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Updated Feb 2, 2020

Persistent insecurity throughout vast swathes of Nigeria has led to accusations that the federal government is ineffective and uninterested in attending to these matters. A new proposition by six governors of the southwestern Nigerian states of Oyo, Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Osun, and Ondo would create a vigilante security force known as Amotekun, the Yoruba word for “leopard”. Amotekun would share intelligence and infrastructure, an idea that has incensed the federal government, which suspects it is a pretext for secession.

It has become a topic of intense debate in Nigeria. Northern politician Balarabe Musa said the initiative is nothing more than an attempt to create a Yoruba republic, which was met with a strong rebuke by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who was quoted by the BBC as saying, “Raising the specter of secession is a facile approach to the dangerous, self-evident lapses in governance.” Nigerian attorney general and justice minister Abubakar Malami has stated that Amotekun is unconstitutional, as only the federal government has the power to handle security affairs. Afenifere, a Yoruba cultural group, shot back, saying the federal government had no right to dictate how the country’s southwest protects its people.

As this discussion continues, millions of Nigerians are left at risk of being kidnapped or maimed, not just in the southwest but also elsewhere. Those living in the country’s northeast face a greater risk of suffering violence by the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency. Vigilantism has already seen mob violence against alleged kidnappers and assaults against police. 

Tackling this issue will require a broad systemic overhaul involving all levels of civil society, instead of grandstanding.

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