By MURPHY GANAGANA
for almost one year, the police and other security agencies have been on the trail of Terwase Agwaza, aka, Ghana, acclaimed as the most dreaded king of the underworld in Nigeria’s North Central geopolitical zone, without making headway.
He has been on the wanted list of the police after the late-night killing of Danen Igbana, an ex-cop who, until his death, was Senior Special Assistant on Security, to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.
Before then, Akwaza had reigned for over a decade in Benue and its neighbouring states; and like the legendry Robin Hood, he exuded a split image in a macabre display of professional dexterity, as he killed, robbed, and maimed.
It was as if Benue was in a war situation, a state under siege, held by the jugular by Akwaza and his men, who spilled blood with glee as they dispossessed hapless residents of cash and valuables in their homes, business premises, and on the highways.
When the heat became unbearable, the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, moved to mop up illegal arms in circulation and checkmate the rising insecurity. He granted unconditional pardon to all arms-bearing militia groups and hoodlums in the state in exchange for weapons, in an amnesty programme which lasted between August, 2015 and January, 2016, during which the government was said to have retrieved over 700 heavy and light firearms, as well as other dangerous weapons from various gangs.
Reports indicated that Akwaza led about 500 gangsters to surrender weapons and renounce criminality at the grand finale of an event marked with fanfare, with residents of the state hoping on a new dawn, where they would be free to move at will and sleep at night in peace, with their eyes closed.
Convinced that he had shed his evil garb, he became the governor’s beautiful bride and was rewarded with an appointed as Chairman, Joint Task Force on Revenue Collection in the state, a gesture aimed at keeping him busy and under watch. An eight-man team of security details comprising personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps was arranged and attached to him by the state government, as part of the perks of his office. Besides, his company, Ghatertex Nigeria Limited, was also awarded contract for the collection of Produce Tax for which he remitted N10 million monthly to the state government’s coffers while he retained a certain percentage as running cost and for settlement of his boys.
One year after, unfolding events have revealed that like the leopard, Agwaza has not changed, and still reigns in the underworld. His acceptance of amnesty proclaimed by the state governor and surrender of weapons was just a fluke, a smokescreen to conceal and give verve to his criminal activities.
The recovery of a large cache of arms on April 2, 2017, in an underground bunker at a forest near Gbishe, his ancestral home tucked between mountains in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of the state, is a testament; a fact alluded to by Governor Ortom when the weapons recovered by a combined team of security forces were display at the Government House, Makurdi.
“The recovery of the illegal arms has further shown that Ghana was using the amnesty programme as a cover up to perpetrate criminality; the whole world can now see who Ghana is, and his lies. You can now confirm when I was saying he was using the amnesty as a cover to perpetrate criminality,” a visibly shocked Ortom, remarked.
To be sure, the romance between the Benue governor and Agwaza ended abruptly less than a year after he surrendered some weapons and accepted amnesty, following the brutal murder Igbana, on May 20, 2016. Since then, Ortom has repeatedly asked him to submit himself to the Benue State police command for his alleged complicity in the act.
Rather than giving up, the terror king has remained a fugitive of the law. Perhaps as a strategy, he stirred the hornets’ nest last year and threw top government officials and security goons into suspense and apprehension. Like 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 him with firearms for his unholy activities, Agwaza accused some officials in Ortom’s cabinet of having their hands soiled.
Specifically, he alleged that a Special Adviser to the governor holding a sensitive portfolio (names withheld) had been involved in arms deals with him since 2007; he also alleged that another governor’s aide, now deceased, engaged in the illicit firearms business with him from 2011. He capped the allegations with a threat of an expose that would shake Benue to its foundation.
Expectedly, his missiles raised dust in the state as tongues wagged over the allegations. Belching fire from his nostrils, he shot another lethal bullet to the authorities in Abuja. In a letter dated June 30, 2016, addressed to the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission, he accused some government officials of involvement in kidnap racketeering and shortchanging of amnesty beneficiaries in the state. Part of the letter read:
“On the 17th February, 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…”
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 Taraba and Nasarawa states.
Within the short period he surfaced in public after assuming notoriety, he claimed innocence of the sins, which he was accused of, but residents of Benue and the neighbouring states, insist he is terror personified. In Gbishe, his village in kpav District of Katsina-Ala local council, he is discussed in whispers as the locals tremble at the mention of his name, believing that he had magical powers of appearing and disappearing at will.
For this, he is feared, adored and protected by his kith and kin, actions he reciprocated by showing them care and compassion. For instance, 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 viciousness in crime, he is regarded by his folks as an enigma; a provider of succor for the poor and needy, and, therefore, a better alternative to government.
