By Kingsley Omonobi – Abuja
The Nigerian Military on Thursday disclosed that it would not join issues with the Benue State governor, Mr Samuel Ortom, and a former governor of the state, Senator Gabriel Suswan, over the killing of the most wanted criminal and militia gang leader in Benue state, Terwase Agwaza aka Gana, by Special Forces of the Nigerian Army.
While the military said Gana was killed following a shootout with troops, the Benue state government said, Gana and about 40 other militias had agreed to surrender in accordance to Benue state Amnesty programme and were on their way to Makurdi for the programme when they were arrested.
Senator Gabriel Suswan representing Benue North East Senatorial District, faulted the killing of Gana saying, “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.
However, the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche when asked to clarify what really transpired regarding Gana’s death, said, “It is not proper for us or I as the Coordinator of DMO to join issues with the Governor of the state and the Senator.
“I am not permitted by ethical standards to join issues with what my political masters have said or done. By Section 217 of the constitution, we are subordinated to our political masters”.
“I want to appeal to you that every issue that has been taking up before now, I should be left out of it. I’m aware that the governor made a statement and one of the Senators also made a statement and like I told you during time of Borno State, when Senator Ndume spoke and another of one spoke, I said that it is not proper to join issues with the top, so if I comment now. You will now go and use it and join me as if I’m an umpire.
“Please spear me that. If there was no reaction from there, I could have answered you but my political masters have taken up and have spoken.
“I also in the media terrain like you. So I’m not permitted by ethical standards to talk about when my superiors have spoken out.
“Quote me by ethical standards it is not done, I’m to subordinate to constituted authority. As the Coordinator Defence Media Operations, if you had asked that question may be the same Tuesday it happened, maybe I would have had an answer for you but for now let us not persist till it becomes confrontational.
“I am good at monitoring the media so I am not ignorant of what has happened it was on Channels TV, it was in the Newspapers.
Recall that following the killing of Terwase Agwaza who had been declared wanted by both the Benue state government and the Nigerian Police, several reactions have disagreed on his mode of killing.
While calling on the Federal Government to set up a judicial panel to unravel the cause of Gana by soldiers, Senator Suswan noted that “Even war criminals captured alive are entitled to certain rights.
He said, “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.”
Continuing Suswan 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 traumatized and the people terrorized 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 pauperized.
“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 theater of war and a gangster’s paradise.
“It is with this solution mindset that traditional rulers, clergymen and elders of the area decided to utilize 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 renounces 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.
Consequently, “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 were 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.”
On his part, Governor Samuel Ortom disclosed that Gana and other repentant militias were on their way to Makurdi to surrender themselves when they were intercepted close to Yandev roundabout in the Gboko LGA.
His words, “It was around 4 pm when we were waiting for the repented militias that I received a call that Gana and others have been arrested close to Yandev roundabout in Gboko by soldiers
“Many of the repentant militias had weapons which they were bringing to surrender to us. The process of the Amnesty programme was known to the security operatives. So I don’t know why they have to be arrested.
“The people willingly surrendered themselves to us. So I believed they will adequately be protected”.
Gen Enenche also gave details of military operations against criminal elements across the country saying, “In the North Central Zone, troops of Operation Nut Cracker, on 3 September 2020 intercepted 86 persons suspected to be Darul Salam family members along Kpareke-Koton-Karfe Road in Kogi State.
“During the preliminary investigation, it was revealed that the suspects fled Uttu forest general area due to the ongoing military offensive.
“Relatedly, on 6 September 2020 troops of Operation WHIRL STROKE deployed at Guma in Benue State, and Keana in Nasarawa State, conducted a dawn raid at an identified armed bandits’ camp at Guma forest along the Benue-Nasarawa border following actionable intelligence reports on the location of the camp.
“Troops neutralized one bandit while others escaped with gunshot wounds. Troops also recovered one AK-47 rifle, one AK-47 rifle magazine, one locally made pistol and 3 mobile phones while the camp was subsequently destroyed.
“Similarly, troops of Sector 1 deployed at Gagbe in Gwer West Local Government Area of Benue State conducted a dawn raid on another suspected armed bandits’ hideout at Tse Agi in the general area.
“The gallant troops stormed the hideout and apprehended 4 suspects while one AK 47 rifle, 2 AK-47 rifle magazines and 46 rounds of 7.62 mm special ammunition were also recovered at the location.
“The hideout was subsequently destroyed. In a similar vein, troops of Operation Safe Haven arrested 35 suspected criminals during raids on some identified criminal hideouts at West of Mines, Mid West, Charcoal Market and Busa Buji areas of Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State. The raids were conducted following intelligence reports of criminal activities in those areas.
“Furthermore, on 5 September 2020, troops of Operation Safe Haven raided hideouts of suspected Sara Suka criminals at Yantifa, New Market, Terminus and Bauchi road in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State.
“Troops apprehended 20 Sara Suka suspects at the location while two members of a syndicate specializing in the production of fake security agencies identity cards were also apprehended.
“Currently, all the arrested suspects are being profiled after which they will be handed over to the appropriate prosecuting agency for further action.
