The killing of Terwase Akwaza, better known as Gana, who was said to be one of the most wanted criminals in Benue State, has been greeted with mixed feelings across the country. Why some see the fate that befell him as a Daniel come to judgment, others see it as an invitation to another phase of convoluted insecurity in the country, particularly in the North Central region.
Commander of ‘4 Special Forces Command’, Moundhey Ali, who announced Gana’s killing last Tuesday, said he was killed along Gbese-Makurdi road after an exchange of gunfire. Ali also said about 40 members of Gana’s gang were captured in the process.
“About 12:00 hours on Tuesday, we received strategic information on the movement of the dreaded bandit, Terwase Akwaza Agbadu a.k.a Gana along Gbese-Gboko-Makurdi road.
“Troops of Operation ‘Ayem Akpatuma III’ moved swiftly and mounted roadblocks along the routes. At about 13:00 hours, there was an engagement with the convoy of Gana, a shoot out ensued and the bandit was killed,” Ali recounted.
According to him, those arrested were in their custody, adding that they would be handed over to the appropriate authority for prosecution.
The Guardian learned from some of the repentant militia gang members, who were given amnesty, that they were on their way in a convoy together with Gana from Katsina-Ala to Makurdi to embrace the amnesty when the Army intercepted them and forcefully pulled Gana out of the arms of the traditional rulers and clerics, who facilitated his renunciation of criminality.
Governor Samuel Ortom had confirmed that the army intercepted the late fugitive on his way to embrace the second phase amnesty granted to criminals in the state by his administration.
“It was around 4:00 pm when we were waiting for the repentant militias that I received a call that Gana and others have been arrested close to Yandev roundabout in Gboko by soldiers. Many of the repentant militias had weapons, which they were bringing to surrender to us. The security operatives knew the process of the amnesty programme. So, I don’t know why they have to be arrested.”
However, with the growing culture of granting amnesty to criminals in the country, which began when the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua convinced Niger Delta militants to drop their arms and come to the negotiation table, some critical questions have trailed Gana’s killing. Some have asked: Why was the army unable to capture him when he was in hiding only to kill him when he embraced amnesty and was on his way with his ‘gang’ to surrender their arms? What is the fate of the traditional rulers, priests, and the illustrious sons of the state that brokered the peace deal? Did they know the whereabouts of the criminal all the years he was terrorising the state? Why were other criminals in other states, who embraced amnesty programmes initiated by their governors not treated the way Gana was treated? Will the state know peace henceforth or does the manner of his death complicate the insecurity in the area?
Those asking the latter question point to the killing of Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009 in front of the police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno state, after which the sect launched a campaign of violence that has cost the country thousands of lives and property, and gulped billions of naira in an attempt to quell it.
To the former governor of Benue State and now a senator representing Benue North-east Senatorial District, Gabriel Suswam, security operatives have not learned lessons from the crisis triggered by the killing of the founder of the Boko Haram sect.
Suswam, who was one of those that brokered the peace deal with Gana, also said that by killing Gana, the opportunity to learn “vital lessons” about the structure of crime in the state has been lost.
His words: “The lessons of the Boko Haram escalation after a similar murder of its leader are still here with us. If this method is accepted as a norm in our country, there will be no need for laws and courts.
“We stand to benefit more by subjecting suspects to due process of the law. Information extracted from a living Gana would have helped security agents get to the root of the activities of criminals.
“By this Gestapo style execution, we have missed an opportunity to learn vital lessons about the structure of crime in the area. Even war criminals captured alive are entitled to certain rights.
“I was totally dumbfounded to learn that while Gana was on his way to Makurdi, the state capital, to present himself to the state governor who was waiting, his long convoy that included political leaders, traditional rulers, clergymen, and security agencies was ambushed by alleged armed soldiers and he was isolated and taken away.
“In the midst of the confusion, pictures began to circulate on social media of the bullet-ridden body of Gana with a rifle callously placed on his side.”
The legislator said many were excited when Gana “renounced crime”, noting that his death has escalated tension in the area.
“Our joy was multiplied when we saw him along with his militia surrender arms and publicly renounce a life of crime. Our revered king extracted a pledge from him never to turn his kingdom into a wasteland.
“Those present at this forum heaved a great sigh of relief with the thought that finally, a life full of uncertainty has come to an end. This is a time to heal and not war. This is a time to hold each other to our common values as human beings. This is a time to rebuild our fractured society. This is a time to rally together as brothers and say Enough is Enough.”
A community leader in Logo local council of the state, Chief Joseph Anawah, also condemned the action of the military, saying they should have treated Gana like a repentant criminal.
“The whole action carried out is extra-judicial. I don’t think what the soldiers did will bring a lasting solution because it amounts to a betrayal of trust and blackmail of our traditional institutions, the Church as well as the other critical stakeholders that arranged the amnesty. I strongly advocate for legal action against the military,” he said
The lawmaker representing Katsina-Ala/Logo/Ukum Federal Constituency, Richard Gbande, also expressed dismay at the development.
“The whole thing was like a betrayal of trust because the traditional rulers in the area were the ones that mediated and made it possible for Gana to come put to embrace the amnesty,” he said.
Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Malachy Ugwumadu, also threw his weight behind those condemning the killing, saying Gana’s right to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36(1) of the constitution was violated.
He said: “The starting point is to seriously question the policy thrust of a nation so manifestly overwhelmed by criminals as to be blackmailed into negotiations and partnerships in the guise of “amnesty”.
“A nation or state whose coercive force cannot take down a rebellious dissident group either in the form of terrorism or insurgency has technically lost its statehood.
“Despite the dangerous implications of these unscrupulous alliances, the Nigerian State has not found a better way of dealing with these known criminals other than to hobnob with them thereby jeopardising the security of the country and her citizens.”
Recalling past amnesty initiatives in the country, Ugwumadu added: “Recall the treatments meted out to the leaders of the Niger Delta militias, which were also preceded by such amnesty and collaborations. We have heard of the widely celebrated amnesty granted to bandits in Kastina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s state, Zamfara, Niger, and Bauchi states. We heard of ransom paid to kidnappers and other rampaging groups in Kaduna State. Has the chaos and insurgencies subsided in those states? That is the million naira question.”
He, however, urged security agencies to subject criminals to due process rather than engaging in extra-judicial killing.
“We cannot forget that Nigeria is a democratic country governed by laws. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 under Section 36(5) presumes the innocence of any Nigerian including Gana until he is declared otherwise by a court of law and not the Nigerian military or taskforce.
“Granted that there was an allegation of the gun duel between his group and the military, but available information in the public space indicated that he could have been neutralised and brought to justice. He was entitled to a fair hearing under Section 36(1) before his right to life under Section 33 was taken even as a known notorious criminal,” he submitted.