As controversy rages over the circumstances of the death of notorious terrorist and gang leader in Benue State, Terwase Akwaza alias Gana, residents are unlikely to forget in a hurry how he and his followers held them hostage for years.
Gana was killed on Tuesday in what the Commander, 4 Special Forces Command, Doma, Nasarawa state, Maj. -Gen. Moundhey Ali, called an exchange of fire between soldiers and the terrorist at a security check point mounted by the Army on the Gbese-Gboko-Makurdi road.
Community leaders however disputed the army claim.
They alleged that soldiers forced him out of an official vehicle of the Benue State government that was conveying him and some prominent citizens of the state to Makurdi after he agreed to embrace peace, come out of hiding and live a normal life.
It was not his first time of agreeing to abandon terrorism.
In 2015, Gana and his gang accepted an offer of amnesty from Governor Samuel Ortom.
On the last day of the amnesty offer, Gana turned in 84 assorted firearms and thousands of ammunitions.
He was granted Amnesty and made Leader of the beneficiaries. The State Government made him a Revenue Consultant as part of his rehabilitation and that of the other beneficiaries and he made a fortune.
The honeymoon lasted only a few months.
In May 2016, the governor’s aide on security, Mr Denen Igbana, was brutally murdered and the suspicion in the security circle was that Gana did it.
Igbana’s offence was that he found that Akwaza was not interested in peace.
A panel indicted Gana for the murder and asked him to submit himself for investigation by a judicial panel.
Instead of making himself available for investigation and the judicial process, he chose to go back to his vomit.
He retreated, along with his boys, to the bush in the Sankera axis comprising Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the State.
Government offered a N10 million reward which was later increased to N50million for anyone with information that might lead to his arrest, while the military joined in efforts to track him down but all to no avail.
Gana and his boys became more daring and vicious than ever before. A reign of banditry, kidnapping, assassination, ritual killing and cattle rustling had begun.
He ran an organized and sophisticated network of criminal activities in his chosen domain and conducted affairs with an iron fist. Any challenge to his authority was met with death.
On Akwaza’s orders, communities were razed. Traditional rulers, wealthy farmers and other influential community members were not spared.
He allegedly placed special levies on farmers, traders and prominent people in his domain and anyone who dared to oppose him do not live to tell the story. Akwaza fought supremacy gang wars with his former allies who visited devastation on several communities in Ukum and Katsina-Ala LGAs.
In no time, socio-economic activities in that axis, that hitherto prided itself in massive agricultural produce, began to crash.
He was alleged to have buried of his victims many alive and gunned down others at the slightest provocation.
Those killed in this manner included the District Head of Mbayongo, Chief Aloo Alev, his counterpart in Michihe and Chief Chiahemba Livinus Shom.
The case of the District Head of Kundav in Ukum LGA, Chief Awua Alabar, was particularly pathetic: he was killed in the presence of his family.
So also were the kidnap and murder of Mrs. Esther Nguumbur Tur, wife of Justice Tine Tur of the Court of Appeal and her companion, Mrs. Mbalamen Kpensuen Aminde by Akwaza and his gang after ransom was collected and the victims’ Hilux van seized; the assassination of the and Msugh Tyavyar alias Pastor whose roles in the prosecution of the 2015 Amnesty programme he considered a threat to his interest were part of the many sins of the terror king.
He constituted himself into an alternate government and enjoyed the status of a maximum ruler in the jungle.
He presided over the activities of that empire from the jungles of Gbise, his immediate community where he enjoyed the protection of folks who thinking he was the defender of Tiv people from their oppressors shielded him from arrest.
Several expeditions were embarked on to his enclave in a bid to arrest him, without success, he was somewhat invincible until joint security operations like Ayem AKpatuma and later Whirlstroke were initiated by the federal government to stamp out violent crimes in the Middle Belt region.
This state of affairs prompted prominent natives of the geopolitical axis, including political, religious and traditional leaders to request a second Amnesty programme which the governor granted on September 4.
Ortom gave an ultimatum for those who wanted to embrace the second amnesty programme to surrender their weapons on Tuesday, September 8, in order to become beneficiaries of the programme, an offer Akwaza went into for the second time.
He was said to have left his hideout in company of religious leaders and presented himself at the Emmanuel Akume Atongo Stadium in Katsina-Ala in full public glare to embrace the programme and where being ferried to the state capital for reception by the governor and members of the security council when he met his end in now controversial circumstances.
Selected traditional rulers, prominent indigenes and security personnel took off with Akwaza and other potential beneficiaries from the stadium to come and present them to the security council but they were intercepted by the military at Masaje, close to Yandev in Gboko Local Government Area.
The Katsina-Ala LG Chairman, Alfred Orya Atera and his security detail, a former House of Assembly member, Dr Ianna Jato were reportedly pulled out of the chairman’s official vehicle in which Akwaza was being conveyed to Makurdi.
The troops subsequently took the vehicle and Akwaza and several other persons from Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo LGAs hoping to receive amnesty away with some of them killed near Moji Farms after Tse-Kucha while Akwaza was killed at another location in Nasarawa State.
When news of Gana’s killing filtered into the venue of the Expanded State Security Council meeting it was initially thought of as unconfirmed rumour.
Governor Ortom, Senator Gabriel Suswam and the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, were shocked when the report was subsequently confrimed.
The meeting came to an abrupt end.
Ortom later told reporters that the convoy conveying Akwaza and other potential Amnesty beneficiaries had been intercepted and that Major General Adeyemi Yekini of Operation Whirlstroke had confirmed this and promised to get back to him.
What came next was a statement from the Commander of the 4 Special Forces based in Doma, Nasarawa State, Major General Moundhey Gazama Ali, that Akwaza had been killed in a gunfight with the military, with the picture of the wanted gangster at the back of the official vehicle of the Katsina-Ala Local Government Chairman.
Some residents of Benue think Ortom, Senator Suswam, traditional and religious leaders betrayed Akwaza.
Others are of the view that military only eliminated him to pave way for further unhindered attacks on Benue communities.
Gana had little education as a kid.
He grew up in his home town Gbishe where he reportedly bullied other children.
He gradually developed into a monster and extended his terror activities from his Mbayongo clan to the three local government areas of Ukum, Katsina Ala and Logo.
Initially, he was believed to have a mystical power given to him by his kinsmen for the purpose of defending them against external aggression or invaders especially invading herdsmen from neighbouring Taraba State