AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers are demanding an immediate probe of the circumstances surrounding the killing of a gang leader, Terwase Agwaza alias Gana, by the military during an operation in Doma, Nasarawa State. They said the ‘extra-judicial’ killing of Gana is an act of illegality as he is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved as enshrined in Section 36 (5) of the Constitution
Some senior lawyers have condemned the recent ‘extrajudicial’ killing of Benue’s most wanted militia kingpin, Terwase Akwasa, popularly known as Gana by the military.
In condemning the act, the lawyers noted that aside the fact that Nigeria is a democratic country governed by laws, the Constitution under Section 36(5) presumes the innocence of any Nigerian including Gana until he is declared otherwise by a court of law and not the Nigerian military or a task force.
Gana was last week Tuesday shot dead by soldiers of a special military operation headed by Brigadier General Maude Ali Gadzama, near Yandev roundabout in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State.
He was killed on his way to embrace the amnesty programme put in place by the state government for repentant militants.
Prior to his murder, the militia leader had after being on the run for about four years, surrenderedhimself totheSankera traditionalcouncilled by itsfirst-classroyal father, Chief Abu King Shuluwa. He came out of hiding after embracing an amnesty deal proposed by Sankera elders aimed at curtailing rising insecurity in Kastina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas of Benue State.
The military struck while Gana and some members of his gang were being conveyed from Katsina-Ala to the Government House by monarchs of Sankera traditional council and political leaders from the three local governments.
They were billed to be received by the Benue State Security Council at the Government House. Ortom’s reaction Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has expressed shock at the killing of Gana by military troops. The governor’s reaction is a sharp contradiction to the believe in the military hierarchy that Gana’s killing is a major breakthrough in the fight against kidnapping, armed robbery and militia attacks in the North Central zone of the country.
Addressing newsmen over the incident, the governor expressed his surprise saying the military authorities must explain the circumstances surrounding Gana’s killing because they were carried along in the amnesty programme for militias in the state. While dispelling insinuations of betrayal on the part of those who arranged the amnesty programme that led to the arrest and killing of Gana, the governor said the amnesty deal was put together by the Sankera leaders and accepted by the State Security Council to help end criminality in the area.
He said: ““I am shocked and surprised to hear that the military killed ‘Gana’ because after we learnt that the military seized him yesterday (Tuesday), I called the Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, who told me that there was an operation, promising that he would get back to me.
“But shortly after, there was a press statement from the Nigerian Army Special Forces, Operation Ayem A’ Kpatuma in Doma, saying he had been killed. “I had to reach out to the commander, who confirmed to me that he was dead. I told him I was surprised and needed an explanation because the impression we got was that there was a shoot-out. So, he assured me that he would come personally to explain to me. “I was surprised at what took place but I don’t want to join issues with security agencies but at the same time, I have the responsibility to protect lives and property.
“I must rebuild the confidence of the people. I have to appeal to Benue people, particularly Sankera people (comprising people of Ukum, Logo and Katsina- Ala LGAs) not to be deterred but remain calm until we get to the root of what took place on Tuesday. I believe that we shall be given an explanation and whatever there is I will let you know.
“Meanwhile the profiling of the 42 repentant militia members we granted amnesty, yesterday, is ongoing after which they would be returned home. We also gathered that five of the repentant criminals, who were taken away by the military have been released and are being brought to Makurdi.”
Prior to his death, Gana had a N50 million bounty placed on his head by the Benue State Government and had been on the wanted list for close to four years over his alleged criminal activities. In 2015, Governor Ortom granted amnesty to over 500 criminals and the late militia leader was among those who took advantage of it.
Gana was seen for the first time in public on 31st August, 2015 when he surrendered 84 weapons at the government house after terrorising communities in the state. After accepting the amnesty programme, he was given the job of spearheading revenue generation across the 23 Local Government Areas of the state upon the completion of a month reformation programme alongside many other youths who renounced crime.
Gana was reported to have told those presentattheeventthattheincessant land dispute between his Tiv kinsmen and the Jukuns, in Benue and Taraba states, led himtoterrorismandthathehadtofortify himself todefendhispeoplewhowerebeing attacked by the enemy.
However, after he was fingered in the murder of the Governor Ortom’s aide on Special Security, Deneen Igbana, in May 2016, Gana reneged on his promise to repent and returned to his hideout in the Sankera axis of the state alongside his followers and gang members.
After he failed to honour police invitations, Gana was later in 2017 declared wanted by the police while the Benue State Government placed N10 million ransom on him. By January 2018, the Benue State Security Council raised the bounty on Gana from N10 million to N50 million. Lawyers condemned Gana’s killing
In the meantime, some senior lawyers have condemned the ‘extra-judicial’ killing of Gana by the military. The lawyers while speaking on the issue at the weekend called for a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to the incident.
They also warned that the situation if not properly handled may further worsening insecurity also make nonsense of the peace process initiated by the Benue State Government.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu, called for a probe of the circumstances surrounding Gana’s killing because of its extra-judicial nature. He said: “The facts and circumstances of any extra-judicial killing must by law be investigated.
This case shouldn’t be different. Speaking in the same vein, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, condemned the troops’ action and asked Gana’s family to file a suit to challenge the killing.
He said: “It was nothing but an extrajudicial killing of a Nigerian who was not found culpable by any known court of law. It is expected that his family will challenge the killing and at least get compensated by the Nigerian Government. Unusually, he was killed on his way to where he would lay down arms with his gang and embrace peace but he was not allowed to conclude the process before he was killed.
“This will have an effect on other socalled- militants who may want to surrender. The killing if not well handled may complicate the peace process in Benue State. I urge the government to unravel the mystery behind his death and bring the perpetrators to justice in order to assuage the feeling of those who considered Gana as their helper.
In that way Nigerian would see that justice is truly served. “I read from the social media that the Nigeria Army is requesting to be paid N50 million from Benue State Government for killing Gana.
This, if true, automatically sounds preposterous and obnoxious except the army establishes that Gana died in crossfire and that there was no way he could not be reasonably arrested without such force. A thorough investigation may be able to unravel the circumstances of his extra judicial killing.”
Dr. Fassy Yusuf described the military’s action as barbaric, saying it can lead to escalation of violence and lack of confidence in the system. He said: “The governor gave his own side of the saga while the military also gave its own version. I, therefore, depends on the side one would believe based on the evidence or information available.
“Fundamentally, extrajudicial killing is not allowed under our Constitution and no government or agency is permitted to embark on this barbaric act. It can lead to escalation of violence and lack of confidence in the system.
To unravel what actually transpired, the Federal Government should set up a fact finding body. The military and the Benue state government should state their cases before the body. Whosoever is found culpable should be heavily sanctioned. There should be no room for extra judicial killing.”
To a former National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, Gana’s killing by the military was a big mistake. Ugwummadu said: “The starting point is to seriously question the policy thrust of the nation, so manifestly overwhelmed by criminals as to be blackmailed into negotiations and partnerships in the guise of “amnesty.”
A nation or state whose coercive force cannot take down a rebellious dissident group(s) either in the form of terrorism or insurgency has technically lost its statehood. “Despite the dangerous implications of these unscrupulous alliances, the Nigerian state has not found a better way of dealing with these known criminals other than to hobnob with them thereby jeopardizing the security of the country and her citizens.
“In the event, security is compromised. Recall that the same mistake was made with respect to Mohammad Yusuf leading to the escalation of the Boko Haram menace. Recall the treatment meted out to the leaders of the Niger Delta militias which were also preceded by such amnesty and collaborations.