PRESS RELEASE BY THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, MAKURDI BRANCH ON THE EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLING OF TERWASE AGWAZA ALIAS GANA AND OTHERS, DATED THIS 25TH SEPTEMBER, 2020
Peace is precious and priceless in every society, and since no war is truly won without a peace pact or some form of settlement. Good leaders even after a war or where they are unable to end a war or apprehend perceived criminal elements usually employ constructive engagement and dialogue to foster peace in the society. One of such ways is the grant of amnesty.
In Nigeria, amnesty was utilised to restore relative peace in the troubled Niger-Delta Region which was hitherto characterised by kidnappings, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, bunkering, oil theft, pipeline vandalism, bombings, oil facilities sabotage, destruction of properties and the killing of people. Also amnesty had been granted and is still been utilised in the troubled North-East Region of Nigeria to end the reign of the boko haram. However this has not achieved any meaningful success in the North-East since the prime leader(s) of the group are not yet ready to embrace peace.
Benue State and particularly the Sankara axis (comprising three Local Government Areas- Logo, Katsina-Ala and Ukum) was terrorised by the alleged gang-leader Terwase Akwaza popularly known as Gana. Gana was alleged to have troubled the sankara and part of southern Taraba by robbing, kidnapping and killing of several persons including security personnel in Benue and neighbouring states. He was declared wanted by the Federal and state Governments. The Police and the Military went all out in search for him for several years, employing various measures in the search, including bombing areas which were perceived to be his hideout but no successful result was achieved. A reward of N10 million was announced by the Benue State Government in 2017 and even upgraded the reward to N50 Million in 2020 for anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of ‘Gana’ yet nothing was heard about him. Terwase Agwaza alias Gana was earlier granted amnesty with some of his gang members at the inception of the Ortom’s administration but due to the gruesome murder of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters, ASP Denen Igbana (Rtd) which he was alleged to be the mastermind, which allegations prompted the Benue State Government to revoke the amnesty granted to him and he was thereby declared wanted until his willful surrender.
THE EVENT OF 8TH SEPTEMBER, 2020 AND THE RULE OF LAW
2.1 On the 8th day of September, 2020 however, the alleged deadliest gang leader Terwase Akwaza accepted the advancement of amnesty by the Benue State Government. He with several of his gang members submitted weapons to Government officials and security agencies at Katsina-Ala Local Government of Benue State at full public glare, succumbing to pressure from traditional and religious leaders.
In the convoy made up of security personnel’s, the clergy, Government Officials including the Katsina Ala Local Government Chairman Honourable Alfred Atera, traditional rulers, politicians, elders of the Sankara area on their way to Makurdi to finally perfect the amnesty deed before the Governor of Benue State and security personnel, their convoy was intercepted at Masaje, which is a kilometre to Yandev in Gboko LGA on the Gboko-Katsina-Ala road by the Nigerian Army and Gana together with some of his gang members were seamlessly arrested without any resistance and taken into the Nigerian Army’s custody. Just few hours in custody, the Military announced his death, and alleged that he was killed in a gun battle with the military on Makurdi-Gbise road. Contrary to the allegation of the Nigerian Army, eye witnesses to his arrest which includes respected persons in the state like the clergy, traditional rulers, state and local government officials are very positive that Gana was seamlessly arrested and taken into custody and subsequently killed in the custody of the Nigerian Army. The death of Gana in custody raises grave legal issues and has serious sociological effects.
It raises the issue of brazen violation of human rights particularly the right to life, the right against inhuman and degrading treatment and the right to fair trial. In a constitutional democracy, the adherence to the rule of law is sacrosanct. Extra-judicial killings especially killing of citizens in the custody of, and by law enforcement agencies is indication of a failed state. This is because the citizens are unsafe and been victimised by the very institution that is supposed to protect them. Gana’s life was taken in custody without due process of law, his body was strewn and he was not tried before his execution.
The killing of Gana under suspicious circumstances clearly crystallises the insinuation that the military particularly in Benue State are on a self-gratifying mission to settle scores with the alleged gang-leader through unconstitutional means without any regard to the peace and security of the state. Gana was alleged to have killed military men and the military are irresistibly assumed to be clouded with this notion and embarked on this vengeful mission to satisfy their lust and longing for his death. This is in violation of section 33 of the Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 as amended. This is condemnable as it is an abuse of power and a resort to self-help and should be condemned by all.
The rule of law was discarded in the most brazen manner. Even in times of war, a man who surrenders to his opponent by raising his hands up and dropping his weapon is not killed by the opponents but is regarded as a prisoner of war not to mention a person already in custody. However, the Nigerian Army rained bullets on an ‘innocent’ man in their custody in vengeance or in concealment of vital information which Gana may have had and which the military decided to mask by killing him and cutting one of his hands and a jubilation followed immediately after his arrest. No matter the quality or quantum of crimes committed, the normal procedure of trial and punishment ought to have been followed even if death or any punishment is desperately desired. The degrading manner he was executed is contrary to section 34 of the CFRN 1999 as amended.
