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On Army’s ‘controversial’ killing of Benue’s most-wanted criminal

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By Suleiman Uba Gaya

About a year ago, Nigerians woke up to a frightening-looking pictures, published by virtually all the nation’s newspapers, showing the respected Governor of Katsina State, Rt. Hon. Aminu Bello Masari in a thick jungle surrounded by well-armed outlaws, who he bravely visited in his desperate efforts to ensure the return of peace in his troubled state.

Governor Masari’s Katsina was one of the states bedeviled by a raging banditry, for which several Nigerians had been killed and property worth billions of naira lost.  The Governor knew the Nigerian armed forces had been overstretched, operating in 32 of the country’s 36 states. He therefore felt that extending an olive branch to the bandits would fast track peace and harmony in his state. So determined was Governor Masari that he took the heavy risk of traveling to the dreaded Rugu Forest (some say it is more dangerous than Sambisa Forest) to meet with leaders of different camps of the bandits. 

His convoy was light, perhaps a condition given by the outlaws to meet with the Governor, but in the case of the bandits, they were armed with sophisticated weapons and appeared to be battle-ready.  Questions were asked by many Nigerians as to whether the risk taken by the Governor was worth the trouble, as many of the bandits were drug addicts who could pull the trigger with little or even no prompting.   For Masari however, it was one risk he had to take to bring about peace to his people.

Sadly, however, it soon became an exercise in futility and a serious wastage of precious time. The government of Katsina State did everything to meet all the difficult conditions laid out by the bandits, but on the part of the criminals, it was business as usual. They were just taking the state government for a ride, as they continued to kill innocent people and sacking whole villages and abducting women and children.

In an interview with journalists shortly after the risky venture embarked upon by Governor Masari, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.  General Tukur Yusufu Buratai stated that whereas he does not have the power to stop any Governor from negotiating with bandits operating in his state, he did not believe it was the right thing to negotiate with those criminals at this point in time. The Army Chief was vindicated, given the bloody response of these outlaws to the amnesty extended to them by Governor Masari.

A commander of the bandits was later shown bragging that he was more powerful than the entire armed forces of Nigeria, and that nobody can force him to stop criminality.  That obviously pushed General Buratai to say that even though the army has been severely overstretched, he was begging Nigerians to give him time to deal decisively with those criminals, as peace is one word that does not exist in their lexicon. He was right.

The same thing happened in Zamfara, where the banditry took its root in the northwest. The very hardworking Governor, Hon. Bello Matawalle, had also engaged the bandits operating in his state, begging them to lay down their arms in return for amnesty and other goodies from his government. Some of the bandits made a show of laying down their arms. Nigerians were happy with the measures taken by Matawalle, but all of a sudden, the acts of banditry returned with even greater ferocity in Zamfara, in a manner that tended to embarrass his purposeful administration. 

Then only three days ago, the Special Forces of the Nigerian Army that has been working hard to ensure the defeat of banditry in Benue, Nasarawa and other states in the north-central, killed a certain Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as Gana, described in many quarters as the most dreaded criminal operating in Benue State. Surprisingly, all hell was then let loose, as the Governor of the state, Mr. Samuel Ortom, started complaining to the high heavens that the criminal was on his way to Makurdi to accept an amnesty extended to him by the state government.

Firstly, it was obvious that the state government did not take the armed forces into confidence when it decided to extend amnesty to criminals operating in the state.  Though security officers are usually involved in security council meetings of state governments, it is obvious that certain details of the programme were hidden from those security officials, more so the army that tends to easily get criticized, if not outrightly condemned by some members of the political party that Governor Ortom subscribes to. This is very possible because the Governor was similarly accused of failing to take President Buhari into confidence when his state was enacting a controversial law that impinged on the constitution of the country, and which misunderstanding eventually led to several lives being lost.

An indication that the army was not aware of the amnesty programme, or even if it did, was not properly informed as to when it was to be extended, emerged when Governor Ortom himself said that he only called the army general in charge of the special forces, after being told that Gana had been killed.

The Army on its part said that it got an intelligence that the criminal, on whose head Governor Ortom once placed a bounty of ten million naira, was moving along a certain direction in the state.  It then mobilized its special forces to intercept and arrest him, but that when the outlaw appeared in a long convoy of vehicles, his boys engaged the army in a shootout, which resulted in the death of Terwase Akwaza and arrest of many members of his criminal gang.

