Soldiers dragged Benue warlord, Gana, out of govt convoy before he was killed – Community leader

More facts on Wednesday emerged about how a notorious militia leader in Benue State, Terwase Akwaza, aka Gana, was killed by the military on Tuesday despite embracing amnesty.

A community leader, who confided in one of our correspondents in Makurdi, the state capital, said Gana was in a government convoy when he was dragged out of a car by soldiers at a checkpoint in Gbitse,  near Yandev roundabout in the Gboko Local Government  Area of the state.

The community leader said the militia leader was thrown into a military vehicle and driven away.

The Commander of Operation Ayem A Kpatuma,  Major General Ali Gadzama, had on Tuesday told Channels Television that Gana was killed in a  gun battle with soldiers.

But it was gathered that the militia leader had between 11am and 2pm on Tuesday at the Katsina-Ala Stadium in the presence of prominent indigenes of the Sankera District of the state, including the First Class Chief of the area, His Royal Highness, Abu Shuluwa, embraced amnesty.

The  Sankera zone consisting of  Logo, Katsina-Ala and Ukum local government areas has been the worst hit by the activities of Gana and his gang since 2009.

The militia leader and others had in the state Government House in 2015  surrendered no fewer than 200 guns including AK-47 rifles.

But the peace move was thwarted after the killing of the Senior Special Assistant to the state Governor on Security,  Denen Igbane, in 2016.  After the incident,  the militia leader went back to the bush.

The community leader, who confided in The PUNCH, said the latest peace move efforts were initiated by some prominent indigenes, who urged Gana to drop arms and embrace peace.

The source said, “He (Gana) actually came out because of the assurance given by the prominent indigenes and traditional rulers and he was not armed when he was dragged out of the car and taken away to be killed.

“The militia leader sat in-between the Chairman of the Katsina-Ala Local Government Area, Alfred Atera, and a priest in one of the cars in the government convoy.”

According to the source, the convoy was stopped by soldiers at a checkpoint in Gbitse on its way to Makurdi.

He stated, “As soon as we got to the  military checkpoint, some soldiers who spotted Gana had to pull down  the priest, drag Gana into their waiting vehicle and zoom off.”

Tension as fears  of reprisal grip  Benue communities

Meanwhile, there were fears in the  Sankera zone on Wednesday as residents thought that members of Gana’s gang could carry out attacks on the area.

A trader in Katsina-Ala, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “We heard that many of the repentant militias who saw what happened along the road turned back and they might likely return to the trenches.

“These people may see it as betrayal and want to unleash terror on the people in this area.”

On his part, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, expressed shock over the arrest and killing of Gana by soldiers.

The governor,  in an interview with journalists at the Government House, Makurdi on  Wednesday,  explained the second amnesty programme of his administration which covered the Sankera geopolitical zone.

The governor said that he was still awaiting briefing from the commander of Operation Ayem A Kpatuma.

He said the commander promised to come and brief him on the operation.

When asked if the amnesty programme had not been thwarted by the killing of Gana,  Ortom said that the programme was not truncated as those who could not get to Makurdi due to the confusion created by the military operation would be given another chance.

He urged the people of Sankera to remain calm as he was still investigating circumstances surrounding the arrest and killing of Gana.

He said, “Shortly after we left yesterday night, there was a press statement issued by the special force, that is Operation Ayem A Kpatuma,  in Doma, Nasarawa State.

“I reached out to the commander of the force and told him that I was surprised and needed an explanation.

“He assured me that he would come and brief me,  but I must say that I am surprised by what happened. I do not want to take issue with the military but I have a duty to protect the lives of the people.”

Suswam urges  FG to set up judicial panel

Also, a  former governor of the state and senator representing the Benue North East Senatorial District,  Gabriel  Suswan, urged the Federal Government to set up a judicial panel to unravel the alleged killing of  Gana by soldiers.

Reacting to the incident in a statement in Abuja titled, ‘A time to heal,’ Suswam said the soldiers’ action could frustrate the peace already being achieved in the state following Gana’s decision to embrace dialogue and to surrender his arms.

