TERWASE AKWAZA: BETWEEN LAWLESSNESS AND AN OUTLAW by Tyozenda Gberikon

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    Terwase Akwaza aka Gana died a wrongful death. It is ironic that an individual who inflicted so much pain and mayhem on his immediate and outlying communities got liquidated and I personally feel it was unjustifiable. Far from it, although he deserved to die, the manner of his death was a tasteless, premeditated and extra-judicial murder. The responsible authority must investigate and bring to book whoever was responsible for that despicable act of perfidy. But while we await the response or non-response from the authorities, it would be apt to place the saga of the infamous deceased bandit in perspective.
    In the Beginning
    Terwase Akwaza aka Gana hailed from Mbayongo District of Katsina Ala Government in Benue State. It is a contiguous community on the Taraba and Benue border. It is an area that is plagued by intra-communal crisis and endless bloodshed and demographic shenanigans by the combined forces of Jukun, Kuteb and Fulani irredentists. This is the situation under which he thrived.
    With little formal education and limited opportunities for self-improvement, he became intoxicated by the limitless prospects and power of a rifle which he had discovered during those remorseless skirmishing. He was enthralled by the immediacy of kinetic engagement and got hooked.
    Evolution
    Gana evolved rapidly and his hallmark being ruthlessness. He also determined that apart from been a communal hired gun, he could make a career of petty thievery. He became a common thief and with time a seasoned armed robber. He was so successful that he started recruiting and mentoring young people in his community and later other far-flung quarters garnering followers which counted among them Jukun, Kuteb and Fulani. He began operating at strategic levels by delegating bandits to do his menial field tasks and diversified to cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom and political influencing. For the Jukun Kuteb and Fulani his presence meant a balance of terror.
    Larger than Life
    The Gana myth attained a larger than life image. His name was mentioned in hush tones. Meanwhile elected politicians including seating governors, senators, the lower legislators and aspirants all queued up to outdo themselves, fawning and showering him with monetary and material gifts to be acceptable to him or just to be allowed to campaign freely. Gana became a local deity who was propitiated by praises and sacrifices by his community and distant devotees. He loved his new found fame and become disruptive and a law unto himself. He afflicted the intermediate area of Tivland called Sankera.
    Over time, district heads and prominent individuals tasted death at his prodding. Homesteads and whole hamlets were completely wiped out in his proxy wars against former allies and trainees. In fact, at some point he held the three local governments of Sankera by the jugular. All these notoriety came at price. He became hunted game. He was being stlaked by vengeful individuals, families, Jukun, Fulani, Kuteb, Benue state and ultimately the federal government of Nigeria. He reigned supreme between 2011 until his last breadth.
    Milestones
    There were many milestones in his inglorious career. During the tenure of Governor Gabriel Suswam, when he attempted to rein in Gana, his clan forbade him over kinship and many underlying issues. He survived that administration.
    When Governor Samuel Ortom came on board he instituted a general amnesty programme by which all bandits in the state were forgiven upon disarmament. Gana was the star beneficiary of the scheme. He was appointed as an assistant to the governor and rewarded with lucrative produce revenue point at Katsina Ala bridgehead. The amnesty programme failed because of in-fighting between the coordinators which led to the death of one Denen Igbana, another shifty character associated with the amnesty programme. Gana then reneged on his disavowal of banditry and went back into trenches accused of the murder of the said Igbana. The withdrawal of Gana marked the effective demise of the programme.
    Apart the withdrawal of Gana, the programme failed due to saturated politics of pronouncing success before its attainment, the vengeful and acrimonious intentions of its initiators and poor implementation. Gana went back to the wild and Sankera paid for it. The government turned its back on the people of Sankera, to the extent of accusing them of being complicit to the depredations perpetrated by Gana. For five years insecurity festered in that area of Benue state.
    The government then declared Gana a wanted person and placed premium prize on any information that could lead to his arrest. At any given opportunity, the governor railed against Gana and reinforced his notoriety. This was ongoing when the renewed massacre of Tiv and other tribals in Benue in January 2018. When the systematic demographic realignment were been implemented, the federal government was complacent and non-committal until international outcry forced reluctant reaction.
    The fallout of this reluctance was frequent posting in and out of uncooperative police commissioners, lack of interest by military formations abound in the state and sundry disinclination. When the military eventually decided to engage, they chose a funny and ridiculous moniker and were tasked wrongly to disarm local militias while the Fulani herdsmen and their hirelings were left loose unleashing death and social disruption.
    At this time too, following the high pitch of the state government, Gana was declared wanted by the federal government as well and subsequent all military operations over ceaseless bloodshed in Benue state were targeted at capturing or liquidating Gana. His alleged properties were destroyed, his community invaded and bombed with the ensuing collateral damage. In their single-minded manhunt for Gana they failed woefully.
