Benue State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, explains to JOHN CHARLES efforts being made by the various security agencies to restore peace in Benue State after the recent killings by Fulani herdsmen and to arrest the state terror kingpin, Terwase Akwaza, popularly known as Gana.
What is the update on a suspected terror kingpin, Terwas Akwaza, aka Gana, who was declared wanted for criminal activities in the state?
The search for this notorious criminal has been ongoing for a long time. Before now, a special team was deployed in this state. The team was led by the Commissioner of Police, Nasarawa State, when he was CP, Mobile Force and they are doing everything possible to apprehend Gana and his criminal gang members. The IG has directed that we should renew efforts and with the deployment of the technical and intelligence aspect of the police by the IG, our efforts will yield positive results. With the situation on the ground, we discovered that without credible intelligence, it would be difficult to arrest such a criminal. I want to assure Nigerians that with the new vigour in pursuing this criminal, within the shortest possible time and with facilities the police have deployed in this operation, Gana’s days are numbered. The IG is determined to ensure that the notorious criminal is brought to book. Anywhere he is, he should know that his days are numbered. He cannot hide forever. We are determined to arrest all his lieutenants anywhere they are. We are doing this in conjunction with our counterpart in the (Department of) State Services and where personnel are required, we will deploy them. It is just a matter of time; soonest, we will get them so that the state will be able to have peace. You are aware that the state governor had also increased the bounty placed on him to N50m. We also use this opportunity to tell members of the public to volunteer useful information that could assist us to apprehend the criminals.
But Gana’s wife has been arrested. Didn’t she provide useful information that could lead to his arrest?
I will not say more than I have told you. This is an operation; an assignment that requires secrecy to cover the operation and we do not want to jeopardise our efforts.
Are you saying the crisis along that Katsina Ala area is caused by this suspected terrorist?
The crisis within the Katsina Ala axis has nothing to do with herdsmen and farmers clashes; it is just communal clashes and it has historical background. It is between the people of the Ukum Local Government Area and the Tishile people in the Katsian Ala Local Government Area. The notorious criminal is from that area, and there have been indications that sometimes, the two warring communities employ some members of Gana’s gang to prosecute the communal clashes. It is a finding that is more or less the groundwork. You know these people have been together before they split into factions with some elements supporting Gana while some are against. However, we are putting a check to this and the governor and some leaders from the affected areas are complementing the efforts of the police. The criminality that is taking place in that axis requires the partnership of governmental and non-governmental bodies to tackle effectively.
Don’t you think that some people are protecting Gana and shielding him from arrest?
Nobody can frustrate the arrest of criminals. Security institutions are upping in their game as I said earlier. With the application of technology, there is no way he can escape arrest, though there could be conspiracy of silence. However, there is no conspiracy that the application of technology will not frustrate. That is why we are very sure that all efforts that have been put in place will soon yield results.
A first-class monarch in this state has alleged that the police are under instruction to protect the Fulani militias against arrest. What is your reaction to this?
That is very sad. Not just sad, but I know that no revered monarch in this state will say that. Maybe some people are making those statements disguising as monarchs. What I know is that all the revered monarchs in this state have acknowledged that the police and other security agencies are doing their best to put an end to security challenges. They will not come out to say that the police are under instruction to protect Fulani. That will be very sad, given the losses the Nigeria police have suffered.
What the Nigeria police deserve now is encouragement because the police personnel, who are not indigenes, are in the state to serve their fatherland. Many of them have been hacked down in the crisis. It will be unfortunate for anyone to say that the police are under instruction to protect one side or the other. Our obligation to the people of this country is to discharge our statutory duties of protecting lives and properties and pronto, that is exactly what we have been doing without bias to any political, tribal or religious leaning. We must also emphasise that the police have remained the major organisation that has contributed to the unity of this country. The IG has supported every effort in bringing an end to this crisis; a Deputy IG has been on the ground, except if people wouldn’t say the truth. For the past two weeks, we have seen a drastic reduction in the hostilities and that is something people of this state should commend.
