Gana: Stop the extrajudicial killings
In not too distant a time, I wrote in my column about the story of a young suspect arrested by the police, who opted for the termination of his life rather than being sent to prison. In that story, the young man told the public the story of how he was sent to the Nigerian prison (Correctional home) for stealing a phone handset, from where he graduated upon release to a hardened criminal involved in armed robbery and rape. Upon his re-arrest, he had pleaded that his life be terminated instead of imprisoning him again, which he believed would further push him deeper into criminality and more violent crime, thereby becoming a bigger menace to society. In that piece, I had argued and advocated forcefully that the young suspect be converted into an asset by the police rather than sending him to the prison or eliminating him. What has become of the fellow? I don’t know.
Interestingly, about two weeks ago, I read the story of another suspect, described as the most wanted criminal in Benue State, Terwase Akwaza, aka Gana, who was allegedly murdered by men of the Nigerian Army. The story in all the newspapers was the same, thus suggesting to me that the accounts given are most probably true. From the reportage, undoubtedly, Gana had been a terror in the community for quite some time, to the extent that he had become so elusive to the various security agencies and thereby believed to have supernatural powers of disappearing into thin air. None of the security outfits could confront him and his gang. He certainly had his own militia reportedly often used by the politicians. Emissaries were sent to Gana, and the state government equally extended amnesty to him and others that might be willing to surrender their arms and embrace lawful and peaceful living in society. It was on the strength of this amnesty by the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, that the traditional rulers from Sankera community successfully appealed to Gana to renounce his criminal conduct. Gana agreed to this entreaty and a date was set for the surrender ceremony. On the fateful day, Gana set out in a convoy to meet with the members of the State Security Council with 132 other repentant criminals.
On their way, they were intercepted by men of the Nigerian Army and Gana and 40 others were arrested. A few hours later, the Four Special Forces Brigade unit of the Nigerian Army reportedly announced that Gana had been killed in a gun duel with the soldiers. The story certainly seems not to add up to any discerning mind as the belief of the members of the society in Benue State is simply that he was deliberately killed by the soldiers. My concern with this kind of scenarios stems from several perspectives. The first of this dimension is that what took place, if true, is nothing but extrajudicial killing. Must this be allowed in a democracy? ME THINK NOT. The Constitution of Nigeria does not permit such extrajudicial killing. The Constitution presumes an accused person innocent until proved guilty in a competent court of law. Nobody can be condemned to death, much less killed by any other person or authority except on the strength of a court pronouncement. Where such is not complied with, it is not only wrong but unconstitutional.
Thus, as rightly or wrongly believed by the citizens, were Gana to be eliminated in a deliberate circumstance as stated above, without a court verdict, it is an unconstitutional killing simpliciter. In addition, various conventions and treaties to which Nigeria is a signatory equally forbid this extrajudicial killing. Consequently, those responsible must be held accountable. Beyond the reality that, if this act is not curbed, any other Nigerian could eventually be a victim. It could be you or me. Where are the human rights organizations and, generally, Nigerians, in this regard? It appears we are unbothered and lackadaisical. Let me warn that it portends ominous doom for all. Let me not be misconstrued to be promoting cultism, banditry or any other form of criminality. My message is simply that the rule of law must be respected. No one is above the law and the only recognised and civilised means of justice administration is through the court of law. I am not too sure that Nigeria is a jungle where the rule of man constitutes the order of the day. Beyond the issue of legality, the killing has other grave implications for the system and the country.
In the first instance, this could be the birth of another ‘Boko Haram’ in Benue, a state already ravaged by herdsmen and banditry. Recall that the account given of the circumstances of the killing of Gana resembles that of the murder of Boko Haram leader, Muhammed Yussuf, who was eliminated in Maiduguri. The consequence of the killing of Yusuf is still lingering in the country till date. I understand that Gana had said at a point that if he was killed, the person that would emerge after him, call the person the successor, would be more brutal. This reminds me of the story of Fidel and Raul Castro. At a point when the life of Fidel Castro was being threatened, he had said that, should he be eliminated, his successor would be more brutal and unaccountable, whatever that was meant to connote. Today, the story of Boko Haram is no more news to all Nigerians. Terrorism continues to fester. There is no leader to hold accountable. No commander in charge. Hence, Nigerians should not be surprised if the insurgency or the banditry, or whatever criminality perpetrated by the Gana group, assumes another dimension in Benue State. The coincidence is that, after my initial draft of this piece, I stumbled on a similar reasoning by a legal practitioner based in Kano State, Umar Sa’ad Hassan, wherein he canvassed this point and urged the governor to dig deeper to unveil the circumstances surrounding the death of Gana. I am squarely on the same page with him.
Since it appears that the surrounding circumstances of Gana’s death is still shrouded in secrecy and mystery, an imminent investigation is of necessity. Human rights organisations need to interrogate this further, as we cannot afford this continuous extrajudicial killing. As opined above, nobody can predict who is the next victim, if we continue to indulge this menace. Another dimension of the killing, just as I advocated in my column alluded to above in respect of that young suspect, Gana could have been converted into an asset towards combating other crimes in that society. Since, most times, most of these criminals know themselves and their modus operandi, they are best suited in the fight. Gana could have been recruited into the intelligence world of the security agency, or even as security official in the fight against the same criminality that has long terrorised the people of the area. All that is required is proper deradicalisation, which is even much easier in this instance than those of captured Boko Haram suspects. Gana actually surrendered based upon his own conviction and could have been easily amenable to reformation. This immense benefit Nigeria lost through the deliberate or accidental killing. What a pity! As I said elsewhere, this is the sort of recruitment that elevates security the system and, by extension, officers in other climes to the status of magicians.
The offshoot of the reasoning above, which is equally plausible, is that Gana must have been killed to prevent revelations of the acts or roles of some other powerful elements in society who probably must have aided or abetted the atrocities of the deceased suspect. The belief in society today is that criminals in Nigeria, particularly high-profile criminals, hardly operate successfully and for any enduring period without the connivance of security officials and political leaders. It is common knowledge that, over time, the fact has been revealed how criminals in several instances have acquired arms and ammunition from security agencies to perpetrate crimes; and, at times, operated in conjunction with security officials. Thus, the above reasoning is certainly not baseless. Hence, it is suspected that the killing could be to silence Gana in that regard and draw a curtain over a messy detail that his being alive could have exposed. This is an additional compelling reason why the circumstances of Gana’s death must be interrogated. We need to uncover what is hidden.
This call for probe is buttressed by the innuendo one could draw from the eyewitness accounts reported in the Punch newspaper of Saturday, 12th September, 2020, on page 11. The deceased was said to have had a premonition that he would be killed by the system. Furthermore, Nigerians are yet to be displaced of the impression that the fight against terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other major vices in the country have become industries for the security agencies. Does this belief tally with the development above? If so, there is no end in sight to insurgency, banditry and terrorism ravaging the nation. Lastly, the implication of Gana’s killing is to discourage intention to surrender by known criminals in society. It is simply a disincentive to embracing any future offer of amnesty by criminals.
It has eroded further the already battered confidence or mistrust in government. Known and repentant criminals who ordinarily would have wanted to surrender to the system will henceforth be doubtful of the genuineness of government overtures. This, as I have said elsewhere, is a stigma on the government. In the face of all the above, the suspicion is that the killing of Gana implies that there is more than meets the eye. IT MUST BE PROBED! Nigeria should not be made to remain a jungle.