“We call on all unlawfully armed persons who have been terrorizing innocent citizens to immediately surrender their arms … or we shall pursue them to their holes.”
Governor Ortom, May 29th, 2015.
Right from the beginning, Governor Samuel Ortom made it clear that his amnesty program which was a response to the dire insecurity situation which he met on ground on assumption of office comprised two aspects: the carrot and the stick.
He pleaded with those in possession of arms illegally to turn them in and even paid stipends to those who did so.
The carrot approach which was to last initially for three months was extended for another month following the plea by Mr. Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana when he turned himself in on the last day of the third month.
On that day he surrendered 84 assorted weapons and pledged to convince more gangsters to embrace the program.
Subsequently several others also followed suit.
At the end of the day over 600 assorted weapons and thousands of ammunition were received even as 900 youths embraced the amnesty program.
A retreat was organized for the beneficiaries who were placed on a stipend for three months and their chosen vocations identified.
The process of placement also commenced with several beneficiaries who were recruited into the army already passing out from the Nigerian Military Depot, Zaria.
The prime beneficiary, Mr. Terwase Akwaza, who emerged as leader of the beneficiaries on account of his previous role in the underworld, applied as agent of the Benue State Internal Revenue Service on produce and he was engaged in the understanding that he would provide canopy for the others.
The state government also engaged with national and international organizations to fashion out a more comprehensive program for those involved.
The beneficiaries came mostly from the Benue North East senatorial district that had witnessed a lot of criminal activities with attendant loss of lives.
However, at every point Governor Ortom made it clear to beneficiaries that if they went back to their old ways the second aspect, the stick approach, would be applied on them as well as those who had not embraced the program.
Mr. Akwaza, alias Ghana, assured that he would never return to crime as he cherished the freedom offered to him.
While Governor Ortom was campaigning, Ghana sent messages soliciting freedom if he was elected.
After the amnesty program, he organized a thanksgiving service in Gbishe during which he knelt down publicly and begged for forgiveness from all those he offended and pledged never to return to his vomit.
Bishop of Katsina-Ala Diocese, Bishop Peter Adoboh, officiated at the mass which was attended by dignitaries from across the state including Governor Ortom.
The state also experienced relative peace as a result of the amnesty program.
After a while however, the crime wave started to surge especially kidnappings and armed robbery.
The late Denen Igbana, the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Special Security led operations to stem the tide with the assistance of the late Pastor, one of the leaders of the beneficiaries of the amnesty program.
The network of the duo successfully unraveled 13 kidnap cases and rescued the victims without payment of ransom.
Suddenly Pastor was shot and killed in broad daylight.
Security reports indicated that he was assassinated for his role in exposing the kidnap syndicate traced to be loyal to Ghana who had reportedly vowed that he would eliminate both he and the late Igbana.
The reports were vindicated when the security aide was gunned down in his house in the night.
The deceased made a dying declaration that Ghana was one of his killers.
The police arrested several suspects including the Special Adviser to the Governor on Special Duties and also invited Mr. Akwaza for questioning.
When he disclosed that he had been invited, Governor Ortom advised him to report to the police and subject himself to investigation adding that if he did not commit the crime he would be exonerated.
Mr. Akwaza declined the police invitation.
Meanwhile kidnappings, armed robbery, cattle rustling, and assassinations were on the rise many traced to him as he retired to his hideout and stronghold in Gbishe but continued to spread his tentacles of crime and recruitment across the state as indicated by security reports.
The kidnappers caught and burnt in Gboko as well as the suspected robber gunned down in Ikpayongo were reported to be members of his gang who were on criminal assignments for him.
In both cases several automatic weapons as well as hundreds of ammunition were recovered.
It was in these circumstances that the State Security Council decided that Ghana be tracked and arrested.
Before this happened, Governor Ortom had called leaders of the Gbishe community and informed them that if their son failed to report to the police the security agencies would go after him.
He declared war on the state and was running a parallel underground government.
The Acting Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Bem Melladu explained the operation in Gbishe.
“It has become necessary to inform the general public that a joint Security agencies’ operations commenced around Gbishe and its environs today as they search for Mr Terwase Akwaza, alias Ghana in connection with various criminal activities.
The action followed the refusal of Mr Akwaza to report to the police to answer charges of murder, kidnappings, and armed robbery.
The operation was approved by the State Security Council.
Security reports have linked Mr. Akwaza with the assassination of Mr Denen Igbana, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Security, five Civilian Joint Task Force members in Ukum local government area and several killings as well as the kidnap of the Dangote Cement Company Indian workers.
Mr Akwaza, alias Ghana, had shunned invitations by the police hence the operations became imperative.
Governor Samuel Ortom had also informed leaders of the Gbishe community that, if Mr Akwaza failed to report to the police he would be fished out.
The operation is part of the second phase of the Amnesty programme which is the stick approach after the carrot strategy had expired.
People are advised not to give cover to Mr Akwaza and his gang members but to rather give information about his whereabouts by text or calls to the security agencies through these numbers 08066006475, 07067374913, and 08036363531.”
The Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Burutai defended the military action in Gbishe.
General Burutai, who was represented by the Army Chief of Policy and Planning, Lincoln Ogunewe, stated that the operation was aimed at fishing out a beneficiary of the Benue State Amnesty Programme, Akwaza, and to ensure internal security in the country.
It is to be noted that the security agencies acted strictly according to instructions as they avoided loss of lives and focused on their major target whose property was affected.
People have asked why a similar operation had not been organized against the Fulani invaders.
The nomadic life of the attackers might be the challenge of locating them in one place but since this kind of operation has taken place it is an indication that a similar operation could be carried out against the incessant attackers.
With the development, those who used to look at Governor Ortom as a toothless bulldog who barked without biting will have to think twice.