In this interview, FeedbackOYSG spoke with the Commandant of the Oyo State Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Amotekun, Col. Olayanju Bisiriyu Olayinka (retd). He spoke to us on the operations of Amotekun, the corps chain of command and the recent complaints about the shooting of the 400 Level student of the Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo with affiliation to the University of Ibadan, Akolade Gbadebo (Akin Sarz).
FeedbackOYSG: As the Commandant of Amotekun, tell us one of the biggest challenges facing the corps.
Commandant: The biggest challenge so far is the malicious misinformation that is being spread about Amotekun with the intent to discredit the government. This is especially true of people that have been denied the opportunity to do what they normally do, which is creating problem for the public. Now that Amotekun is going after them, some of them are trying to fight back through spreading of false information. From what I’ve seen so far on social media, a lot of misinformation is going on. I suspect that there are some people who are sponsoring this to discredit the government, there is no doubt about that.
FeedbackOYSG: There have been some reports in the news claiming that members of the corps are already power drunk. Can you please address this?
Commandant: This is an example of what I just addressed. Can the people saying this provide any tangible information to show that members of the corps are displaying actions that show that they are power drunk? Who gave them the power? The law establishing Amotekun states clearly that there is channel for the populace to report activities of corps members. I’ve been going on several radio and television programmes dropping phone numbers and telling them that if they should see anything the corps members are doing that is wrong, they should report. It is not something the authorities of the corps can do alone.
Of course, we can’t say that we would have about 1,500 officers and there won’t be any bad egg among them or that there won’t be anyone that would be overzealous. We only try as much as possible to educate them and we will continue to talk to them on the impact of their actions. So far we have not received any evidence to show that any of them have abused the power vested in them. They only have power to arrest and hand over to the police. We also warn people not to mortally wound any suspect and call Amotekun to take over.
For instance, [December 26] in Lagelu, Amotekun was called to arrest an armed robber who has already been seriously injured by those who apprehended him. We refused to go because we don’t have the power to detain a suspect. We don’t have a holding area to carry out preliminary investigations before handing over the suspect to the police. Such cases, we cannot handle, because if the police refuse to take the suspect from us, what do we do? I told the community they have to take back the suspect because he had been seriously injured. This decision was taken so as to avoid people spreading rumours about the corps. The members of the public have been sensitised about the law setting up Amotekun. They have the power to report corps members. However, this is the era of social media, anyone reporting the corps should have pictorial evidence to back up their claim. With one’s mobile phone, one can gather a lot of evidence. I’m not sure there has been any clear picture to back the rumours being carried about. So, what we want from those reporting the Corps members are pictorial evidence to back their claims.
FeedbackOYSG: We know you have debunked the Ibadan story. But what happened with the 400 Level student of the Federal College of Education (Special) Oyo with affiliation to the University of Ibadan, Akolade Gbadebo?
Commandant: As you said, we’ve debunked the [Ibadan] story. The student is a known cultist who the community can testify that he has been involved in so many criminal activities. The cultists led by Gbadebo [Akin Sarz] went to block a major highway around 1 AM and when the report got to the patrol team, they went there to clear the road to allow interstate vehicles to pass unmolested. If this had not been done, the travellers would have gotten to their destinations and start spreading the rumours that Oyo State is not safe.
On getting there to clear the barricade, they met these cultist who shot at the officers, and of course, you expect the officers to return fire. The gang leader was killed, two members were arrested and handed over to the police. The student body and some other people went to Iyaganku to verify the rumours from the arrested members.
The arrested members denied being students but said there gang leader that was killed during the gunfight was a student. So, I don’t know why people are spreading false information about saying Amotekun killed a UI student without reporting the actual fact. Does it mean that because he is a student, he is free to infringe on people’s rights? So, those are some of the challenges facing the corps.
We have people that appreciate us and call us to show their love but some people that are not happy with Amotekun are the ones spreading false information about.
FeedbackOYSG: What will happen to any member of the Amotekun corps who fires indiscriminately?
Commandant: Members of the Corps have been taught that where their own rights end, is the beginning of the rights of other citizens. There is a rule of engagement. If you are not fired at, you cannot fire at anybody. They know that once they are caught doing that, they will be dismissed.
