Wednesday, September 8, 2020 marked the end of one of the most wanted gangsters in the country. His name is Terwase Akwaza alias Gana.
He died in controversial circumstances, just as he had lived. He wanted to be seen as a savior and a defender of the Tiv people against external aggression. But sources said that he perpetrated atrocities on his kinsmen even while claiming that he was protecting them against external aggressors. Mr. Akwaza was notorious for alleged several criminal activities including banditry, kidnapping, assassinations, ritual killings and cattle rustling.
When Governor Samuel Ortom initiated an Amnesty programme in 2015, Gana was the greatest beneficiary. On the last day of the programme, he turned in 84 assorted firearms and thousands of ammunition. He was granted Amnesty and made Leader of the beneficiaries. The State Government made him a revenue consultant as part of his rehabilitation and that of the other beneficiaries and he made a fortune.
Sources said he reneged after it was alleged that he sponsored the assassination of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Security, Mr. Denen Igbana. Instead of making himself available for investigation and the judicial process, he chose to go back to his vomit. In fact, many concluded that Gana constituted himself into an alternate government and enjoyed the status of a maximum ruler in the jungle. Security sources said his area of operation was mainly what is known as the Sankera geo-political axis which comprises Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas of Benue State.
He reportedly presided over the activities of that empire from the jungle of Gbise, his immediate community where he allegedly enjoyed the protection of the community which played a big role in shielding him from the arm of the law. The Benue State Security Council moved against him by declaring him wanted and placing a bounty of N10 million which was later increased to N50 million on him.
The state security apparatus carried out several expeditions to his enclave in a bid to arrest him, all to no avail. These efforts were later complemented by the Federal Government which joined the manhunt through, first “Operation Ayem A Kpatuma” and later “Operation Whirlstroke”. All efforts to track and arrest him, however, proved abortive. Meanwhile, police sources said he ran an organized and sophisticated network of criminal activities in his chosen domain and conducted affairs with an iron fist. Any challenge to his authority was met with death.
Sources revealed that at Akwaza’s orders, whole communities were razed down. His activities in five years between 2015 and 2020 led to the near total collapse of socio-economic activities in that axis. He strangulated the entire Sankera area which used to be the most productive part of Benue State particularly in agriculture. It is this geo-political axis that gave Benue State the status of Food Basket of the Nation.
It was reported that Akwaza killed his victims with relish. He was alleged to have buried people alive and gunned down many at the slightest provocation. In this manner, several traditional rulers were killed in cold blood including the District Head of Mbayongo, Chief Aloo Alev, and his counterpart in Michihe, Chief Chiahemba Livinus Shom,in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area. His last victim amongst traditional rulers was Chief Awua Alabar, District Head of Kundav in Ukum Local Government Area, who was killed in the presence of his family.
Outside this group, numerous others from various walks of life had incurred his wrath. These included Mr. Igbana, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Ortom on Special Security and Msugh Tyavyar alias Pastor whose roles in the prosecution of the first amnesty programme he considered a threat to his interest.
Both were brutally gunned down by people believed to be sent by Mr. Akwaza. Perhaps what many consider incomprehensible and most dastardly was the abduction and murder of Mrs. Esther Nguumbur Tur, wife of Justice Tine Tur of the Court of Appeal and her companion, Mrs. Mbalamen Kpensuen Aminde, allegedly on the orders of Mr. Akwaza, after collecting ransom and seizing the Hilux van vehicle in which they were abducted. The Appeal Court Justice could not survive the trauma of his wife’s murder. He died shortly afterwards.
Akwaza was at the centre of the crisis brewing between Benue and Taraba border communities leading to the death of many and destruction of property worth billions of naira on both sides. He was believed to be the man behind most kidnappings in Taraba and Benue States. His Tiv kinsmen suffered the consequences of his dastardly actions on many occasions.
A community leader in Makurdi told Saturday Vanguard that the notion that Gana was defending Tiv people from Fulani attacks is one of the most fictional stories of this decade. Our investigations do not point to any instance when Akwaza put the interest of his people above his quest for personal glory and wealth. He was known to be responsible for cattle rustling in conspiracy with Fulani elements. He was never a defender of Sankera people.
Extortion and illegal levies
“Mr Akwaza placed special levies on farmers, traders and prominent people in his domain. Failure to pay meant death. He fought supremacy gang wars with his former allies which visited devastation on several communities in Ukum and Katsina-Ala local government areas. This state of affairs prompted prominent indigenes of the geopolitical axis, including political, religious and traditional leaders to request for a 2nd Amnesty programme especially since the military had failed to nab him,” the leader who sought strict anonymity stated.