“In addition on 8 September 2020, troops of Operation Ayem Akpatuma III killed a militia leader Terwase Akwaza alias Gana during an encounter with troops around Gboko in Benue State. Forty members of his gang were also captured alongside arms and ammunition.
In the South-South zone, troops of Nigerian Navy Ship Delta patrol team located a dugout pit with about 1,257.96 barrels of product suspected to be stolen crude oil at Ogbodede Creek in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State.
“Also, the team discovered an oven laden with about 18.86 barrels of crude and 5,000 litres of illegally refined AGO. The dugout pit and oven with the products were dismantled.
“Similarly, Forward Operating Base BONNY patrol team discovered an illegal refining site in Ataba, Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. The site had 2 metal storage tanks laden with about 301.91 barrels of product suspected to be stolen crude oil and one metal tank laden with about 34,000litres of product suspected to be illegally refined AGO.
“Also, the team discovered 5 storage facilities made with tarpaulin inside the swamp laden with about 4,717.35 barrels of product suspected to be stolen crude oil. Similarly, 2 large wooden boats laden with about 1,069.26 barrels of product suspected to be stolen crude oil were discovered inside the creek. The storage facilities and wooden boats were dismantled.
“In the same vein, troops of 222 Battalion destroyed an illegal refining site at Eniabedi Community in Isoko North Local Government Area of Delta State.
“Furthermore, troops of 16 Brigade Garrison discovered and destroyed an illegal oil refinery containing an unspecified amount of illegally refined petroleum products at Abua in Abua/Odua Local Government Area of Rivers State.
“Relatedly, troops of 146 Battalion on patrol intercepted one wooden boat laden with an unspecified amount of stolen crude oil at Berger jetty at Bonny Local Government Area of Rivers State.
“In another development, Subsidiary operations Calm Waters II and Swift Response have continued to record remarkable successes.
Within the period under review, Nigerian Navy Ship Victory patrol team intercepted and arrested a wooden boat with 4 Nigerian suspects and laden with 1,482 bags of foreign parboiled rice around Tom Shot Island Breakwaters by Agbana-West along Calabar Channel.
“The bags of rice were smuggled from Dimbola Fishing Port in Limbe in the Republic of Cameroun and destined for Oron in Akwa Ibom State.
On the security alert issued by the Customs, Enenche said, “Sequel to the security alert by a purported memorandum from the Nigeria Customs Service warning its staff on a possible attack on the FCT, the Defence Headquarters once again wish to reassure residents of FCT and other adjoining States that the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies have been on red alert to combat crime and ensure effective surveillance of the Federal Capital Territory and other States of the country.
“The Armed Forces of Nigeria working together with other security and response agencies particularly the core intelligence agencies hereby assure the general public that preventive and preemptive intelligence operations are ongoing. The general public is thus advised to go about their lawful businesses undeterred.”
For the North West zone, he said, “Troops of Operation Hadarin Daji have continued the aggressive clearance operations resulting in the downward trend in the activities of armed bandits and criminal elements in the zone.
“These operations have most importantly led to the neutralization of armed bandits, arrest of suspected bandits and their collaborators, rescue of kidnapped victims, recovery of rustled cattle, smashing of illegal arms syndicates and illegal armed miners.
“In one of the operations conducted on 3 September 2020, the gallant troops neutralized 2 armed bandits at Samawa village in Bungudu Local Government of Zamfara State.
“Similarly, on the same day, a bandit named Sada surrendered 3 AK 47 rifles, one SMG and 2 magazines to troops of Forward Operating Base Dansadau in Zamfara State.
“Also, within the period troops of Operation Thunder Strike acting on credible intelligence successfully ambushed armed bandits at Jeka Da Rabi along Kaduna-Abuja Expressway in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
“During the ambush, troops neutralized 4 armed bandits and recovered one locally fabricated rifle along with 5 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
“Furthermore, troops of Operation Hadarin Daji on 6 September 2020, arrested a bandit at Koha village in Batsari Local Government Area of Katsina State. Also, on 7 September 2020, troops of Forward Operating Base Kekuwuje arrested 2 bandits’ couriers with the sum of One Million Five Hundred and Sixty Five Thousand, Five Hundred and Fifty Naira (N1,565,550.00) in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
“Similarly, same day, troops of Operation Hadarin Daji in conjunction with vigilantes arrested a bandit informant in Faskari Local Government Area of Katsina State.
“Additionally, within this period, the Air Component of Operation Thunder Strike neutralized several armed bandits and disrupted their camps in the Kuduru and Kwaimbana Forest areas of Kaduna State.
“This was achieved through separate air strikes carried on the heels of credible intelligence reports indicating that the 2 locations were being used as staging areas by the bandits.
“The attacks on the 2 forests hideout were executed after aerial reconnaissance missions observed significant number of armed bandits around some compounds in a small settlement within the forest.
“There is no gainsaying that the hitherto crippled agricultural, social and economic lives of the people of this zone by bandit’s activities have been restored to normalcy.
“The gallant troops of Operations Hadarin Daji and Thunder Strike have continued to dominate all the volatile areas with aggressive and confidence building patrols, ambushes and clearance operations to deny the bandits and other criminal elements freedom of action.”