From Murphy Ganagana
he has reigned for about a decade in Benue and its neighbouring states as the most dreaded king of the underworld with a split image in the mould of the legendry Robin Hood.
Within this period, he held the state and its environs by the jugular in his macabre display of professional dexterity, allegedly robbing, maiming and spilling blood alongside members of his gang with glee.
But an attempt by Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom, to mop up illegal arms in circulation and checkmate the rising insecurity in the state led to his being granted unconditional pardon in exchange for weapons under an amnesty programme kick-started on August, last year, in which the state government was said to have retrieved over 700 heavy and light firearms and other dangerous weapons from various gangs.
Having led about 500 gangsters to surrender weapons to the state government and as well renounced militancy cum criminality, he momentarily became the governor’s beautiful bride and was appointed chairman of the Joint Task Force on Revenue Collection in the state.
His new position also attracted for him an eight-man team of security details made up of personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, facilitated and attached to him by the state government. Besides, his company, Ghatertex Nigeria Limited, was also awarded contract for the collection of Produce Tax for which he remitted N10million monthly to the state government’s coffers while he retained a certain percentage as running cost and settlement of his boys.
All these, however, ended abruptly in less than a year following the brutal murder of a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on security matters, Mr Denen Igbana, on May 20, 2016. The incident ruptured his romance with Governor Ortom who asked him to submit himself to the Benue State police Command, which later declared him wanted over his alleged complicity in the act.
Now a fugitive, Terwase Agwaza, popularly known as Ghana, has stirred the hornets’ nest in Benue, throwing top government officials and security goons into suspense and apprehension.
In what seems to be a replay of the infamous Lawrence Anini saga in the defunct Bendel State, when he named the late DSP Iyamu as one of his accomplices, who supplied firearms for his unholy activities, Agwaza says some officials in Ortom’s cabinet had their hands soiled.
He alleged specifically, that a Special Adviser to the state governor holding a sensitive portfolio (names withheld) had been involved in arms deals with him since 2007; he also alleged that another of the governor’s aides, now deceased, engaged in the illicit firearms business with him from 2011, while threatening an expose that would shake Benue to its foundation.
In a letter to the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission dated June 30, 2016, he accused some government officials of involvement in kidnap racketeering and shortchanging of amnesty beneficiaries in the state.
The letter reads in part: “On February 17, 2016, a businesswoman was kidnapped at Gboko and a ransom of N15million was demanded. I was invited and I used the Holy Bible, which revealed that Aondofa, Tugh Katyo and Saa Saa were responsible… We got them arrested; however, Mr. Denen Igbana, late S.A to His Excellency, requested that Saa Saa should not be handed over to Operation Zenda (police outfit) because he was his boy for some time and that the government was interested in his case. But we refused and handed all of them to Operation Zenda and the woman was released without any ransom paid to anybody. I later discovered that Saa Saa was released by the Zonal Commander in Gboko on the instruction of Denen Igbana.
“I was at Katsina-Ala when Denen called me on phone that Officon’s wife was kidnapped and that he deposited the sum of N4million with him and promised to give additional N6million if the wife was found…I discovered that out of N10million collected by the governor’s aide from Officon, he gave the kidnappers N1.5million, but they insisted on collecting 50 per cent. He thereafter got their leader, Aondofa Orkurga, arrested by the police and he has been remanded in prison custody up to this moment…”
How he started
Before going out of circulation about two months ago, Agwaza had consistently denied committing the atrocities for which he was fingered. However, for most residents of Benue and its environs, he is terror personified. And in Gbise, his ancestral home under Kpav District of Katsina-Ala Local Government Area in Benue State, he is discussed in whispers as the locals tremble at the mention of his name.
Except for his acclaimed magical powers of appearing and disappearing at will, not much was known about him as he reportedly lived in obscurity, cohabiting with wild animals in the forests and caves until he emerged and presented himself as a rallying point to counter the incessant attacks on Tiv villages by suspected Fulani herders from neighbouring Taraba and Nasarawa States.
