The manner in which the military killed Benue’s notorious criminal, Terwase Akwaza, better known as Gana, while being conveyed to meet the governor and embrace the amnesty offer of the state, has cast a shadow over the sincerity of the troops in the state and whether their action will promote peace in Benue.
Ordinarily, if Benue State’s most wanted criminal, Terwase Akwaza, aka Gana, had been killed by the military in one of the air and land operations launched in his hideout at Gbitse, a remote area in the Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of the state, the whole of the Sankera area and indeed the state could have rolled out the drums to celebrate.
Indigenes of the Sankera area, home and in the Diaspora as well as motorists, since part of the area is a communication route to Taraba State, would have leapt for joy, because of the threat posed by the activities of Gana and his men in the three local government areas of Logo, Ukum and Katsina-Ala, which were an eerie echo of the plot of disaster movies such as Armageddon.
Reports had it that combined military forces on four occasions in the last four years carried out land and air operations on Gbitse anytime the military had intelligence reports about Gana’s presence in that part of the state. Unfortunately, none of the operations succeeded in smoking him out.
Why the people would have celebrated Gana’s death
Gana’s criminal activities in Sankera area were legion; according to a resident of Katsina-Ala, Richard Ternumum, socio-economic activities in the three local governments that make up the area had been in comatose for the past four years. Many people were killed and several others were maimed.
He said Gana and his men had different styles of operation, which could be likened to those of Boko Haram.
“In most cases, they rode on motorcycles to attack their perceived enemies; and some other times, they ambushed people and killed or kidnapped them. The attack on the Zaki Biam Yam Market a few years ago readily comes to mind, where 52 persons were killed and several others were injured,” Ternumum stated.
The attackers, who were suspected to be Gana men fighting over revenue in the market, were said to have ridden into the market and shot indiscriminately into the crowd.
Aside their penchant for invading villages and killing en masse, Gana and his men said to have been involved in kidnapping and armed robbery, as motorists, who plie the federal highway of Katsina Ala-Takum and Katsina-Ala-Zakibiam-Wukari in Taraba State had gory tales to tell; many of them abandoned the route for safer ones, while those who mustered the courage to ply the route always did so with their hearts in their mouths.
Since the Tiv people live in staggered settlements, it was easy for Gana militias, who were familiar with the terrain, to unleash terror without resistance. Some communities in the area have been desolate, while in some villages, schools have remained closed for the past two years, while many medical and security personnel were victims of kidnap and some murdered in cold blood.
Several indigenes of the area living outside had long abandoned home because of Gana and his gang members, who always attacked people during funerals and other social activities.
Since some of the gang members were ready tools in the hands of politicians, Gana men during the 2019 general elections decided who among the politicians from Makurdi and Abuja came home to exercise their franchise.
“What they did during the 2019 elections was that a few days to the polls, they sent messages to their sponsors’ perceived political foes to stay clear or they would regret coming home,” Ternumum said.
Little was known about Gana’s criminal activities until 2012, according to a community leader in Logo, Joseph Anawa. Before then, Gana was mainly suspected to be a rascal in his community.
Gana had in an interview with a national television explained how he mastered the act of militia fighting when he got involved with several Fulani militia.
According to him, he had travelled with the Fulani militia to their hideouts and met with their top leaders and sponsors, but pulled out when it was time for the Fulani to wipe out his Shitile people, who live in Taraba State.
In 2005, there were skirmishes between the Kuteb in Taraba State and the Shitile in Katsina-Alla area of Benue State and Gana joined the Tiv youth to go into battle against the Kuteb they emerged victorious.
“It was there that his youth members gave him the nickname of Akwaza (the war front of communal crisis). So, it was after the crisis that his people received him,” Ternumum explained.
Gana was said to have also displayed bravery in 2012, when Fulani herdsmen were allegedly attacking, maiming and killing Tiv farmers in Benue State as he was at the forefront of those who launched reprisals and repelled the aggressors.
So, it was so easy for politicians to find him useful during the 2015 general elections and he was said to have participated actively in the electioneering, leading to one of his wives, Queen Akwaza, contesting the state House of Assembly poll for the Katsina-Ala area but lost.
But Governor Samuel Ortom, who was miffed by the activities of Gana and the thuggery that pervaded the area and the state generally, had to initiate an amnesty programme and urged Gana and his men to forsake the life of crime.
The amnesty programme actually succeeded as over 800 suspected criminals embraced it and were integrated into the society. Several arms and ammunition were also recovered from them and later destroyed publicly.
The Sankera area and indeed the whole of Benue State thereafter enjoyed relative peace until Gana was accused of masterminding the killing of Ortom’s Senior Special Assistant on Security, Mr Denen Igbana.
Efforts to get him arrested by the police to answer questions on the death of Igbana failed. This led him and his men to abandon the amnesty programme and went back to the trenches, this time, more hardened and notorious.
At the time of looking for him, a N5m bounty was placed on his head for anyone with information that might lead to his arrest. The bounty was subsequently increased to N10m and later N50m by the state government.
In death, Gana would have gone the way of the notorious armed robber in the old Bendel State in the early 1990s, Lawrence Anini, or the many Boko Haram terrorist leaders in the North-East, who have gone unsung.
But the military unknowingly turned Gana into a martyr by the way he was killed a few hours after he surrendered himself to the state government and was travelling to Makurdi alongside other repentant members of his militia from the three local government areas that make up Sankera to embrace the amnesty offered by the Ortom administration.
The governor, who expressed shock at the killing, said when the amnesty idea was mooted by stakeholders in Sankera, he presented it to the State Security Council in which the military was represented.
“The whole idea of the amnesty was initiated by stakeholders in Sankera and when they told me, I had to present it to the State Security Council, which the military is part of; it is the Security Council that said we should receive them and a date was fixed, which was yesterday (Tuesday),” Ortom said last week after Gana’s killing.
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That Tuesday, the State Security Council also met, but had to go on break and resumed around 4pm to receive the repentant criminals and stakeholders from the area only for the news to break that the government convoy conveying the repentant militias was intercepted near the Yandev roundabout in Gboko by soldiers with Gana and 40 other repentant militias taken away.
It was an endless wait before the governor confirmed the report to waiting journalists and Security Council members that Gana had been killed.
Ironically, as Ortom was addressing journalists and stakeholders, the Commander of 4 Special Force, Major General Ali Gadzama, was also briefing select journalists in the Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State that Gana was killed in crossfire with soldiers.
The military’s hasty dispatch of Gana to the grave elicited spontaneous reactions from Nigerians from different walks of life and Benue State indigenes in particular, as they described it as extrajudicial killing.
Benue socio cultural groups, Mdzough U Tiv, Ochtoha’Idoma and Omi’igede, in their reactions, called on the military to tell Nigerians the reason why Gana was killed after he had surrendered.
The Chairman of the groups, who doubles as the President-General of the Mdzough U Tiv Worldwide, retired Comptroller General Iorbee Ihagh, said Benue people demanded clarification from the military and called on the Federal Government to set up a judicial commission of inquiry to probe the killing.
Ihagh stated, “It is absurd for soldiers to have killed Gana in such a bizarre manner; this was someone who had surrendered himself and was on his way to accept amnesty.
In the same vein, the Benue State Government, after its expanded Security Council meeting on Friday, appealed to the military to release the repentant militias arrested last Tuesday.
Ortom, who read the resolution of the meeting, said the people of the state had accepted the killing of Gana as an act of God and would not take issues with the military.
JOHN CHARLES writes