By A Special Correspondent
Nigeria has opened another battlefront against criminality, this time in Benue State in central part of the country. A joint military and police action is underway to catch a warlord by name Terwase Akwaza alias Ghana widely believed to be as deadly as they come. Critical observers are afraid that catching Ghana could turn out a mission impossible, given his dwelling place in the deep forest of Katsina Ala. Aside this, the myth around him is that of a man who can become invisible if and when he chooses. He may thus not yield to the search and scrutiny of the police so easily.
The operation which Samuel Ortom, the state governor appeared to have got the approval from The Presidency during his August 18th, 2016 visit to the seat of power is so that “The state must be secured from armed robbers, kidnappers, killers and assassins and the business of cattle rustling because no one will be willing to invest where his life or property is threatened’’, according to the governor. One of the highpoints of Governor Samuel Ortom’s administration in Benue State was the introduction of an amnesty programme at take-off on May 29th, 2015. The aim was to cripple a rising propensity for gun running among the youths, many of them foot soldiers of politicians at some points and who have kept their guns after being used and dumped,. Therefore, it became imperative on assumption of office that the governor rid the state of the large cache of arms and ammunition in the illegal possession of these youths in the state.
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State
The amnesty programme paid off with the repentance of many youths and the subsequent return of their guns. According to the governor in a recent media outing, more than 900 youths surrendered 600 rifles, several rounds of ammunition and explosives.
However, while Gov. Ortom counted his gains from the programme, Mr. Denen Igbana, his Senior Special Assistant on security was felled by the assassin bullet. Police investigation later revealed that Joe Kyagba, an Architect and Akwaza alias Ghana, the governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Special Security, were the chief suspects. While Kyagba was arrested and later granted bail, Ghana rose above the law and went into hiding.
That is the operation which has intensified in the state. The recent involvement of the army in addition to police takes the project to a different dimension, particularly in the light of a sharp rise in killing, kidnapping and similar crimes in the state since the hunt for Ghana commenced.
In a recent interview granted to a local publication, Ghana disclosed of his sordid past as a ‘hired assassin.’ He confessed to have enlisted in gangs which prosecuted guerrilla wars in parts of northern Nigeria and the Cameroons. This confirmed earlier speculations of his involvement in electoral fraud in many elections held in areas of his influence. In Katsina Ala where Gana controlled a notorious cult group that was largely unchallenged, he was a law unto himself, much dreaded and only a few could dare him. As a kingpin, it was said that nobody could win an election without his support. And many politicians, therefore, enlisted his support to win elections in the area. Perhaps to engage his time and to divert his attention from criminality, Gov. Ortom decided to appoint him as his Senior Special Assistant on Special Security. Aside this, the governor made him the overseer of revenue generation in the Benue East Senatorial District with a monthly target in excess of N500m. But the governor’s romance with the weird Gana crashed as soon as he was declared wanted in connection with the killing of Denen Igbana, Senior Special Assistant on security to the governor. How the police effects the arrest of the man whose dwelling place is among the mountains in the forest is the current challenge to a crime-free Benue State.
With men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) crawling all over the state, some people believe it is just a matter of time before a crime free state is achieved. Many believe exactly the opposite on the ground that there are already many areas in the state that even the operatives of SARS dare not enter or they would encounter more lethal fire than theirs. Okpoga, the headquarters of Okpokwu Local Government Area and surrounding communities is repeatedly mentioned as one such case.
Alarmed by the horrifying details of the excesses of suspected gangsters, EDEMA, a major conflict management actor in the area, recently called on the governor to personally intervene in the Okpokwu case because, according to it, all the conditions for escalation were ripe in the area. Beyond calling on the governor, the community development organisation also invited its counterpart from Okpoga District to join it in visiting all leading traditional rulers and political leaders from the two districts on what to do to restore peace.
What worry observers is how a state more than half of whose elite are retired Generals and equivalent from the armed forces could be so taken over by the level of criminality and lawlessness being confronted now, right inside the villages. There are strong feelings that the current onslaught might not go far because the amount of arms in wrong hands requires more than a more or less military operation to handle.