Never take an old soldier for granted. Not especially when he’s a former chief spy of the Nigerian military. That’s the lesson I took away from an encounter with Gen. Kunle Togun (retd), former Director, Military Intelligence (DMI) and currently Chairman, Oyo State Amotekun (Security Network) Corps.
The old military officer shocked me when as this interview ended, he poked an inquiring finger at a set of personal items I just packed and clutched to my chest as I rose from the table. They consisted of a jotter, smartphone with which I recorded the chat, power bank and charging cord I’d brought along to boost the phone battery which was considerably drained and thus forestall the interview becoming a flop.
“That’s mine, isn’t it?” the former DMI boss gawked like an eagle, gesturing that I hand over something among the lot I was holding.
For some moments I was confused and looked back and forth at the old man as I checked my belongings and found no strange or incriminating object to warrant the worrisome fixed gaze the old man fixed on me, holding his hand out still!
At last, I heard him say: “The charger…”
I still indignantly protested: “It’s mine sir! As you could see, I was using it to charge and support the phone battery while we talked,”
Gen. Togun would not budge, he kept looking and gesturing that I recheck the packing. Another careful look and indeed, I discovered another charging cord almost exactly like mine among the twirls of wires I held!
I detached and handed the cord over with awesome respect and apology to Togun, who took it and with a genial, understanding grin, calmly waved off my attempt to explain that I must have mixed it up with mine and inadvertently packed it along.
If the former Deputy Director of the State Security Service (SSS) saved me the embarrassment of feeling he probably doubted me, he definitely earned my respect at this clear demonstration of vigilance and alertness. It was the climax of a remarkable wary demeanour and ever-present consciousness which he exhibited throughout the interview session responding fearlessly, but measuredly to questions, while regarding me with his sharp, keen eyes from behind the rim of his eyeglasses.
In this interview conducted at his Ibadan office recently by OYEYINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE, Togun fielded questions on the wave of banditry, kidnapping and alleged alien terrorists’ infiltration of South West, for which he was drafted from retirement by Governor Seyi Makinde to head the state-owned security agency to combat.
His takes on the issues which have again come to the front burner of security concerns by the state government, with the alarm raised midweek by Governor Seyi Makinde over persistent influx and criminal activities by bandits from Mali and other West African countries especially in the Oke Ogun corridor, are still as hot and relevant.
Sir, with what happened in Kisi and other reported incidents of kidnapping and banditry, it would seem the Amotekun Corps is yet to take off effectively in the state. How so?
Now, the incident in Kisi was not the first time. About two years ago in that same old Oyo park, people were kidnapped, ransom taken, and these particular sets of people were WAEC officials. They took ransom, got money from them. But, I contacted some security agencies, in fact it was the civil defence that took off from here in Ibadan at that time, got to that place in conjunction with my vigilante, they cleared that place. They arrested some of those kidnappers and even found some of the ransom money on some of them, it was confirmed that these people were not Nigerians.
I had alerted people that these Fulani herdsmen, they have covered the entire 10 local government areas of Oke Ogun and the three local government of Ibarapa. So, the threat has always been there. I’ve given series of lectures about these threats – to Oke-Ogun Elders’ Forum, Yoruba Council of Elders, so many people have invited me to give lecture and I pointedly stated it, that the intention of these Fulani herdsmen is to overrun us and it’s for territorial expansion. People are claiming it’s for religious motives, it’s not religious motives, it is for territorial expansion. I started a vigilante system in year 2000, in these parts of Oyo State – Saki West, Saki East, we started it there based on an edict by the governor of Oyo state then to see how the community can assist police in combating crime. The vigilantes that I started were operating voluntarily. Many of them died in the course of security operations. When armed robbers started waylaying vehicles on daily basis in various areas of Oke-Ogun, it was these vigilantes that were combating it. This vigilante has spread throughout Oke-Ogun before the state Commissioner of Police about nine or 10 years ago said he wanted it to spread throughout Oyo state and really it has, people have been working.
But how did criminals find it so easy to infiltrate and terrorize the areas?