    Second Amnesty
    The security situation within the state, on its boundaries, and the relentless Fulani drive was untenable. But it was apparent that the situation in Sankera could not be allowed to aggravate any further hence the call for a second amnesty. It has been ongoing and I do not know at which point the governor acceded but a consensus was reached hence the events of Tuesday 8 September 2020.
    Festival
    After long sessions to work out modalities, on Tuesday 8 September 2020, traditional rulers, political representatives, court jesters, debtors, hangers-on, praise singer and groupies etc. all assembled and eventually the bandits turned themselves in voluntarily and renounced their evil ways. The Sankera people were relieved and hopeful for a peaceful future but all that vanished in a flash in just after two hours when the army waylaid the convoy transporting the repentant bandits to Makurdi the state capital.
    Postmortem
    The first blame lies squarely with the traditional rulers and political representatives of Sankera who in their eagerness and haste to coax out Gana and his cohorts out of their hovels, failed in getting assurances and guarantees of safe passage for the repentant lot. They should have been discerning enough to appreciate that not all factors about the proposed amnesty were under their direct control. They made Gana and others to drop their guard without corresponding commitment on the part of the security forces. Additionally, apart from the state governor who acceded to the amnesty, there was a need to have tied the loose ends with the federal government that was also an interested party in the pursuit of Gana. This lack of mutual agreement led to this unsavory butchery.
    Furthermore, most of the stakeholders that were involved in the process preceding the surrender proper were more concerned with its public success rather than working on the finer details of main matter in issue. By the time the event proper commenced, it was converted to speechmaking, political sloganeering and social media fest with pimps and gigolos spurting out the hagiographies of the imaginary accomplishments of their paymasters. It was such arrant nonsense as politics and search for relevance overshadowed the purpose of the gathering.
    Also for such highly level security event the publicity and festivity were not necessary. The organizers must be feeling very empty now as all they labored for and celebrated all but evaporated in a couple of hours. The whole Sankera displayed naivety and such low-level judgment over this amnesty conundrum as to fail to appreciate the lack of synergy between Gov Samuel Ortom, and by extension Tiv people on one hand and Buhari administration on the other. If the governor had sought and worked out the finer details with the presidency, everyone would have been saved the current situation as it were. In addition, the manner in which the repentant individuals were moved was too unplanned and it would appear that those in charge did not know the degree of high security targets they were meant to transit.
    The Military
    The military were the fall guys in this instance. Just like in Benue and elsewhere they have been overwhelmed by the escalating security challenges. The operational doctrine of the military so far employed is not only questionable but greatly skewed in many instances. On this Gana debacle you failed woefully. After many listless and blind operations, you could not winkle out the rabble only to waylay him after he had publicly renounced banditry, by which time he was a protected person and being processed as one.
    The military should be the custodians of rules of engagement (ROE) and laws of armed conflict. The latter may not cover all things in fluid war situation but it guides combatants and their commanders that there are certain minimum standards of behaviour in conflict which, if sensibly and professionally applied, can and will reduce the suffering of the victims of conflicts and improves the prospects for a return to lasting peace. This is important because lingering bitterness caused by inhuman or brutal behaviour in conflict will slow down any peace process. This is exactly what happened yesterday.
    All parties to a conflict are protected, in time of conflict, especially persons who do not take part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities, such as civilians; medical and religious personnel; combatants who have stopped fighting because they are wounded, have been captured or have surrendered and are now defenceless. Gana surrendered and was defenceless at the point he was abducted and killed.
    Some military experts may claim for example that internal disturbances and tensions involving violent exchanges are not covered by the law of armed conflict. It can be difficult to tell exactly when the threshold for application has been crossed. However, that is not enough of an excuse to devolve to extra-judicial murder.
    History
    Again, the claim that Gana died from the exchange of fire with the military was downright lies and mark of poor public communication in a digital age. All these years you neither had any encounter nor any exchange of fire with him but on a day he willingly surrendered you plucked him and impounded a vehicle he was been transported in and eventually killed and you make claims of an exchange of fire. Are the military so forgetful? I believe the lessons of the death of Mohammed Yusuf and the escalation of Boko Haram have not been lost on the military leaders.
    Presently, repentant insurgents in the NE are being rehabilitated and reintegrated. Why is the case of Gana different? Has somebody contemplated the fate of the people who organized the surrender? Or is someone trying precipitate graver security situation in Benue state? What is the implication of interdicting a governmental convoy, even of a lowly chairman on state duties?
    In conclusion, Gana lived by the sword and expected to die by a sword given the widespread bloodshed and destruction he orchestrated. No one expected that he would be corralled in a cowardly manner by so-called military men at his point of surrender while explaining events in the most blatant falsehood ever witnessed lately. This act of perfidy must not be allowed to sustain. The responsible authorities should immediately institute an enquiry to unravel the culprits. Meanwhile, the state governor and associated politicians and traditional rulers who facilitated this betrayal share in the blame. The whole world is watching Benue state and Sankera in particular. Whatever befalls Sankera from the ripple effects of this poor judgment must be squarely placed where it emanated.

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