For years, communities in Benue State lived in dread of the infamous Terwase Akwasa ‘Gana,’ who had been accused of massacres, kidnappings and terrorism.
After he turned himself in for amnesty, he was intercepted by soldiers who later shot him dead.
In this feature, Daily Trust digs deeper into the life of the militiaman, his life of crime, how he got his nickname and the controversial circumstances of his murder.
It all came to a head for Benue’s most-wanted militia kingpin, Terwase Akwasa, popularly known as Gana on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, when he was shot dead by soldiers near Yandev roundabout in Gboko Local Government Area of the state.
A special military operation headed by Brigadier General Maude Ali Gadzama admitted killing the notorious kingpin in a gun duel.
The circumstances of his death are however foggy.
Gana, alongside some of his ‘repentant gang’ fellows, were intercepted by the soldiers while being conveyed from Katsina Ala by monarchs of Sankera traditional council and political leaders, from three local government areas to receive amnesty in Makurdi.
At about 4:00 pm on that fateful day, Gana had surrendered himself to the Sankera traditional council led by its first-class royal father, Chief Abu King Shuluwa.
He was to be presented to the Benue State Security Council already waiting at the Government House, Makurdi on the same day.
Tired of being on the run for four years, Gana decided to embrace an amnesty proposed by Sankera elders two weeks ago as a permanent solution to the insecurity bedevilling the three LGAs of Kastina-Ala, Ukum and Logo.
He had earlier expressed his willingness to lay down his arms if he would be pardoned and buoyed by this news, elders, including political and religious leaders, prevailed on Governor Samuel Ortom to extend an olive branch.
As soon as he emerged at the Akume Atongo Stadium in Kastina-Ala town, at about 3:00pm with dozens of his ‘boys’ with their arms received by the traditional council, the people of Sankera broke into cheers.
Accompanied by the traditional council, the three local government chairmen, three clergies, they began the journey to Makurdi, were political leaders, including Senator Gabriel Suswam, as well as newsmen waited to receive them.
When news filtered in that soldiers had intercepted the convoy, Governor Ortom, addressed newsmen at about 8:30pm saying he was baffled by the military’s action considering they were part of the amnesty plan all along.
“We waited here (Government House) for hours, at about 4:00pm, we heard that some soldiers, after the convoy had taken off from Kastina-Ala, apprehended them.
“Gana, who was among those apprehended alongside several others, were taken away in their vehicle.
“I got General Yekini, the Force Commander of Operation Whirl Stroke, who confirmed to me that they (Army) were responsible and will bring him back later,” he said.
A monarch, who was in the convoy said, “I have never been embarrassed like this in my life.
“We were approaching Gboko when the soldiers, who already barricaded the road with their truck, accosted the vehicle that the repented boys were travelling in.
“They pulled out the chairman of Kastina-Ala and other passengers, then drove away with Gana inside the vehicle.”
How trouble started for Gana
On Monday, August 31, 2015, Gana was seen for the first time in public when he surrendered 84 weapons at the government house after terrorising communities in the state.
However, that amnesty granted to him came undone after he was accused of masterminding the murder of Denen Igbana, an aide to the governor, in May 2016.
Gana withdrew to Sankera and continued terrorising the three local governments there with security agencies on his trail.
By January 2018, the Benue State Security Council raised the bounty on Gana from 10 to N50 million.
In August 2016, Gana told Channels Television in an interview from his hideout, that he did not kill Igbana, and did not honour the police invitation because he was not sure of his safety if he did.
For four years, Gana was on the run accused of kidnapping, robbery, murder and cattle rustling as well as terrorizing residents around his home area and border towns of Taraba State.
Air and ground offensive by the military to smoke him out failed and the Defence Headquarters, Abuja in July 2018, flagged off OPWS to tame rising cases of herdsmen attacks, armed banditry, kidnappings, rustling and other crimes in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba States.
By October that year, the military claimed to have killed Gana’s wife in Sai community of Kastina-Ala LGA, after four raids against the gang.
After failed military offensives, Gov. Ortom accused people of Sankera of shielding the criminal and warned them of the consequences of such.
Before he was seen for the first time in 2015, many residents of the state attributed spiritual powers to Gana.
But once he accepted the amnesty programme, he was given the job of spearheading revenue generation across the 23 local government areas of the state after a one-month reformation programme alongside many other youths who renounced crime.
At that occasion, Gana had said that the incessant land dispute between his Tiv kinsmen and the Jukun, in both Benue and Taraba states, led him to terrorism as he fortified himself to defend his people who were being overrun by the enemy.
Return to Jungle
Soon after Gana returned to the jungle, occasioned by his failure to turn himself in for police questioning, there were series of killings in Kastina-Ala, Ukum and Logo local government areas respectively, including over 20 deaths recorded at the Zaki-Biam market on March, 22, 2017, after gunmen suspected to be Gana’s boys opened fire on innocent traders and buyers.
He had also been used by many politicians in the past, especially before, during and after the general elections of 2011 and 2015 to create unrest in the state.
Why he was nicknamed Gana
While the world may look at Gana as a criminal, in his native Gbishe community, he is seen as a hero after warding off attacks on the community and establishing a secondary school there.
A traditional ruler from the area told our correspondent in Makurdi that the outlaw began his life of crime between the ages of 10 and 12 when he would steal poultry products from his neighbourhood and hide same in the popular woven bag known as, “Ghana must go.”
The monarch explained that the young boy, originally christened, Terwase, meaning ‘God help’ soon became famous for petty theft in his locality and putting them in the bag to conceal the items until he began to waylay traders returning home on market days.
“Soon, the people in the area began to describe him by the bag.
“That was how he came about that name,” the chief said.