By Tahav Agerzua
Benue State Security Council last Wednesday addressed a joint press conference at the Police Headquarters in Makurdi. The State Police Commissioner, Mr. Bashir Dabup Makama addressed journalists and answered questions while Deputy Governor and Vice Chairman of the Council, Engr. Benson Abounu made closing remarks.
If you can recall, we have been having a lot of challenges security wise in this state. It is not new to you also that joint operations are being carried out by the security forces in the state. On the 6th of August, we started a special operation tagged “Operation Hembekera.” This operation of course is aimed at wiping out criminals and hoodlums who have made this state unsafe for the public and it was in that onerous duty of tracking down and in continuation of the clamping down on illicit activities of a well-known notorious criminal which you know by the name of Akwaza, also known as Ghana and his gang members who have been terrorizing the state especially making a particular section of the state to be a no-go area. Well, now you can go there and do whatever you want to do and come out unchallenged. All these are as a result of the operation that has been on and still on-going until the desired goal is achieved. If you can remember also very well, this particular young man was declared wanted for his complicity in cases of assassination which included the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Special Security, Mr. Denen Igbana who was assassinated in his house for criminal reasons. If you recall some Indians were kidnapped, those that are working at Dangote Cement Company in Gboko and so many politicians whose kidnap were either foiled or were rescued including the academicians in Gboko, Katsina-Ala and around the state. Robberies were being perpetrated by this same group and all other criminal activities are being led by this man called Ghana. Well, we want to tell you that this guy is also into creating more restlessness in the state than ever, not just committing robbery, assassinating people, he’s also into cattle rustling which you know very well has been a problem in this state which has made the herdsmen to retaliate on innocent citizens. As I talk to you, this rustling has so escalated, the tension especially in Zone A and B areas, of course the Zone C is also affected including our neighboring state which is Taraba. Once he rustles with his gang, the repercussion is always on innocent citizens. By the time they come for reprisal attacks, women, and children, old and young are falling victims. These cannot continue and it is based on that this operation was launched and it is still on-going as I said. In view of that he alone cannot succeed in committing such crime but it is highly organized and in view of that, so many people have been equally arrested. It is not for me here to tell you who and who but we have people that have been arrested in connection with the criminal activities of this gang. While we are looking for him, this does not stop us from protecting others. Out of those that we have taken into safety include some of his children who intelligence has it that people, either relatives of victims or victims themselves who have fallen prey to some of his activities are planning also to make a revenge on his children which is my responsibility here. The security forces will not allow that to happen and as such the children have been taken into protective custody pending when he will come and collect his children or they will be released at the appropriate time. I want to make it very velar that the reason for being here is for protective custody. As he is hunting others, others are also hunting him and if they cannot get him, they will go onto the easy targets they will meet which are either his children or his other relatives that are out there. Not only arrests that have been made, we also have cause to intercept in the bid of kidnap, the last woman that was kidnapped if you remember very well at Katsina-Ala, one Mrs. Nwobodo. She was kidnapped very early on her way to morning mass and after they collected the ransom of N2 million. Any kidnap that is conducted or carried out by his group, he has his own share and the share of one million was given from the two million that was collected from Mrs. Nwobodo, one million was given to Ghana and in the process, also the person that collected the money to be delivered to him has been picked and the money recovered. That money will be returned to the owner at the appropriate time. Aside from this, those that have been arrested, many of them have fire arms, it is not also for me here to tell you what and what has been recovered when we go down, you will see them and you will be able to assess the efforts of the security agents. That includes bags of Indian hemp, because at Gbishe there he has a very large farm which of course is to tell you that he is not only perpetuating crime, he is also inflicting trauma on the state by recruiting youths and giving them drugs making them put their hearts at their back. Whenever they want to commit crime, they commit with impunity. We will not fold our arms and watch. The operation as I said is on-going until we achieve the desired result. This is a joint action from all the security agents and it is in support of the state government in her bid to ensure that there is safety and all forms of criminality are brought to a manageable level. There can be no zero crime but we will try and manage it as much as possible. At this time, I wish to state here that the JTF wishes to urge members of the public to volunteer information on the activities of this notorious gang of criminals. Many of them have been arrested. As I said, he keeps recruiting, we will continue to arrest until we get there and getting there we mean, getting him to come and face the charges against him. After here, you will go down and inspect some vehicles which they carry their properties either their victims or carrying hoodlums to wherever they want to go and all that, they are all downstairs. When you go there you see some of these items and you will be able to assess for yourselves and also to either agree with this joint action or disagree based on the security of the state. At this juncture, I want to say a very big thank you for your time for coming here and having the patience to listen to us.