Agwaza, a polygamist in his mid-40s, did not have the luxury of acquiring formal education as he dropped out in primary school. He also reportedly lost his parents at a young age, but was said to have been bequeathed with magical powers by his father described by the locals as a very “powerful herbalist” before his demise. Small framed, generally withdrawn and soft-spoken, he is fashionable and adorns jeans attires with an inscription, GHANA AKWAZA, as trademark on his breast pocket.
While he lived a world of mystery, he is feared, adored and protected by his kith and kin for whom he built a science secondary school named after him and a clinic in his village, where public amenities are non-existent till date. Thus, despite his alleged notoriety in committing heinous crimes, he is regarded as an enigma; a provider of succour for the poor and needy, and therefore a better alternative to government.
“His people protect him and as such, do not and can never divulge information about him. Several persons had attempted to move into his village and uncover him, but got killed in the process. It was the same thing that happened to a military officer who went to his village in mufti along with some of his subordinates to unearth Ghana but were grabbed by some of his boys and slaughtered,” a source who craved anonymity told Sunday Sun last week in Katsina-Ala, Benue State.
A self-acclaimed mercenary believed to have been trained on guerrilla warfare in neighbouring West and North African countries, the bearded underworld kingpin says he had been hired by various groups for gunfights in Cameroun and Niger Republic. Hear him: “I was principally involved in mercenary assignments; for instance, I and my boys were hired as mercenaries to fight for the cause of a group of people. I have fought 11 times in Niger Republic for Fulani herdsmen and also fought seven times for the same group in Cameroun; it is very unfortunate that all those I led to fight for our financial interest were killed and no one returned. I am the only survivor today.”
His looks do not betray his public perception as a dreadful warlord, but he had evidently lived by the gun for over a decade, allegedly overrunning several border communities and military camps especially in Taraba and Nasarawa States, during which his ferocious bullets killed dozens of people.
However, the alleged killing of an army officer and his men on a reconnaissance mission to his village from a military post in Taraba State about four years ago is said to have shot him to the top of the security radar especially within the North-central zone, but he had remained elusive even as he struck at pre-determined targets in a Gestapo style at intervals.
Though uneducated, Agwaza is said to be smart and highly endowed with native intelligence, which he supports with supernatural powers from a shrine allegedly situated on top of a rock at the fringes of Gbise, his village. That, according to sources, explained why he is very protective of himself and difficult to be reined in by security operatives.
“I know I am going to die at the appointed time, but I won’t allow myself to be killed by any human being,” he reportedly vowed recently shortly before going into hiding as the manhunt for him by the security agencies intensified.
He had earlier succumbed to emotions, and his fear of death manifested, when Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom contacted him and offered statutory pardon in exchange for his arms in the wake of the amnesty programme last year. While expressing fears for his life, he accepted to surrender himself only to Bishop Adobo, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Katsina-Ala, who successfully persuaded and assured him of his safety. And when he eventually showed up, he was said to have single-handedly surrendered over 80 assorted firearms along with some of his boys.
With the amnesty granted him withdrawn by the Benue State government as a fall-out of the recent killing of the governor’s security aide, it could not be ascertained whether he had recoiled into the trenches as the police declared him wanted over his alleged involvement in sundry offences including armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, and the rustling of over 3000 cattle.
Interestingly, the process of his invitation by the police, arraignment in court in absentia, declaration as a wanted person, and withdrawal of the security details hitherto attached to him, are actions presently caught in an intricate web of politicking, sparking concerns among residents of Benue.
Contrary to claims by the Benue State Police Command that it had extended several invitations to Agwaza in connection with his alleged crimes which he had failed to honour, he avers that no invitation was sent to him until June 20, 2016, when his name was listed in a police First Information Report (FIR) containing charges when some suspects were arraigned before the Chief Magistrate Court 1, in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
He further claimed that it was after the arraignment that a letter was sent same day to his corporate office located on No.35 Katsina-Ala Street, High Level, Makurdi, inviting him for investigation activities at the Criminal Investigation Department of the state police command.