We would not like to have the same dented image that our senior brothers have. We know that it’s not every member of the police that is bad, but because of the conduct of one of two people, they all got termed as bad. We don’t want this to happen to Amotekun, that is why we are being very careful, observing them so as to remove the bad eggs.
FeedbackOYSG: Do members of your corps account for the bullets they are given daily?
Commandant: Yes, they do. For now, we only release one pack of bullets, that is, cartridges. You are aware we make use of the local Dane guns. We normally buy one pack for the whole of the local government. If they are 40 officers in a local government, not all the 40 would be armed. About 8 of the 40 would be armed, but if they have special operations, then we’ll give them guns. If they are going for a normal patrol, just to defend themselves, the coordinator will be given a pack of bullets which he has to account for before he can be given another one. He has to tell us where the bullets given was expended and what led to shots being fired. He has to give a report immediately the bullets were expended, not days after. Random firing in the air is not allowed. As a member of the corps, you can only fire when your life or the life of a fellow member is threatened. And since we’ve started, we’ve only given one pack of bullets that is 25 cartridges to each local government. I’m talking particularly about the 11 local governments within Ibadan. This information is verifiable, you can go to the local government offices and ask the coordinators how many packs of bullets the Amotekun members have been given.
FeedbackOYSG: How do you keep members of the corps in check? Can you talk to us about the chain of command?
Commandant: Yes, at ward level, there is a coordinator. At the local government level, there is an area coordinator. Above the area coordinator, we have a leader. Every local government has a leader who is different from the coordinator. This is to serve as a check on the coordinator as well as the men. Aside this, from the headquarters, I have set up a team now that goes round, unknown to the local government authorities, to monitor the activities of the officers. Normally, once there is a report of any incident that needs security attention, I have to be informed before any action is taken.
Once I’m aware of the request from the community and we decide if Amotekun operatives would be going alone or with other security operatives like Operation Burst or the Police. I then send two guys to the area to monitor the conduct of our men. They take pictures of the conduct of the officers as well as on issues that are being addressed. We monitor how they relate with people, how they treat people and how they conduct their operations.
FeedbackOYSG: Since there is no way you will not have bad eggs, what can members of the public do when members of the corps have treated them unjustly or harassed them? For example, do you have a feedback mechanism for such?
Commandant: I have been saying this both on radio and television programmes. I’ve gone to about 10 radio and TV stations, both private and government sponsored and I’ve dropped my number and the number of all the coordinators. I even encouraged the members of the public to serve as our eyes and ears as we can’t do this alone. They should not just give us information about hoodlums but they should give us vital information about our operatives. When you see them doing something wrong, just take a picture! Pictures don’t lie. Their dressings, conducts and every behaviour should be monitored. If you see an officer who is not properly dressed and he is operating, take a picture. Or if you see an officer harassing anyone or doing anything untoward, just capture it and send it down to us. That’s why I’ve made my WhatsApp number available to the public so that people can send messages and pictures.
FeedbackOYSG: Before we let you go sir, is there any plan for retraining soon or a continued training course for members?
Commandant: Yes, there is.
However, you know it is very expensive to train. The last training we did, the officers were taken to Ogbomoso.
If you monitored what has been happening in the last 10 days, I gathered all the coordinators, the operations officers and the admin officers within the 11 local government areas in Ibadan for a 3-day training. That is a retraining package for them. I invited experts, a lawyer and a member of DAWN commission, to talk to them. I’ve also set up a media team among them that is currently being trained. All this is geared towards ensuring smooth operations and to make certain that our operatives do not misbehave. This is because a misconduct on the part of the officers means they cannot win the hearts of the people.
We also always admonish the media to visit us to cross-check their facts, balance their stories, before getting any news out. There is no radio or TV station that sends me an invitation that I do not honour. If we have anything to hide, we would not be responding to them. We have made it clear on all forums that we are open to objective and constructive criticism because if we are not being criticised, how do we improve?
Oyo State is a very large area, I can’t do it alone. I need the support of everybody and the only way people can support us is to provide adequate information with fool-proof evidence