The issue evolved, it’s lack of security consciousness in Nigeria. All these things are happening and people have forgotten and are not aware that security is everybody’s business. They aren’t concerned as long as it is not yet happening in any of their areas. Now you say Amotekun has not yet taken off… some of the vigilante people have been battling this thing for some time, and nobody is paying them. Those who are still working are in touch with us and we are in touch with them, telling us about the efforts they are making. There’s networking with the arrangement already in place pending conclusion of our recruitment exercise for the structure to be in place. But even now, we’ve started mapping and putting some measures in place. We’ve been able to work out the security threat, from security threat we’ve been able to identify flashpoints, that is, areas where crime, violence or anything can break out at any time. We’ve also identified vulnerable areas. So, the places are secured and under 24 hours’ surveillance.
How real is this threat of foreign invasion and territorial expansion in Yoruba land that you alleged?
I have said it, in some of the lectures that I gave. There is a calculated plan for the invasion of Yoruba land. Now, at the time I gave that lecture, which was at the instance of the DG DAWN (Development Agenda for Western Nigeria) Commission, I said that the 10 local governments of Oke-Ogun and the three in Ibarapa had been penetrated by these people and everyone knows that these people are not Nigerians.
And government has just been looking on since you cried out?
The federal government has control over the security agencies… It is just now that the governor of the state wants all the security agencies to combat this threat. Take a look at it and tell me if there is not a calculated attempt, they said people should give land to the herdsmen in various states, some people wanted to do it, (former Governor Abiola) Ajimobi wanted to do it, but for the protest and complaints of the people, that’s why he stopped. They wanted to use party, feeling he is in their party and so, should be obedient. He wanted to give out the Opara forest reserve in Oke-Ogun area. How can you legislate allocation of land? Was there legislation that farmers should be given an amount of land in all the states? Did they allocate any amount of area for Igbo to sell spare parts? Why should you think of giving land to herdsmen who are not Nigerians? Luckily the IG (Inspector General) himself has said it that most of these bandits are from Mali and Sudan. The Nigerian Fulani don’t graze on peoples’ land with their cows, they have their settlement in the bush around villages and towns. These Fulani people I’m talking about, meet with the Nigerian Fulani that we grew up to know and rape their wives and rustle their cows, adding them to their own. The Nigerian Fulani that have been living amongst us for ages now don’t do such, they have never been a problem. There’s harmony between them and the local people because they don’t graze on peoples’ farmlands. We are friends. But these ones are different, and the issue evolved when they started killing all over the place. The Federal Government didn’t talk. But the President when he went to Britain told Bishop of Canterbury that it is not the Fulani herdsmen that are killing people, but people trained and armed by Gaddafi that infiltrated the Fulani herdsmen.
Why have security agencies found it hard to end this carnage?
What budget was prepared by the IG to get the job done? The army knows what she needs, it is what we tell the Minister of Interior that he presents for government to act on.
So, are you blaming this on poor needs assessment?
I’m not laying the blame only on the police or other security agencies. The government has its own share of the blame. When they bring their budget, what is the attitude of government to it? Like I said, military intervention in politics in Nigeria messed up the military. When they request for anything they would exclaim that we are spending too much on the military because we are part of the military. I went through it, I passed through it. Money for training in the military was reduced, they were afraid of allowing soldiers to go for field exercises to train because they feel if they go out, they would go and plan a coup. That’s why efficiency of the military went down. Now, there are killings all over the place… what is the government’s plan? Security needs money, it is not a matter of … it’s not in the budget. Government has to look for money for security, you don’t negotiate security. Security costs money and there is security in everything, even in business, religion, all aspects of life, security is involved. The number one focus of government should be security of life and property, but we don’t see it that way in this country.
When Governor Seyi Makinde said he wanted me to be the chairman of this security network in Oyo State, he stressed it that he wanted farmers in Oyo state to wake up in the morning, go to their farm land and plant what they want to plant without any fear that somebody is coming to graze on it. He wants business people, traders, at all levels to do their business and when they collect money they should rest assured that they would get the rest of the money to the bank for safe keeping without anybody intercepting and taking the money from them. He said he wanted peace, security and stability in Oyo state. To enable foreign investors to come and invest in the state and finally he said he wanted every citizen of Oyo state to sleep with their two eyes closed and that’s an assignment.