Now, the issue for determination is whether, by trying to arrest Gana, the army was doing its job as enshrined for it by the constitution of this country. Did the army deliberately kill this wanted criminal, knowing he was on his way to accept amnesty offered to him by the government of Benue State? I will rather support the army’s version of the story for two strong reasons. Firstly, they were the ones on ground and are the only people who could tell us what truly transpired.

Of course there are other criminals in Gana’s camp that managed to escape, and who are now singing a different tune. But between a gang of criminal elements that terrorized a state for several years, and the one and only army that our country has, no one in his senses, unless possessed by irresponsible politics, should believe the narrative of the criminals. The army’s version of the story is therefore more tenable, more so as this is an army that does not engage in frivolities or play to the gallery. If it were the kind of army that would kill a criminal just for the heck of it, why has it not been killing repentant Boko Haram terrorists that have surrendered and are being deradicalised? 

One of the politicians that I hold in a very high esteeem, former Benue Governor and now Senator, Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam, argued that the army has not learnt any lesson from the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, founder of Boko Haram, an exercise that has led to escalation of the crisis in 2009.  But my respected leader seems to have forgotten that even in that instance, the army that arrested Yusuf did not kill him. It handed the man over to the police, who, unfortunately, killed him. It is also commonly known that since the advent of the Buhari Administration, the Nigerian Army has been strictly adhering to the rules of engagement. 

In the same Benue State when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was President, the armed forces wiped out an entire community when some of its members were killed. But so disciplined are personnel of the Nigerian Army today that when Mohammed Alkali, a major-general that just retired was killed by some youths in Plateau State almost two years ago, it did not take the temptation of taking the law into its hands.  It allowed the civil authorities to handle the matter, which is still in court, with the perpetrators freely moving about on bail. One can only imagine what would have happened to those youths if the present crop of army personnel had not been re-oriented to play by the rules.

I wonder whether those Nigerians arguing that Gana should not have been killed wanted him to kill our special forces, when their job has been putting their precious lives at great risk to protect us from such criminal elements like him who kill in large scale and with no scruple. But why would it surprise anyone when told that someone, known to be blood thirsty, and who is well known to have killed a number of soldiers, police and other security personnel, was the one who pulled the trigger first.

The argument should not even be about who, between the army and Gana’s criminal gang, pulled the trigger first. It should be about the fact that the army was only doing its job of protecting Nigerians from the Ganas of this world, and the biggest beneficiaries are the good people of Benue State, who can now begin to sleep with their two eyes closed. 

The army should be supported by all, to root out the remnants of Akwaza and other criminal gangs to ensure peace returns to Benue, Nasarawa and other states in the region.

Only two weeks ago, the same army took the battle to Darul Salam, a new terrorist group operating in parts of Kogi and Nasarawa states.  It was that group that was fond of attacking innocent travelers on the Abuja-Lokoja highway, kidnapping and killing passengers at will, almost on a daily basis.  Why then should there be any argument when those brave Nigerians, putting their lives on the line in our defense, kill a criminal like Gana, since he did not believe in any rule of engagement?

I am very sure that if Gana had not attacked the army personnel on duty, he will have been alive today, but even then, I beg to disagree with my respected leader, Senator Suswam, that the armed forces would have befitted from information as to how and where criminal gangs operate in Benue State. Surely the Gana that we all have heard a lot about would not have obliged the armed forces any such information, even if, truly, he was accepting the amnesty on offer.

As in the case cited of Katsina, these criminal gangs almost always give difficult conditions to state governments, to accept such amnesty. Surely revealing his modus operandi could not have been one of the things the armed forces could have got from Benue’s most wanted criminal.

Lastly, he who wears the shoes knows more than everyone else where it pinches. Whereas Governor Ortom and members of his cabinet are operating from their comfortable air conditioned offices, members of the Nigerian army that are now being accused by the government of Benue State are operating under difficult, if not outrightly impossible conditions. In their bid to play by the rules, members of the armed forces have suffered a lot all in their bid to ensure the rest of us live in peace, but you cannot expect army personnel to sit idly-by when they are being attacked and killed by a criminal gang just because a governor has offered the gang an amnesty. It doesn’t make a bit of sense!

Nigerians should be interested in finding out who it is, in the first place, that sponsored Terwase Akwaza and made him the dreaded criminal that he became. It is too easy for anyone to open their mouth and accuse the army for failing to meet their expectations.  But we should learn to interrogate our politicians and ask them the difficult questions.

