Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
It was supposed to be a peaceful surrender of the most wanted criminal in Benue, Terwase Akwaza, and over 100 other repentant criminals from the Sankera axis of the state.
That was until the military intercepted the convoy of stakeholders who were conveying Gana and the other repentant criminals who had also surrendered their arms to the state government to get amnesty.
Gana who had been on the wanted list of security agencies since 2018 had on Tuesday appeared for the first time in public glare at the Akume Atongo Stadium, Katsina-Ala, venue of the arms surrender.
Our Correspondent gathered that he decided to embrace a second amnesty after stakeholders in the Sankera axis assured him of his safety.
Stakeholders from the Sankera geopolitical zone including royal fathers, religious leaders and politicians had come together to address the rising spate of insecurity in the axis.
The stakeholders included former Governor, Sen. Gabriel Suswam, the Tor Sankera, HRH Abu King Shuluwa among others had appealed to the state governor, Samuel Ortom to grant amnesty to all criminals who are willing to leave their old ways and surrender their arms.
Following that appeal, the stakeholders went to work and within a space of one week, over 100 criminals from the three local government areas of Ukum, Logo and Katsina-Ala had surrendered and decided to embrace amnesty.
The repentant criminals including Gana were received in Katsina-Ala by the stakeholders who were to convey them to Makurdi where the Governor and the entire state security council were waiting to receive them.
However, at about 5:30pm, news started filtering in that the Katsina-Ala convoy had been intercepted by the military close to the Yandev roundabouts in Gboko and Gana along with some of the repentant criminals were whisked away by them.
That news created serious confusion at the Government House especially as only 42 out of the over 100 repentant criminals made it to Makurdi.
Addressing newsmen after holding some separate emergency meetings with Sankera stakeholders and the state security council Tuesday night said he got a call that Gana was arrested in Gboko and immediately tried to reach out to the army authorities.
“We were waiting around 4pm for the convoy to arrive with the repentant criminals when we heard that soldiers intercepted them at Maseje near Yandev roundabouts and Gana who was coming along with the council Chairman was apprehended and taken away.
“We were taken aback and I tried to reach out to the military. I called the Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), Gen. Yekini and he confirmed to me that they were carrying out an operation and that he would brief me later.
Ortom added that the military asked the council Chairman and his driver to alight from the Hilux vehicle and drove Gana away in that same vehicle.
The Governor said the troops also took away arms and ammunition that had been surrendered by the repentant criminals.
He explained further that the military and all other security agencies were aware of the amnesty program and wondered why they would arrest Gana in that manner.
“Many of the repentant militias had weapons in which they were bringing to surrender to us. The process of the amnesty programme was known to the security operatives. So, I don’t know why they have to be arrested.
“Immediately I got the information, I contacted the commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, General Yekini, who told me that they were carrying out an operation and promised to get back to me, so I am still waiting for him.”
The Governor however expressed shock over the interception of a government convoy, arrest and killing of Gana by military authorities.
Ortom who briefed journalists on Wednesday on the state of the second amnesty programme of his administration which covers Sankera geopolitical zone said that there was no act of betrayal in the death of Gana.
He noted that he was still awaiting briefing from the Commander Operation Ayem A Kpatuma from Doma in Nasarawa State, Major General Moundhey Gadzama Ali who promised he was coming to brief him on their operation.
He said five repentant youths from Ukum Local Government Area who were among those arrested by the Nigerian Army were released and were conveyed to the Government House in Makurdi by the Council Chairman of Ukum, Hon. Stephen Ayua to be part of the amnesty offer.
The Governor explained that the amnesty programme was not truncated as those who could not make to Makurdi due to the confusion created by the military operation would be given another chance.
He urged the people of Sankera to remain calm as he was still investigating circumstances surrounding the arrest and killing of Gana before taking action on the matter, stressing that he owes Benue people the duty to protect lives and property.
Governor Ortom had earlier addressed the 42 repentant youths and commended them for choosing to abandon their negative ways to open a new chapter of their lives.
But Commander of ‘4 special forces command’, Moundhey Ali, told journalists that Gana was killed along Gbese-Makurdi road after an exchange of gunfire.
“At about 13:00 hours, there was an engagement with the convoy of Gana, a shoot-out ensued and the bandit was killed,” Ali told reporters.