In the eyes of the law, and whether anyone detest or likes it, Gana died an innocent man. By the provisions of section 36(5) of the CFRN 1999, Gana is presumed innocent and he died with that ‘innocence’. The supposed victims of his alleged criminal activities were not even allowed opportunity to ventilate their grievances. And the alleged atrocities of the alleged gang-leader were therefore buried. There is every need to investigate the circumstances leading to the death of alleged criminal kingpin for a number of reasons including but not limited to the discrepancies in the facts and circumstances leading to the death of Gana as the Benue State government and the military authorities’ trade words over the issue.
THE IMPLICATION OF THE EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLING AND KEY OBSERVATIONS
3.1 The effects of the extrajudicial killing of the said Terwase Akwaza A.k.a Gana include the fact that it has compounded rather than solve the insecurity challenges in the State and its environs. The death of Gana has caused apprehension in the state, even the military have deployed more soldiers to the area. The state had an opportunity for peace but the Nigerian Army denied it that peace. The military in an uncivilised manner ended a peace process and rather created insecurity so that they can still remain in business to earn allowances in the name of keeping peace in the state. During the reigns of Gana, many indigenes of the area no longer visit their villages, but were happy to see Gana surrender for at least relative peace. Today, with the huge presence of the military, more people do not wish to be in the area for fear of been labelled by the military as members of his gang or falling into any vengeful mission which may be undertaken by the loyalist of the slain gang-leader.
The killing of Gana has brought opprobrium and detest to the clergy, traditional and political leaders who were involved in the amnesty process in the state, who with their innocence have been labelled as ‘betrayers’ lured Gana and his members out of their hideout in the name of peace and with mouth-full of promises of security only to be killed by the military. Some of the above leaders are still in shock and fear for their lives. These all were created by a badly organised egotistical mission in total disregard for the peace of the area.
The future of amnesty in the state is now blurry, trust is taken away whether from the traditional, religious or political institution on one hand and from prospective beneficiaries of amnesty on the other hand. This event may jeopardise the grant of amnesty even beyond Benue State including with the leaders of boko haram whose reluctance to accept peace may become dead as trust is taken out of the Nigerian military vocabulary.
It is observed however that, the amnesty process was hurriedly carried out without proper planning and adequate consultation. The alleged crimes of Gana cut across states however the Benue State Government single-handedly proceeded to organise an amnesty programme unlike in the past and particularly in December, 2018 where Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State and the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, after a joint security meeting between the two states held at the Federal University, Wukari in Taraba State issued a communiqué wherein they jointly opened a window of amnesty to criminals operating along the border of the two states. The amnesty window which began on 30th December, 2018 was opened for about one month to expire at the end of January, 2019.
However, the failure of any synergy whether with the various states or the Federal Government, does not in any way justifies the hurried and unlawful execution of Gana as if the Nigerian Army has something to hide. It must be noted, corrected and pointed out that it is a misplaced priority and an affront to constitutionality to justify the killing of Gana on the appropriateness or otherwise of the amnesty program. The debate on the correctness or lack of synergy in the amnesty program is very much misplaced and diversionary of the real issue in contention.
Even though the military claimed not to be aware of the amnesty program which is clearly untrue, the arrest, gathering of intelligence, prosecution and punishment of Gana would have been a priority rather than the hurried execution of the most wanted man in the Middle-Belt of Nigeria. Intelligence gathering has been wanting in Nigerian security architecture and this situation is not different. A man whom the entire military formation of Nigeria cannot find for several years in a small village like Gbise was summarily and extra-judicially killed leaves much to be desired from the Nigerian military. What a waste of intelligence!
It will be most shameful, unconscionable and unfortunate if anyone or any institution like the Nigerian Army demands the payment of the bounty placed for whoever get hold or provide information for the arrest of Gana after he had surrendered to the Benue State Government through its amnesty program only to be snatched by the Nigerian Army. And disgracefully more so after the Army had executed him in cold blood in custody probably with hands and feet bound.
4.0 KEY RESOLUTIONS
Flowing from the above, it is resolved as follows:
An independent investigation or a commission of enquiry be set by the Federal Government to investigate the arrest and killing of Gana in custody.
Constructive engagement for peace with the states concerned and the federal government be made.
Modalities be set for the rehabilitation and release of the alleged gang members of the Gana group to revive trust and the subsequent engagement of members of the group who may still be in hiding. As noted above, gun battle in this sense does not foster real peace but a suppression which may yet rise at the slightest opportunity.
Properties destroyed during military raids be compensated for; and the corpse of Gana be released to the family for burial.
Government Properties including the Hilux van belonging to the Executive Chairman of Katsina Ala Local Government, Honourable Alfred Atera and the other properties of Government including documentation of the Amnesty Program be released to Benue state Government.
The army personnel who perpetrate the killing should be brought to book.
5.1 It need to be emphasized that the Motto of our Association is “Promoting the Rule of Law.” Consequently, we owe a responsibility to both the members of our profession and the general public to safeguard this motto jealously and covetously. We shall be failing in this onerous responsibility if in the face of this brazen rape of the Rule of Law, we hide under the pretext of ‘State Security” and say nothing.
5.2 As a professional body that is responsible for promoting the Rule of Law, we shall continue to advocate and insist that those who are given responsibilities must exercise such responsibilities in line with the extant laws. Anything short of that would be an invitation to anarchy.
Justin A. Gbagir, Esq.