We still have not cared to punish the politicians whose antics gave rise to Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has in eleven years killed thousands of Nigerians. These politicians are still moving about freely and even lording it over the rest of us. How sure is the army, or indeed other Nigerians, that Akwaza would not rescind the amnesty and throw every bit of it to the dogs, as other criminal elements have done in Katsina, Zamfara and other states where governors graciously extended the olive branch to these criminals? And if that happened, who, between Governor Ortom and the Nigerian Army should we expect to embark on the dangerous task of fishing out for the heartless criminal that made peace in Benue completely impossible? C’mon!

We fashion our democracy after America and see that country as a role model in democracy, human rights and good governance. Why haven’t we accused America when it extra-judiciously killed Osama Bin Ladin, even when it got him alive and had the option of arresting him and bringing him to justice when it stormed his hideout in Pakistan in May, 2010? An army commando that was involved in the operation once said that arresting such top terrorists alive could be risky because in the process, they could slip out of the fingers of the security personnel that arrested them, and those guarding them would surely resist it, with the implication that more security personnel would end up losing their lives.

It is for this reason that the same American armed forces did not insist in capturing Abubakr Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, alive, when it got him in a tunnel in Barisha, Syria’s northwestern Idlib region in October last year. It chose to kill him to save its personnel and ensure no chances were taken.

If Gana were an innocent Nigerian and not a criminal as certified by the government of Benue State itself, which, as cited earlier even placed a bounty on his head; or if he had not attacked the Army, as he did, chances are he will today be alive, even if that would never ensure peace in Benue and other neighboring states. The only language those bandits know is violence.  We should support our armed forces to give them what they need, if peace and not cheap politics is truly what we want.

Surely even criminals are entitled to certain rights before the law. But that can never be at the expense of hardworking patriots that are putting their precious lives on the line to ensure you and me live in peace. In other words, the rights of those criminals stop where those of our law enforcement officers begin.

Governor Ortom is surely trying his best in clear efforts to bring about peace in Benue State.  He is therefore too matured to play to the gallery and thereby ostricise the one and only army that has been – whether we like it or not – his best partner in the fight against banditry and enthronement of peace in all of Benue.

The resort to self-help by some governors, though understandable in some respect, has continued to prove a wrong thing to do because it is yet to serve any useful purpose. God so kind, what Governor Masari did has further proven that our leaders are sensitive. With his failed effort to negotiate with the bandits, the Katsina Governor returned to the drawing board and simply deepened his relationship with the armed forces. Courtesy of that, Faskari, in Katsina State, is now playing host to an army super camp that is working round the clock in concert with sister security agencies to uproot all criminals from not just Katsina, but other states in the region, as well.

For the first time since the escalation of banditry in the northwest, internally-displaced citizens are returning to their homes.  Thousands have already done so in Jibia, Faskari and other hotbeds of the insurgency, and very soon, more so with the support needed of all citizens especially in the area of sharing of critical information with the security services, terrorism and banditry will be things of the past in this country.

*****

As SURJEN, Pseven roll out free malaria testing in Abuja

It is heartwarming that at this time when the spending power of most Nigerians is at a low ebb, SURJEN, a comprehensive health tech startup aimed at making quality healthcare services accessible to the general public from the comfort of their homes, is partnering with Pseven Medical Diagnostics to offer free malaria diagnosis, with free home sample collection making the package the best that has ever been availed the residents of the capital city.

Malaria is endemic in Nigeria, killing over a thousand people everyday.  The disease has remained one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in the country, with hospital reviews showing it alone accounts for over 60 percent of outpatient visits in the country. Malaria is also responsible for 30 percent for children under five, and 11 percent mortality in pregnant women.

This noble exercise started by SURJEN in partnership with Pseven is aimed at achieving timely and effective access to malaria diagnosis and treatment option when confirmed. And because malaria is not the only cause of fever in the country, there is the sure need for quality diagnosis to ensure only cases of malaria are treated as such. For an endemic country such as ours, this exercise will help overcome the associated risk of fatal outcomes.

One of every four deaths that take place as a result of malaria all over the world happen in Nigeria. This free exercise is available to all Nigerians resident in the Federal Capital Territory, in particular the elderly, children, pregnant women, adult men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

Suleiman Uba Gaya can be reached on:
[email protected]
0803 567 6295 (Text Message Only)


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