Some soldiers of the Nigerian Army recently snuffed the life out of a notorious gangster in Benue State, Terwase Akwaza, better known as Gana. Though the military has tried to justify the extrajudicial killing, there is no amount of explanation that can be used to rationalise such a heinous and despicable act. The Commander, 4 Special Forces Command, Doma, Nasarawa State, Major General Moundhey Ali, told newsmen that Gana was killed at a roadblock mounted by the army along Gbese-Gboko-Makurdi Road, following an exchange of gunfire.
Life is the most basic of rights, but many individuals are robbed of this right through the unjustifiable practice of extrajudicial killing, which is the deliberate killing of persons without a fair trial. This practice is not a new experience in Nigeria, similar tragedies had been seen in other states. This same murderous style was witnessed in the killing of the late leader of the Boko Haram sect, Mohammed Yusuf, which has led to the monstrous evil that the sect has become today. Security agencies had been repeatedly accused of these types of killings, but nothing had been done to stop the senseless assassination of unarmed people.
While not holding brief for Gana or justifying his criminal activities, it must be sounded clearly that Nigeria is not a Banana Republic. We are not living in the 15th century state of nature, where might is right. We are in a 21st century democratic state, as such we must learn to live by the rule of law and allow the judicial process to always take its course.
If Nigeria is to attain the level it desires among the Comity of Nations, our security agencies and their operatives must learn not to behave like the feudal lords that held sway in medieval time. It is on record that the Benue State Government had in 2015 pardoned Gana, who was said to be the most wanted criminal in the state. The state granted amnesty to Gana and many of his ilk terrorising parts of Benue and Taraba states.
But most of them relapsed into criminality, and this made the police declare Gana wanted in 2017 while the Benue State Government placed a N10 million bounty on him. While the world may look at Gana as a criminal, he is seen as a hero in his native Gbishe community, and that is why the government must be extra careful not to provoke Gana’s admirers into being another Boko Haram. The murder of Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 is what led to the humongous initiation of many locals into terrorism, and that is what the country is still grappling with, till this day, which has become an enormous challenge to the Federal Government.
The Boko Haram leader was captured alive in Maiduguri and paraded in front of video cameras, only for his body, riddled with bullets, to be displayed later. Till date, that incident baffles rational thinking. Why would any law enforcement agent callously kill an unarmed man, who was seen in handcuffs and chains and already subdued? Though, about four policemen were arrested and charged to court for the illegal killing of the radical Islamist leader, legal proceedings had been kept secret for security reasons. The killing of Yusuf led to an increase in the frequency of Boko Haram attacks, targeting the police, during the Umar Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations.
We need not go that route again. No doubt, many people suffered in the hands of Gana and his cohorts; they have kidnapped, maimed and killed innocent persons forcefully taken into their captivity, some were even killed in their homes during their illicit raids on communities. Many of Gana’s victims disappeared, never to be seen again, which lay credence to the argument that he was a criminal and an enemy of the state. However, Gana should have been allowed to have his day in court, and that could have led to more revelations and arrest, because Gana’s interrogation would have helped the government in unravelling some of the people behind terrorist activities in the country.
The war on terrorism, though acclaimed to be a pre-emptive one, should not be an excuse to wage war on perceived enemies; especially those that the military feel are hindering its operations. Security operatives must learn to abide by the rule of law. We cannot dispute the fact that the government and its agents cannot unlawfully punish or kill its citizens, even if they have done anything illegal. Unless someone poses an immediate and significant threat that could cause death, nobody should be punished with killing without recourse to the legal standards of due process.
Even if the military insists that it is adhering to a careful process, no amount of legalese can obscure the central fact that the killing of Gana is entirely non-judicial and ultimately comes down to illegal taking of life. Tired of being on the run for years, Gana decided to embrace an amnesty proposed by Sankera elders as a permanent solution to the insecurity bedevilling the three local government areas of Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo.
Traditional rulers, the three local government chairmen and clergymen reportedly joined him in the trip to Makurdi when Gana was killed. The Federal Government must ensure severe punishment against unjust exterminations of lives in order to stem the tide of extrajudicial killings and dissipate the heinous act in the foreseeable future.