Wednesday, September 8, marked the end of one of the most wanted militia leaders in the country, Terwase Akwaza, a.k.a Gana. He died in controversial circumstances, just as he had lived.
One of the gang members of terror kingpin, identified as Aondehemba, had confided in a news medium that the late warlord got his power from burying his 12- years old daughter, 11 years ago in his village. This is just as he revealed that Gana accepted Christ just before his death.
Aondehemba, also known as Major, revealed that the gang members warned their late leader not to trust the peace offering that eventually claimed his life. Major expressed that Gana, in his lifetime, trained over 200 gun-carrying members in Benue North East and Taraba State. “It is a battalion,” he said. “We are many and have a very strong network.”
Based in Benue State, Gana wanted to be seen as a defender of the Tiv people against external aggression, but close observers note that he perpetrated atrocities on his kinsmen even while claiming to be protecting them against external aggressors. Akwaza was ‘notorious’ for alleged several criminal activities including banditry, kidnapping, assassinations, ritual killings and cattle rustling.
When governor, Samuel Ortom, initiated an amnesty programme in 2015, Gana was the greatest beneficiary. On the last day of the programme, he turned in 84 assorted firearms and thousands of ammunitions. He was granted amnesty and made leader of the beneficiaries, which included being a Revenue Consultant as part of his rehabilitation.
However, he was said to have reneged after it was alleged that he sponsored the assassination of the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Security, Mr Denen Igbana. Instead of making himself available for investigation, he chose to go back to his gangster world.
Many conclude that Gana constituted himself into an alternate government and enjoyed the status of a maximum ruler in the jungle. His area of operation was mainly what is known as the Sankera geo-political axis, which comprises Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas of Benue State.
He presided over the activities of that empire from the jungles of Gbise, his immediate community where he enjoyed the protection of the community, which allegedly played a big role in shielding him from the arm of the law.
The Benue State Security Council moved against him by declaring him wanted and placing a bounty on him to the tune of N10 million, which was later increased to N50 million.
The state security apparatus carried out several expeditions to his enclave in a bid to arrest him, all to no avail. These efforts were later complemented by the Federal Government, which joined the manhunt through, first “Operation Ayem A Kpatuma” and later “Operation Whirlstroke”.
All efforts to track and arrest him, however, proved abortive.
Meanwhile, he ran a sophisticated network of criminal activities in his chosen domain and conducted affairs in commando style. Any challenge to his authority was met with death.
Findings reveal that at Gana’s orders, whole communities were razed down. His activities, which came to their peak between 2015 to 2020 led to the near total collapse of socio-economic activities in that axis.
He allegedly strangulated the entire Sankera area, which used to be the most productive part of Benue State, particularly in agriculture. It is this geo-political axis that gave Benue State the status of Food Basket of the Nation.
It is reported then that Gana killed his victims in a brutal manner. He was alleged to have buried many alive and gunned down many at the slightest provocation. In this manner, several traditional rulers were his victims, including the District Head of Mbayongo, Chief Aloo Alev, and his counterpart in Michihe, Chief Chiahemba Livinus Shom, in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area.
His latest victim amongst traditional rulers was Chief Awua Alabar, District Head of Kundav in Ukum Local Government Area, who was gunned down in the presence of his family.
He was at the centre of the crisis brewing between Benue and Taraba border communities leading to the death of many and destruction of property worth billions of naira on both sides. Gana was believed to be the man behind most kidnappings in Taraba and Benue States. His Tiv kinsmen innocently suffered the consequences of his dastardly actions on many occasions.
A community head in Benue said the notion that Gana was defending Tiv people from Fulani attacks is one of the most fictional stories of this decade. Investigations do not point to any instance when Akwaza put the interest of his people above his quest for personal glory and wealth. He was known to be responsible for cattle rustling in conspiracy with Fulani elements.
Akwaza reportedly placed special levies on farmers, traders and prominent people in his domain. Failure to pay meant death. He fought supremacy gang wars with his former allies, which visited devastation on several communities in Ukum and Katsina-Ala local government areas.
This state of affairs prompted prominent indigenes of the geo-political axis, including political, religious and traditional leaders to request for a second Amnesty programme.