Question: I’ve had cause to cover herdsmen attacks on communities in Benue State; from Agatu down to Guma to Logo and the rest of that and we were made to believe by the authorities that the herdsmen were driving an occupation campaign in Benue hence the attack on these farming communities. This time Ghana was already doing amnesty with the government, at what point did this council discover that Ghana was involved in cattle rustling and how come we were not aware of this because it looks like he’s the architect of those crises from the briefing you just did?
MAKAMA: You see, in the perpetration of crime, it’s not one person that does it and it is not for one reason that he does it. Several people commit crime. It is investigation that leads to identifying who has done what. This thing didn’t start today. Rustling didn’t start today either. From the information I have Ghana has over 3,000 cattle that he has rustled and packed them somewhere. We are working on that, at the appropriate time, we will also call you back here to see and identify what he has. That, I’m sure by the end of the day, it will answer your question.
Question: In your briefing, you said that it is because of cattle rustling that there are reprisal attacks on…
MAKAMA: Understand what we say. We said one of the reasons. It is not an absolute thing, he’s into kidnapping, he’s into robberies, and it’s not only rustling.
Question: We generally believe that Fulanis are killing people all over the country and it is believed that it is a Jihadist agenda. How can you reconcile this?
MAKAMA: Every state has her peculiar problem. This is our peculiar problem in Benue. We have been able to identify it. Anywhere you go, you have to narrow it to a reason. There should be a motive for whatever you see. Crime itself has a motive.
Question: Recently Ghana came out and raised concerns that if he comes out, he will be killed. What are your findings? How true are these allegations?
MAKAMA: You see that interview he granted which you saw and I’m sure he didn’t come out in the public to say it. He was met wherever he was met and he said what he wanted to say, why can’t he come out? I asked one of the pressmen to go and bring Ghana to me if he’s apprehensive of his life, go and bring him and handover to the Commissioner of Police, if he dies, hold me responsible. But at the end of the day if he fails to come out and he is resisting it, he might end up dying because if he brings himself out, it’s a different thing but situations where he tries to resist, our men will not wait until a common criminal brings everybody to a standstill, no.
Question: You said in your briefing that Ghana’s children are in your custody, we want to know; is the wife also involved? How many children?
MAKAMA: The wife is not with us. His sister in whose possession the children are is the one taking care of them. We cannot bring them and keep them here; somebody has to be there to feed them, to give them whatever they want. Two, just two.
Question: What has been the condition of the families of the other people arrested in connection with this gang?
MAKAMA: You understand me very well. I told you that intelligence has it; if I have intelligence reports that you will be kidnapped, I can bring you for safe keeping somewhere. So it’s the same.
Question: Moon Council in Kwande local government area is completely being occupied by Fulani herdsmen. What has the Security Council done so that people can go back to their homes? Secondly, the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, told us that their colleague, Terfa Jirgba is with the DSS; may we know the state of the matter and why they are being kept beyond the stipulated period for one to be taken to court and why they are kept incommunicado?
