Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Troops of the joint military/paramilitary Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States have arrested 19 suspects in different parts of Benue and Nasarawa for various offences, including armed banditry, kidnapping and weapons supply.
Presenting the suspects at a press briefing on Saturday at the OPWS Headquarters in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, OPWS Force Commander Maj. Gen. Adeyemi Yekini said that they were “the most deadly set of criminals that we have ever arrested” since the Operation’s inception over a year ago in the three states.
Yekini disclosed that ten of the suspects were arrested in Gboko local government area of the Benue State, while three members of wanted militia leader Terwase Akwaza (alias ‘Gana’) were arrested during a raid of Gana’s hometown in Gbishe, Katsina-Ala local government area of the state.
Other suspects presented were Dauda Atara and Andrew Imbwase (alias ‘Don Moji’) whom he described as major armourers and suppliers of weapons to Gana; as well as two other suspected kidnappers who were arrested at Umaisha in Toto local government area of Nasarawa State.
“Gentlemen, you have seen and interviewed the suspects and I can tell you with every sense of responsibility that this crop of criminals are perhaps the most deadly set of criminals that we have ever arrested since the inception of Operation Whirl Stroke, and our hope is that the prosecuting authorities will do a good job so that these people can be removed from society for a very long time,” Yekini remarked to reporters at the press briefing.
“You will recall that some weeks back, we had a press briefing during which I promised that we shall be focusing on how to break the weapons supply chain that has been fuelling criminality in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States.
“I am very happy to inform you that we have been able to record some successes. Our star suspect today is Don Moji, the number one weapon supplier to Gana. He is responsible for between 80 and 90 percent of weapons that Gana has been using to terrorise the people of Benue State. Our intelligence team got wind of Don Moji’s activities about four months ago somewhere around Abuja.
“Just as we were closing in on him to effect his arrest at Abuja, he suddenly disappeared and reappeared a few days later at Owode Idiroko in Ogun State. We again sent troops to the area to arrest him, but again he disappeared and for almost two months we lost track of him. During this period, he did a lot of things to cover his tracks and hide his identity.”
“So, when he was sure that he had covered himself well enough after the two months period, he appeared again at Abuja to continue his weapons supply activities to Gana. This time around, he was not that lucky as we were able to arrest him with the support of the Guards Brigade troops. We tracked him to somewhere between Kashi and Kurudu in Abuja where we arrested him.”
Yekini stated that during interrogation, Imbwase led troops of the Operation to the main armourer of Gana who is based somewhere in the North Bank area of Makurdi.
“That is how we got three members of the ring, though there are up to four other members of the gang who are still on the run. We are trailing them from Benue up to Plateau State down to Taraba. So, you can now see how the weapons supply ring extends from Benue to Plateau and Taraba States.”
General Yekini further disclosed that the 10 suspects arrested in Gboko were members of a kidnap syndicate under Shawa, and that the group was responsible for the bulk of abductions and other violent crimes in and around Gboko.
He said that kidnap gang leader Anyam Andoakura, from Gboko, also confessed that he had kidnapped two people who paid him N2 million and N2.5 million, respectively.
“You will recall that some VIPs were kidnapped in Gboko of recent. These ten people were responsible for most of the kidnappings. They also spread their criminal tentacles beyond Gboko into Vandeikya and parts of Cross River State. Since we made the arrests, the rate of kidnappings had gone down considerably in Gboko and we intend to keep it so,” Yekini said.
He explained that the remaining three suspects were arrested during a raid of Gana’s Gbishe home in Katsina-Ala local government area.
“One of the suspects that we arrested and paraded earlier, Moses Zever, led troops to the hideout at Gbishe, where the three of them were arrested. We also destroyed a logistics warehouse belonging to Gana during the operation,” the Force Commander said.
He noted that the arrest of the two kidnappers at Umaisha brings to 15 the total number of kidnappers his troops have arrested around Toto local government area of Nasarawa State in the past few months, a situation that has led to improved security in the area, he said.
“My message to other armed bandits and criminals still out there is very simple and that is enough is enough. We will not tolerate armed banditry, kidnapping and other acts of criminality in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States. If you are out there committing crimes, just watch your back as we are coming after you,” the OPWS commander said.
In his confessional statement before reporters, one of suspects, Andrew Imbwase, who said he was arrested in connection with arms and weapons supply, said that he had supplied weapons and thousands of ammunition to politicians and other criminals, including Gana.
“I was contracted to supply weapons and I contacted somebody in Shendam local government area of Plateau State,” he narrated.
“The last time, I supplied 2000 ammunitions to politicians in Gboko and I got my supply through one Dauda Atara, who is my friend. I am the one who led the Army to his house in the North Bank after l was arrested.
“I know Gana and I supplied weapons to him through one of my maternal uncles who spoke to me about him. I have been in the business of weapons supply before the introduction of the amnesty programme by Governor Samuel Ortom.
“I was working with one of my late brothers. Later on, I committed a crime in which I was taken into DSS custody for a very long time. So, when the last general election was around the corner, I was brought to come and assist some politicians. I collected three AK47 rifles and ammunitions from Dauda, which I used throughout the elections period,” he said.
Another suspect, Atara Dauda, who was alleged to be armourer to Gana, said that he supplied weapons and ammunition to both Gana and Don Moji (Imbwase).
“What Don Moji said is true because I was the one that gave him all the guns and ammunitions. It was not even three AK47 that we gave out to politicians but four. I supplied weapons to Gana but at a time l stopped because he wanted me to join his gang but I refused. I have been supplying guns to Gana since 2014,” he claimed, adding that he “also supplied 2000 ammunitions to Moji and I got them from one Bala Igige in North Bank area of Makurdi.”