi has formed a tag team with Ondo governor, Rotimi Akeredolu. There is no denying that they have been the driving force behind the security project.

Two other governors are treading carefully, while one is a lost cause. The last of the six, Seyi Makinde is in the opposition PDP.

That’s not all. Fayemi has been reported to have even forged an alliance with a number of northern governors within the APC who share his aspirations at the national level.

Still, Operation Amotekun can only serve the purpose and politics of those in charge of it or to be positive, as a deterrence to violence during elections if certain conditions are met.

The governors have to total control of their political party. ##This seems more like a division within the party.

But the elephant in the room is how the government in Lagos deals with the newly formed security outfit, knowing it has already declared a preference for its own “Neighourhood Watch”.

And as long as the state is not on board, Operation Amotekun is dead on arriva.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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