Suswam said, “Even war criminals captured alive are entitled to certain rights.

“The claim that Gana was killed in a gunfight needs further explanations because those who accompanied him and who watched him being taken away, including his local government chairman, do not believe he was in possession of any arms.

“An independent judicial commission of inquiry will unravel facts of the matter to serve as lessons for the future.”

Appealing for calm, he said, “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.

“It is no secret that my senatorial district has been traumatised and the people terrorised by activities of criminal gangs led by Mr Terwase Agwaza alias Gana for many years.

“The consequences of this endless terrorism have been a steady decline of economic and social activities leaving a once prosperous people pauperised.

“Markets no longer attract traders, schools are closed and farmlands abandoned. Politics in the area has become a war with uncontrolled proliferation of dangerous weapons.

“No responsible leader will idly stand by and watch his community become a theatre of war and a gangster’s paradise.

“It is with this solution mindset that traditional rulers, clergymen and elders of the area decided to utilise means of constructive engagement and dialogue to ensure that youths of the area do not become tools for the destruction of that society.

“The Benue State Government and security agencies have long desired for a return to normalcy, peace, prosperity and security of the area.

“That is why some leaders were mandated to reach out to these outlaws to persuade them to drop their arms and channel their energies towards the rebuilding of our thoroughly battered community.

“We were all excited to see the dreaded Gana come out of hiding to the warm embrace of our traditional rulers, clerics and political leaders at a public function at the Akume Atongo Stadium in Katsina-Ala.

“Our joy was multiplied when we saw him along with his militia surrender arms and publicity 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.

“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 allegedly 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.

“While I have been consistent in condemning the reign of terror he unleashed on his community, I cannot in good conscience as a lawyer of over three decades and senior parliamentarian accept cold-blooded extra-judicial murder of an unarmed person as a solution to our security problems.

“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 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.”

Military has put lives of leaders who persuaded Gana at risk – Rep

Also, a member of the  House of  Representatives for the  Logo, Katsina-Ala and Ukum Constituency, Richard Gbande, expressed concern about the killing of Gana.

Gbande said what transpired on Tuesday amounted to betrayal of trust on the side of the people of Sankera.

He stated, “The whole thing was like betrayal of trust because the whole traditional rulers in the area were the ones who mediated and made it possible for him (Gana) to embrace the amnesty.

Also,  a community leader in the Logo Local Government Area, Chief Anawah Joseph,  condemned the military action, stating that Gana ought to have been treated as a repentant criminal, having accepted the state government amnesty.

He said, “I don’t think this will bring peace but rather it will create more havoc.  The issue of Gana is obtainable everywhere. What the military has done amounts to extra-judicial killing. It is very painful.

“I don’t think that will bring a lasting solution to the problem because what has happened amounts to the betrayal of trust and blackmail. There are so many factors because those people who mediated to bring out Gana from wherever he was are now being looked upon as people who betrayed him. So it is terrible.”

Also, the Senior Programme Manager, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), Isaac Botti, said the killing of Gana could be described as extra judicial.

He stated,  “Once a criminal surrenders himself to the authority, you allow the law to take its course.”

The  National Publicity Secretary, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Gerald Katchy, on his part called for a probe of the incident.

When contacted, the operation Commander,  Ali Gadzama, said he would not react to the allegations on the killing of Gana.

“The military spokesman will answer you. Refer that question to army press man at the Defence Headquarter, Abuja,” he told one of our correspondents.

But the Nigerian Army could not be reached for comment on Wednesday as its spokesman, Col. Sagir Musa, did not respond to calls.

He had yet to reply a WhatsApp message seeking his response on the alleged killing of Gana who was said to be unarmed during the incident.

The Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Defence Headquarters,  Maj. Gen. John Enenche, also did not respond to request for comment on the alleged extrajudicial killing of the former fugitive.

Punch

Naija Exhibit

Political analyst and Writer

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