We will capture Agwaza in four weeks – Benue CP Makama
The Sankera axis of Benue North East has been in the eye of the storm for several years now, no thanks to the spate of killings and wanton destruction of property in the area by armed groups who brazenly operate with impunity.
Bothered by the activities of the groups and several others who had created enclaves for themselves in parts of the state, Governor Samuel Ortom, shortly after he assumed office, declared amnesty for all persons and groups in the state who had operated in the underworld to turn a new leaf.
The amnesty programme adopted the carrot and stick approach. The carrot approach entailed that those who embraced the programme were availed incentives and also made to undergo reformatory process while those in possession of illegal arms returned same for cash.
The stick approach prescribed punishment for those who failed to key into the amnesty at the expiration of the four months window.
While the programme lasted, several groups, gangs and individuals took advantage of the exercise to surrender themselves and weapons to the government.
At the end of the day, over 1,000 different calibres of guns, live ammunition and other dangerous weapons were surrendered to government.
Among those who took advantage of the amnesty programme to turn a new leaf was the now wanted militant leader, Mr. Terwase Agwaza, also known as ‘Gana’.
Agwaza’s decision to embrace the amnesty was greeted with ovation by many, given his alleged link to several bloody attacks and crisis in the Sankera axis of the state.
In fact, on the day of his surrender, the militant leader alone handed over 700 different calibres of guns to the state government in an elaborate ceremony presided over by Ortom.
The government there after inaugurated a rehabilitation programme for Agwaza and his group and, like the icing on the cake, the government also awarded the contract for the collection of produce tax to the ‘born again’ militant leader.
That initiative of the state government actually paid off following the peace that reigned in parts of the state, especially the volatile Sankera axis.
Meanwhile, just when everyone in Benue took the peace initiative for granted, the unimaginable happened:
The arrow head of the government’s amnesty programme and Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Security, Mr. Denen Igbana, was gunned down in mysterious circumstances in front of his Makurdi residence.
The murder of the former police officer, last year, elicited angry reactions from both within and outside the government.
In fact, the day Igbana was murdered marked the beginning of the end of the romance between the state government and the militant leader, no thanks to the account of an eyewitness who relayed to the governor how the deceased had at the point of being shot yelled that he was being killed by ‘Gana’.
After listening to the account of the eyewitness, Ortom vowed to ensure that whoever was responsible for the death was made to face justice.
He, at the time, said, “Whoever killed Denen has killed part of me because he was my close confidant and was also instrumental to the success of our amnesty programme. We will ensure that whoever is responsible for this dastardly act, even if it is ‘Gana’, faces justice.”
Soon after, the now wanted militant leader was invited by the police for questioning over the matter but he refused to honour the invitation.
Ortom, in an interview with journalists, stated that he had advised the militant leader to honour the invitation of the police so as to use the opportunity to clear himself of the allegation if he had no hand in the murder.
“He found his way to me to inform me that the police invited him for questioning over the murder and I advised him not to run away but to honour that invitation to clear his name but he refused.”
On his part, Agwaza, in an interview with a television station, insisted on his innocence in the murder saga, lamenting that he was being framed for a crime he knew nothing about.
It was at the peak of the controversy and the refusal of the militant leader to surrender himself for questioning that he was declared wanted by the Benue State Police Command and the amnesty he enjoyed withdrawn by the government.
Agwaza went under and relocated to his Gbishe base in Katsina/Ala local government area of the state.
A hunt for him was launched by security agencies including the military who, last August, besieged Gbishe to have him arrested.
That operation was confirmed in Makurdi by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, through his Chief of Policy and Planning, Major General Lincon Ogunewe.
The army chief stated that the military operation was intended to restore peace and normalcy in the area.
He said, “It will be a crime if we keep quiet in the face of the heinous crimes going on there, so we will ensure that all the masterminds of the crimes were arrested and brought to justice.”
Corroborating the development, the state government, in a statement by the then Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), Dr. Bem Melladu, said the action followed the refusal of Agwaza to report to the police to answer to charges of murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery levelled against him.
The manhunt for the militant leader intensified, leading to the arrest of some of his close allies and the government announced a N5million and later N10million reward for any information that could lead to his arrest.
While the search continued, cases of violent crimes continued to rage in the Sankera axis of the state including the murder of a pregnant woman and seven others at Ayati in Ukum local government area of the state.
That incident was followed by a bloody raid on Zaki Biam where close to 30 persons, including women and children were gunned down by armed men who stormed the area at the peak of business activities at the town’s International Yam Market.
After that attack, facilities at several hospitals in town were over-stretched, given the number of victims of the attack, most of whom nursed serious bullet injuries.
Ortom on getting the report of the massacre, led members of the State Executive and Security Councils to hospitals where victims were receiving treatment and to assess the level of destruction in the town.
He expressed shock at what he saw. The governor had this to say after the tour, “Our suspicion on this is clear, this act was perpetrated by Agwaza and his group, he has been killing innocent people.
It’s a shame, few days ago he also slaughtered eight people at Ayati town. “It’s disheartening, I’m going to summon a meeting of the traditional rulers of this area and ask them to produce him because Agwaza is being shielded from arrest but you can see the consequences of living with a suspected terrorist.”
Continuing he said, “I will also call a meeting of the Security Council because we will have to set up a joint security patrol team in this area to ensure intensified surveillance in the town. I can assure you that we are taking decisive actions to address the matter.” On his part, the state Police Commissioner, Bashir Makama, who said the Command had recorded 17 deaths and 11 injuries in the attack, said investigation into the matter had commenced.
Makama said, “This unfortunate incident is communal but perpetrated by common criminals who came to create fear in the minds of the people but we are going to follow them.
“It was alleged that at the time of the incident somebody in the gang was mentioning ‘Agwaza’, saying that he had arrived and went further to ask members of the Civilian Task Force to come out.
“But I am very upset because people are not willing to offer information that will lead to his arrest. I can however assure you that we will get him soon.
” Hours after the Zaki Biam massacre, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Inspector General of Police,( IGP), to take decisive action to apprehend the masterminds.
The IGP immediately deployed a Special Mobile Police Squad, led by a Commissioner of Police alongside surveillance helicopter, to Benue to complement the operations of the command to arrest the wanted militant leader.
The police, last week, said the operation, which had lasted about three weeks, was yielding positive results following the arrest and parade of alleged accomplices of the wanted man at the Force Headquarters in Abuja.
The force also placed a fresh N5million reward for information that could lead to Agwaza’s arrest, assuring that officers and men of the force were working concertedly to ensure the eventual arrest and prosecution of the wanted man.
Speaking on measures taken to nab Agwaza, the state Commissioner of Police said, “I’m sure you saw the police helicopter hovering over town? The fact is that the special team promised by the Inspector-General of Police,( IGP), Ibrahim Idris, has arrived the state. “So, we are here, we are working towards achieving that purpose. I want to assure you that we will soon finish the operation. I want to give myself four weeks and we are done with it. We are all working to ensure that peace reigns in Benue.”