How have you resolved the issue of collapsing Amotekun into the Nigeria Police community programme, which the Federal Government was insisting on?
The governors have spoken, Governor of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State spoke, Governor Makinde has also spoken, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) spoke, he told them that constitutionally the state could operate their own security network and that there is nothing like the network coming under the control of the police, he talked along the points of law. But the law establishing this Amotekun provided that it would work hand in hand with security agencies in order to ensure peace, security and stability in the respective states, the law stated that Amotekun has power to arrest and investigate but that prosecution should be handed to the police with Amotekun following up the issue. So I don’t know what is getting the police scared, there is no rivalry, no competition between Amotekun and other security agencies.
As a security expert, don’t you think subordinating and integrating the corps to the police would have been more effective?
No, it cannot work because if Amotekun comes under the control and supervision of the police, the goal that the governors set cannot be achieved.
Now that the north appears to have collapsed security-wise, safe haven such as the south, is expectedly the next target. How do we check the spread of these terrorists acts already manifesting here and there before it consumes the entire country?
The answer lies in the attitude of reporting, but to who? Let me give you an example; when COVID-19 came, there was lockdown, there was supposedly no movement, whereas some people were being brought to South West in trailers. Trailers with loads of people being brought down here, what’s the intention? Why did the Federal Government not pay attention to such? Most of them are now ‘Okada’ riders, wheelbarrow pushers, and some are selling pepper.
Could they not be economic immigrants and refugees?
No! Those Okada riders are here to memorize and know the routes, I know what I am talking about. It is total penetration with evil intention. Some people were shouting on WhatsApp and other social media that some people have been brought into South West, now who’s to take action? People took photographs, videos and posted them, but who listened? This is the problem.
I really don’t want to be an alarmist; but the future is bleak if there is no sincere effort in protecting the lives and property of every Nigerian. That is, a concrete plan by the Federal Government. The Federal Government is in charge of all the security agencies, it is its responsibility to ensure that there is security and stability in every part of Nigeria.
But government appears helpless now?
Well, that is why the initiative of the six governors of South West to establish their own security system should be supported, not opposed. Yes, each of those governors is the number one security officer of his state. People are being kidnapped, people are being killed. Yet, there are security agencies that are meant to combat these things, but they cannot, why? The number of police per-population is too low, so the police cannot cover their various areas of responsibility because of lack of personnel. Even in America, that civilized world, people assist police to succeed but not in Nigeria. Like in Britain when there is a murder case, you will see their old women who just sit at their verandas and when questioned, assist the police by giving descriptions of the victim or suspect and the directions he might have gone. They give important information to the police! The same thing with US. But people don’t voluntarily give information to the police here because they don’t want to be harassed. Some regret giving information out due to being harassed by the police, they sometimes even get accused of committing the crime. These are the things why people are afraid of giving information.
How do your men, armed with Dane guns, confront AK47-wielding bandits and terrorists?
The law establishing Amotekun provides that the Attorney General of the state will liaise with the Inspector General of police to procure arms. So they will carry weapons and will be given basic training to be able to counter any superior weapon; and we on our part will get the government to provide us with some equipment that will ease our operations.
Miyetti Allah had also indicated plan to launch nation-wide vigilante activities. Given mutual recriminations and suspicions, aren’t there likely to be clashes if operatives of both groups meet in the bush yours mistaking them for these alien bandits and criminals, for instance?
Now the issue the Federal Government should clear is this, has Miyetti Allah got any locus standi to operate vigilante. Government should make it clear, who is Miyetti-Allah? Is it a state? What authority has it got to establish vigilante and spread them throughout the country? Who are they? Just an association! Why should they be making noise and threats that they would do this, if something doesn’t happen. That the South West would not produce President in 2023, who are they to start talking to that level?
Amotekun, which came out of Western Nigeria Security Network was established by an instrument of state. Who is Miyetti Allah to say they would carry arms? And Federal Government is keeping quiet. They also asked for Amotekun to be cancelled or else South West won’t produce President in the next election, who are they?