On Friday, 4th September, 2020, Governor Ortom while on project commissioning and inspection tour of the Sankera axis accepted the request of the leaders. The governor gave an ultimatum for those who wanted to embrace the 2nd Amnesty to surrender their weapons on Tuesday, 8th September to become beneficiaries of the programme. Before the governor’s recent visit, major stakeholders from the Sankera area had done painstaking work to persuade those with illegal weapons in their custody to embrace the 2nd Amnesty programme by surrendering those weapons. Such were the circumstances Mr. Akwaza found himself in the second Amnesty programme.
Police sources said in company of religious leaders, he left his hideout and presented himself at the Emmanuel Akume Atongo Stadium in Katsina-Ala in full public glare to embrace the programme. The State Security Council was holding a meeting at the New Banquet Hall of Government House, Makurdi where the second Amnesty programme was to be formalized. Selected traditional rulers, prominent indigenes and security personnel took off with Mr. Akwaza and other potential beneficiaries from the stadium to come and present them to the Council. It was gathered that before he left his domain, he beckoned on leaders of his foot soldiers and told them that he was suspecting foul play and if eventually he failed to return, they should continue from where he stopped. On their way to Makurdi, the military intercepted the convoy at Masaje, close to Yandev in Gboko Local Government Area.
How he was killed
The soldiers reportedly pulled out the Katsina-Ala Local Government Chairman, Alfred Orya Atera and his security detail, a former House of Assembly member, Dr Ianna Jato, from the Chairman’s official vehicle in which Mr Akwaza was being conveyed to Makurdi. The military took the vehicle and Mr. Akwaza away. They also arrested close to a hundred other potential Amnesty beneficiaries from Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas. Unconfirmed reports alleged that the military killed some of the potential beneficiaries near Moji Farms after Tse-Kucha, and later killed Mr Akwaza at another location in Nasarawa State.
News of this development filtered into the venue of the Expanded State Security Council meeting as unconfirmed rumors. Reliable sources revealed that most of those present, including Governor Ortom, Senator Gabriel Suswam and the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, were shocked. This prompted the abrupt end of the meeting. Governor Ortom while addressing journalists later stated that the convoy conveying Mr. Akwaza and other potential Amnesty beneficiaries had been intercepted and that Major General Adeyemi Yekini of Operation Whirlstroke had confirmed this and promised to get back to him.
Statement from the Military
What came next was a statement from the Commander of the 4 Special Forces based in Doma, Nasarawa State, Major General Moundhey Gazama Ali, that Mr. Akwaza had been killed in a gunfight with the military, with the picture of the wanted gangster at the back of the official vehicle of the Katsina-Ala Local Government Chairman. His death elicited mixed reactions as many thought that Governor Ortom, Senator Suswam, traditional and religious leaders betrayed Mr. Akwaza. However, others stated that the military, acting the script of the Fulani conquest agenda, eliminated Gana to pave way for further unhindered attacks on Benue communities.
Political pundits in opposing camps canvassed the opinion that the All Progressives Congress (APC) may have used Mr. Akwaza in the 2019 general elections and have decided to dump him on account of his insatiable financial demands, hence they decided to use the federal government controlled Army to eliminate him and put the blame on Governor Ortom. Yet, many conversant with his criminal activities stated that it was the law of karma or retributive justice that caught up with Mr. Akwaza. They believe that the blood of his victims has cried out to God for vengeance.
Investigations, however, revealed that Governor Ortom, Senator Suswam and leaders from the Sankera axis did not reckon that the military would eliminate Mr. Akwaza on the way to Makurdi. Findings show that the leaders were not privy to the military operation and that the military seized the opportunity to upturn a most prized security trophy that had eluded them for years. It is reported that when the news of the elimination of Mr. Akwaza filtered into the venue of the Security meeting, Senator Suswam and leaders from Sankera were dumbfounded at the turn of events. They felt that their people would conclude that they had betrayed them and collaborated with the military to eliminate Mr. Akwaza and the others.
Apprehension, fears over reprisal
Security sources told Saturday Vanguard that the danger therein is that Gana had a large network and it is not possible to eliminate all his gang members at the same time. This means that his death could spark reprisals. A government house source stated unequivocally that “From the first Amnesty programme, Governor Ortom had indicated clearly that he was committed to the carrot approach especially when the military failed to stop Gana. Usually a man of his word, he could not have broken his word by arranging Gana’s elimination.”
However, the general feeling among people interviewed is that it amounted to extra-judicial killing for the military to have executed Mr. Akwaza and the others after they had surrendered. Such people consider the statement by the military that Gana was killed in a gunfight as untenable. Others stated that as at the time the military intercepted Mr. Akwaza and his gang members, they were yet to be beneficiaries of the Amnesty programme. Conclusively, the fear is that for Gana to be extra-judiciary killed without recourse to civilized norms and global best practices, a major crisis akin to Boko Haram menace may have been ignited from Benue axis.