Declaring his discomfort with the investigative unit at the state command, he urged the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 4 with headquarters in Makurdi, to transfer the case to his office for diligent investigation, saying he feared for his safety and had no confidence in the state police command where the slain governor’s aide had earlier served and retired. The request dated June 23, 2016, was made through the law firm of Iorwase Ahile & Co, and endorsed by his erstwhile principal counsel, Jirgba Terfa, and Barrister O.T.Lough.
But Jirgba was said to have made a sudden U-turn and withdrawn from defending his client after being allegedly arrested and detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) alongside two of his relations apparently over the whereabouts of the wanted Agwaza, whose sister and two children the police had confirmed, were in their “protective custody.”
In an exclusive chat with Sunday Sun last week in Makurdi, spokesman for the Benue State Police Command, ASP Moses Yamu, debunked speculations that one of the underworld kingpin’s wives and several of his relatives had been arresetd by the police in a frantic bid to get at him.
His words: “Well, nobody arrested his relatives; and to put the records straight, I am aware that at a certain point, two of his children and his sister were taken into protective custody; it was not as if they were arrested. There were sort of plans to eliminate them by victims of his criminal activities when the heat was on him and he was on the run, so, we had to take them into protective custody because those he had hurt were also warming up to take their own pound of flesh.”
On why the police had not deemed it necessary to investigate a top government official alleged by Agwaza to be involved in illegal arms deal with him, Yamu said: “Well, I heard that allegation, but it was from the grapevine just like I am hearing from you. There was no formal report or anything from anybody as to the allegations people are mentioning. So, of course officially, nobody is aware. He has not written anybody on those allegations but we hear he is making those allegations. The question you should ask is whether he made those allegations before he was declared wanted or it was made while he had gone into hiding.
“The police is not aware of recycled arms being sold back to gangsters as alleged by him. What he brought was what was displayed. If such a thing had happened, why didn’t he raise the alarm when the amnesty programme was still on? What stopped him from saying it at that time until now that the heat is on him?”
Yamu said the police had made progress in the efforts at arresting him, and expressed optimism that the feat would be achieved soonest. Tongues are, however, wagging as to why Agwaza’s security details were withdrawn shortly before he was declared wanted, in circumstances, which have seemingly placed the state government and the security authorities in the state on the defensive. Speculations are rife that rather than using the security men around him to effect his arrest, if there was a sincerity of purpose, he was allowed to slip away in questionable circumstances.
In an apparent move to break his spirit and possibly rein him in, soldiers were said to have raided Gbise village and reduced all his property including the clinic and school built for the community to rubble. His shrine and father’s house were also allegedly leveled in an attack described by locals as vicious.
But Terver Akase, Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State governor defended the military invasion and destruction of properties, saying it was in the spirit and letter of the amnesty programme as outlined from its inception, but added that it was not targeted at Agwaza.
He said a situation report forwarded to the state governor after the raid on Gbise indicated that the secondary school was brought down because it was being used as a training ground for militants and other miscreants, but was silent on the demolition of other properties including a clinic.
He also stated that a top government official among others accused by Agwaza of involvement in illegal arms deals and racketeering had been directed to defend himself on a private national television station which he had done, during which he denied any link with his accuser either on personal or business level.
But Benue’s king of the jungle affirms that he holds a can of worms, if thrown open, would raise the pulse of some individuals and government functionaries in the state to a delicate balance. He also insisted he knew the killers of Governor Ortom’s SSA on security, and had offered to assist the government in unveiling the perpetrators before being declared wanted and going underground.
Will he be picked up soonest by security operatives as promised by ASP Moses Yamu and compelled to spill the beans, or would he remain elusive and use the ‘delicate information’ he claimed to be at his disposal as a bargaining chip for his freedom as being insinuated in some quarters? The events that will follow in the days ahead, surely promise the stuff of high drama.