I will repeat it: It is very sad and unfortunate. Anyone that makes such insinuation must be an agent of conflict in the state, what we need is for every stakeholder to partner with the police and other security agencies to ensure that we are able to get those causing crisis in the state. As I speak to you, I can roll out the areas we have covered. We have interacted with various IDPs. We have placed security in the areas in order to give them assurance. If you go round to some of these places, some of the displaced persons have come back fully, some partially. The ones I said returned partially are the ones who would go to their communities during the day but in the evening, you will see them in the camps, maybe, for shelter or for food. What we should be thinking of now is how to rebuild, because if we do not rebuild those communities, even if you have 100 per cent security there, people will still be going in and out of the IDP camps.
Since you have been around, especially in the heat of this crisis, was there any time you felt overwhelmed?
There is no challenge here that is insurmountable. There was a commissioner of police here before I came that did his best. The IG was here and there was also a deputy commissioner of police in charge of operation that has been operating in this state. We have not come to face any challenge, neither are we overwhelmed. I am only contributing my own little quota to what my seniors, the IG, the DIG and other supporting officers, have done. I have a commissioner of police from the mobile (unit) here. The IG has strengthened us enough to arrest the situation.
Let me thank the IG for this support and the priority he has given to this operation. The reality on the ground as of today is that the state is relatively calm.
Why are killings still going on in the state despite the deployment of security operatives?
There is no ongoing killing in the state at the moment. All of the security apparatus have been up and doing and I want to inform you that we has recorded a serious reduction in the crisis.
With all the efforts claimed so far, how many Fulani militia have been arrested?
When you talk of guerrilla warfare and organised crimes, it is not within the twinkle of an eye that you arrest. We told you before that when the attacks started, 11 persons were arrested in connection with the crisis. The trial is ongoing. Also, about 126 persons were arrested over the disturbance in Gboko. Also, we have 32 persons facing trial against the anti-open grazing law. Within the past one week, a lot of arrests have been made. Concerning the crisis in Gboko, we have arrested one of the principal actors in that case; that was done yesterday (Monday). The technical aspect of police was able to get him; that was in addition to 10 other persons who were arrested last week who have been presented as principal actors in the killing of seven persons in Gboko. In addition to that, we have in the kitty four suspects who were actively involved in the attacks that took place in Logo and Guma, including the ones that attacked the police, but investigation is still ongoing. However, in order not to jeopardise our investigation, evidence has confirmed that the four persons were actively involved; even one of them is probably the armourer of the militia group. We are expanding our investigation so that we will be able to get more clues that could lead to the arrest of others who are involved. As soon as we gather all our findings together, the people will be prosecuted.
Part of what the IG was committed to doing is in furtherance of the directive of Mr. President that the people must be arrested to ensure that justice is given. It is when you ensure justice that you will put an end to all acts of impunity because if you look at what happened, it has a political background to it. With the efforts of finding a lasting solution into this and the support of the IG, you can rest assured that in no time, more and more people who were involved would be arrested. One of them in the incident in Logo, where some policemen were attacked, has been arrested and his AK-47 was also recovered, including the arrest of a mole who happens to be a native that gives information to these militiamen .You will see that a lot has been achieved, but confidently, I can tell you that we have gained a lot of ground. This is with the support of the IG and the guidance of the DIG on the ground and the support of the state governor who has also said he wants an end to this crisis. We also held stakeholders’ meetings both in Makurdi and in Laafia with the Myetti Allah people, local government chairmen and other stakeholders. From those meetings, we had intelligence report, particularly about the communities that border Benue and Nasarawa, that the militia may use Kadarko in Nasarawa to enter Benue and we took it upon ourselves to go to the areas in Nasarawa to inform them not to make the mistakes but to know that Benue State has this law. All these are the gains from interactions and partnership with the people. Where the action of security people is required, we have not hesitated to deploy it in accordance with the law.
Are foreigners among the suspects so far arrested by your men based on an earlier report by the DSS that foreigners from some West African countries are part of those responsible for the killings in this part of the country?
Well, you know that it is always difficult to know who is a foreigner in this country. Remember that there was a time in the UK, if you arrest 10 persons, almost nine were Nigerians because we are like the rallying point for the entire Africa. This can only be done when someone admits that he is from a particular place. In a nutshell, let me tell you that we arrested criminals without any coloration for criminality. A criminal is a criminal whether he is from Chad, Benin Republic or Niger but the first thing in the face of the law is that whether the arrested persons are criminals or not, the law will take its course.