He was killed by the military a fortnight ago for criminal-related offences while on his way to embrace amnesty in Makurdi. JOHN SHIAONDO reports that this might be a setback to peace in the state.
Last week,Terwase Akwaza popularly known as Gana was killed by soldiers while on his way to Makurdi from his hideout to be granted amnesty by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state.
The amnesty programme was organised by the state government for criminals in Sankera geo-political area of the state which comprises Katsina Ala, Logo and Ukum local governments areas.
The execution of Gana by the soldiers seems to have truncated the success of the programme as 42 of the repentant criminals turned back and are said to have gone back to the trenches while the fate of about 40 others who were said to have been arrested by soldiers along with Gana is yet to be known.The incident has also generated a lot of tension in the area and most residents, especially those who played a role in convincing the late militia leader to leave his hiding place for the amnesty are afraid of returning home for fear of being killed.
Though the Benue State Security Council met stakeholders from Sankera and agreed to forge ahead with the amnesty, there is still doubt in the air as to whether they could be convinced following the killing of their leader which they consider as betrayer.
It could be recalled that Gana was killed on Tuesday a fortnight ago while on the way with other repentant criminals for amnesty in Makurdi.
When the journey started
Earlier on Tuesday before he was executed by the military, the people of Sankera, traditional rulers, clerics and politicians had gathered at the Akume Atongo Stadium, home town of the late militia leader to welcome him after spending about five years in the bush.
He was granted amnesty in 2015 but when the special assistant to Governor Ortom on special security, Denen Igbana, was murdered, Gana was accused of the murder.
Following the incident, the governor directed the security to go after him. And knowing the grievous nature of the crime, he went back into hiding for more than four years. The entire security apparatus in the country were after him but he evaded arrest. The state government placed a ransom of N50m for his capture, yet he evaded.
When however the issues of the second amnesty came up, elders of his community went and persuaded him to abandon his criminal activities and embrace peace.
He was received at the stadium by traditional rulers, religious leaders, stakeholders and a mammoth crowd some of whom thronged the stadium to catch a glimpse of him.
He was also said to have knelt down before the traditional rulers to receive fatherly blessings while religious leaders prayed for him. Unknown to many, that would be the last moment he would be spending with his people.
Gana failed to heed colleagues warning
Before he was convinced to leave his hiding place, he was said to have expressed reservations about the amnesty.It was also alleged that some of his allies discouraged him from coming out believing it was a plot to arrest him but insisted that he was coming out for peace to reign.A gang member of the deceased who pleaded anonymity said, “We warned him not to come out; we told him that the said amnesty was a ploy to get him. He disagreed, saying he has made up his mind to surrender having been tired of staying in the bush.“He told us that he was coming out from the bush for peace for God and to honour the Bishop of Gboko, Bishop William Avenya and Senator Gabriel Suswam.
“He said that these two respected personalities have been mounting pressure on him in the last three months to come out and embrace peace and that he has made up his mind to embrace peace.
“I have now been granted amnesty, unfortunately he couldn’t make it. May his souls rest in peace.”
It was also reported that the late repentant criminal gang leader while on his way to Makurdi that fateful day had stopped the convoy insisting that he would switch cars and sit beside the Catholic priest who was in the car of the local government chairman.
When soldiers intercepted him
An hour later, the convoy was intercepted around Maseje near Ameladu in Gboko local area.
It was learnt that the late warlord was seated at the back of chairman of Katsina- Ala LG’s official car alongside the chairman, Alfred Atera and a Catholic priest who was part of those who convinced him to renounce his old ways.
The soldiers who were said to be heavily armed blocked the road with gun-trucks, pulled down the chairman, the priest and driver, took over the vehicle and drove away with Gana.
It was also alleged that on sighting the road block, Gana said, “I knew this journey would end this way, but whatever happens, I am doing this for God and peace,” These were his last words.
Few hours later, the Commander of Four Special Force Brigade, Major General Ali Gadzama, was reported to have addressed journalists in Doma LGA of Nasarawa state saying Gana was killed in a shoot-out with soldiers.
The death attracted some reactions from individuals, groups and even the government with some describing it as an act of cowardice on the part of the army. They said the action amounted to extra judicial killing condemnable by law. Others said his death was normal considering the atrocities he had committed.
“He was a criminal and died as a criminal. Gana committed a lot of atrocities and there is no way the law of retributive justice would not catch up with him. He was killed by the sword and he died by the sword,” a Makurdi resident who simply identified himself as Terhemen said.
Ortom expressed shock
But Governor Ortom while addressing newsmen described the killing as shocking.
He said he had spoken with the Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, Maj-Gen Adeyemi Yekini when the soldiers incepted and took Gana away with a promise from the commander to get back to him on the matter.
He noted that even during war if people surrendered, they were protected and the case of Gana is not supposed to be different.
He said though he was not willing to join issues with the security men, he needed an explanation to why the repentant criminal was killed.
“The amnesty programme was to take effect Tuesday following a series of requests by traditional rulers, political and religious leaders from the area to have armed youths terrorising Sankera to surrender illegal weapons in their possession and give peace a chance,” he added.
Also, former governor, Gabriel Suswam condemned the killing in a statement issued in Abuja, saying it was counter-productive to peace already returning to the state.“The events of September 8, 2020 in my senatorial district where repentant criminals who had surrendered after extensive persuasions were singled out and killed extra- judicially leaves a sour taste and has opened a gaping wound that requires all efforts to heal,” he said.
Others condemn killing
A Makurdi-based legal practitioner who pleaded anonymity described it as unconstitutional.
“The killing of a man who had wilfully surrendered to the authority is not only unconstitutional; it is inept, dehumanising and a violation of internationally- accepted charters of the rules of engagement on an unarmed person, particularly someone who has surrendered.
“Unarguably, this single action is a great disservice to the Benue people who are genuinely concerned with the return of peace to their state.
“The military lacks the power to decline anyone amnesty once it is done in line with the constitution.
“I believe it was in line with the constitution and the search for lasting peace in the Sankera axis of Benue North-east that Governor Samuel Ortom acceded to grant amnesty to some 172 repented wanted persons led by Akwaza. This was done after necessary consultations,” he noted.
Also, the Tiv Youth Forum in Taraba while reacting condemned the killing.The group called on the federal government to investigate those involved in the operation to kill Gana after surrendering and denouncing crime and was on his way to be granted amnesty.
Gana, it could be noted, was not loved or liked by many. He lived dangerously and had several issues with so many people and institutions like the police, military and the government at the state and federal levels.
Gana loved by his people
But to many, he was a rallying point and may have had some unique attributes, whether real or perceived.
He established both primary and secondary schools for his people in Gbishe to bring education closer to them. The school was reportedly destroyed by the army in one of its operations last year.
Gana was said to have joined militia as a result of several disputes by Kuteb and Jukun against his community which threatened his people’s existence in the area. His bravery made him popular among his peers and when the crises subsided he was said to have formed a militia group which he used to fight for his people. This made him to be loved by many.
But aside from this, he used the group as mercenaries for those who needed their service as he was alleged to be responsible for the killing of many people in the area. He was believed to have also buried two of his children alive to fortify himself.
During the first amnesty which was granted him by Ortom, he had confessed that he worked with militants in the Niger Delta and was used by Fulani herdsmen for mercenary jobs in Cameroon and Niger Republic.
He denied any involvement in robbery and kidnapping, but said his boys could not be exonerated. According to him, his decision for the amnesty was to denounce his old ways so that people would stop using his name to commit crime.