Ironically, the show of camaraderie by his people, according to Bashir Makama, Benue State commissioner of police, has become an obstacle to police efforts at reining him in. “Since I came, we have been trying our little best to apprehend him, but I still maintain that the community from where he comes has been shielding him. Because of the myth that is believed by many in the state that if you talk about him he knows and the next minute, he will appear to you. Maybe, this is the reason why people are scared. Besides, the community where he lives and where he knows the terrain more than security agents has also given him an upper hand,” he said in an exclusive chat with Sunday Sun.
A self-acclaimed mercenary believed to have been trained on guerrilla warfare in neighbouring West and North African countries, the bearded Agwaza had confessed to being hired by various groups for gunfights in Cameroun and Niger Republic. “I was principally involved in mercenary assignments; for instance, I and my boys were hired as mercenaries to fight for the cause of some 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,” he boasted last year in a rare interview with a local tabloid. For several years, he has lived by the gun, his hands dripping blood of the innocent souls felled by his hot, ferocious bullets. Yet, his looks do not betray the nature of a terror king. Agwaza, the son of a “powerful herbalist” who died long ago, did not have the luxury of acquiring formal education and dropped out in primary school after losing his parents at a tender age.
Now in his late 40s and a polygamist, activities of his family are shielded in secrecy. Except for the awesome mystic powers said to have been bequeathed to him by his late father, the soft-spoken, reserved and diminutive king of the jungle, sources said, was a fashionable personality who regularly adorned jeans attires with an inscription, Ghana Agwaza, as trademark.
Hunted and forced to go underground, it could not be ascertained if he still appeared publicly in his trademark, as the hunt for him intensified.“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,” said a source who craved anonymity.
Long before now, his alleged killing of an army officer among others on a reconnaissance mission to his village from a military post in Taraba State about six years ago, had shot him atop security radar especially within the North-central zone, but Agwaza, reputed to be endowed with native intelligence, a trait he reportedly supports with magical powers, had remained elusive, even as he continued to strike at pre-determined targets in a Gestapo style.
Government and security sources affirm, as claimed by the locals, that his shrine is situated on top of a rock at the fringes of Gbise, his village, from which he protects himself. “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 shortly before going into hiding.
Earlier, he had betrayed emotions and his fear of death when invited by Benue governor, Samuel Ortom, and offered statutory pardon in exchange for his arms during his proclamation of amnesty to militia groups across the state.
While expressing fears for his life, he offered 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.
Presently, the police say he is wanted for his alleged involvement in sundry offences including armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, and the rustling of over 3000 cattle. Interestingly, questions are being asked 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 were rife that rather than using the security men around him to effect his arrest, he was allowed to slip away in cloudy circumstances.
Prior to his declaration as a wanted person, the Benue State police command said it had extended several invitations to him to answer to allegations of crime against him, but he failed to honour the invites. But before going out of circulation, Agwaza had countered 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 against some suspects who were arraigned before the Chief Magistrate Court 1, in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
He had 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 at the Criminal Investigation Department of the state police command.
In a petition to the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 4 with headquarters in Makurdi, requesting a transfer the case to his office for diligent investigation, Agwaza had expressed fears for his safety and declared lack of confidence on investigations at the state police command, where he said, 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.
Eventually, Jirgba, Agwaza’s lead counsel, had to battle to extricate himself from an intricate web, abruptly making a U-turn as he withdrew from defending him after being allegedly arrested and detained by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS), alongside two of his relations over the whereabouts of his wanted client, whose sister and two children, the police confirmed, were held at that time in “protective custody”.
Thereafter, soldiers raided Gbise village in an apparent move to break his spirit and possibly rein him in, allegedly reducing all his property including a clinic and school he built for the community to rubble. His shrine and father’s house were also allegedly destroyed.
Weeks have rolled into months and a year after the invasion, but the terror king has remained elusive, poles apart from the reach of the police and other security agencies in their bid to nab him. This is even as the spokesman for Benue police command, Moses Yamu, had boasted early last year, that Agwaza would soon be in custody. “We are making progress in our efforts at getting him; the heat is on him and very soon, we shall get him,” Yamu, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP, had said in an interview with Sunday Sun correspondent.
But remarks by Makama, the state commissioner of police, indicated otherwise. “…So many people have fallen victim of his attacks. He has killed many including security agents, vigilante men, community leaders, traditional chiefs and whoever he feels and he sees as an impediment. He has no sorry in his diary. His sorry word is death. And that is what he has been doing in the last years before I even came to this state”, he told Sunday Sun last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Agwaza reigns in his dark world unchallenged, killing, looting and maiming. He leaves on his trail, blood, tears, pain and sorrow, as efforts by the police are yet to yield result. So far, the police are as helpless as his victims, left to lick their wounds whenever he struck.
This is more so, with the scary scenario painted by the special adviser to the governor on security, Col. Edwin Jando (retd), during the recent public display of weapons recovered from a bunker. He told Ortom it was just one of the several bunkers where illegal arms are stored around the area believed to be Agwaza’s enclave. Only time, shall tell when the siege on Benue by the king of the underworld would pan out.