MAKAMA: I told you the other day that judges would permit the police man or any other security agent to call on anybody he feels that has information in a matter that he is investigating. He could call him to ask questions. This young man I believe, what led to his arrest did not indicate he is a lawyer. He was given a nickname somewhere as a collaborator or a member of that gang and until the NBA came out and further inquiries were conducted and we found out that yes he is said to be a lawyer. It was at that time we got to know. However the case is being investigated. As soon as it is over, the reports will be made known to you but he is in custody. On Moon, it’s just like every other community that has this encounter, something is being done. The place is being protected. There are security men that have been drafted there to keep peace in that place. So, I do not want to believe that anybody who wants to go back to that place cannot do it.
Question: Allegations against a suspect remain just that until established by a law court. In the case of Ghana and going by your briefing; you have made absolute statements that he is the leader of several criminal activities. I want to know how you have been able to come up with this without the man being tried before a law court.
MAKAMA: I have not convicted him. Have I said Ghana is convicted? No. So wait when we get to court.
Question: Before Ghana surrendered his weapons, he told everyone that he was created by his community to defend them against Fulani attacks for 20 years past. He accused politicians of involving him in all the things that are happening now, how far have you gone to investigate the same politicians that are helping the police to criminalize Ghana?
MAKAMA: You see, you don’t talk for someone. I’m not talking for him. I don’t expect you to talk for him that’s why I said if he comes out, he will answer the charges against him. If he decides to tell you he has committed it, so be it; if he decides to say no, investigation will still be conducted.
Question: Between last night and this morning, Tito area down to Senator Fred Orti’s house was taken over by criminals; nobody slept there. If we are looking at Ghana, won’t we look for other criminals around and bring them to book so that we can sleep with our eyes closed, considering the distance of Tito from Police Headquarters here? Secondly, the Ghana issue of rustling is understandable but the Fulanis are killing people, they are still being given police and soldiers to guide them. They still come and kill our people, what are we doing to ensure that those killings are stopped?
MAKAMA: I don’t want to say that you have only rigmaroled but I will give you an answer. I accept that I am ready to take feedback and if you give me feedback it’s for me to adjust and ensure that the right thing is done. If you have information where criminals are, please come forward. Don’t keep it to yourself and begin to nurse it as a grudge. I will not be here and criminals will take over the state and I will be happy but if you have information about where criminals are, if you come directly to me, I will treat it. If you go to my DPOs and any of them does not do it then you let us know.
Question: I wanted to give an advice on how crime rate will be reduced. Abubakar Tsav and then Military Administrator of Lagos did and it helped. Give the public the phone numbers that you have; they will call you without giving their names that something is happening here. Then you check and know. I sold this idea to the other Commissioner of Police who was here and he affirmed that he was in Lagos and saw how they succeeded. Give your numbers to journalists; let them publish it so that members of the public can call you and then you send your men to go and check if it is true or not.
MAKAMA: When you talk of that time by the special grace of God, I was there, Abubakar Tsav will tell you himself. We have given telephone numbers and I’m sure most of them here have our control room telephone numbers. So many people here have my number and so many of them have the PROs number. So this has been done and we are expecting you now to push in the information so that we can check. So if you can take those numbers and go and find out where crimes are being committed and we will attend to it.
Question: Has anybody being killed by your men in search of Ghana as posted on Facebook recently?
MAKAMA: I'm not aware anybody has been killed. I gave an instance when this operation started so many of you came to ask me that how can a whole Joint Task Force action go into Gbishe without arresting one person. My response was that the operation is targeted against a particular group and if they are not there we cannot arrest the innocent. So if anybody has been found either killed in the process, of course I cannot wait for you to open fire on me. If you draw your gun and I draw it faster than you, so be it but I don’t have any record anybody has been killed in the course of doing this operation.
I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m only here as the Vice Chairman of the Security Council in the same manner that some members of the Security Council are also here to give meat to this press conference that is being held by the Commissioner of Police. This press conference is given by the commissioner of police as regards some aspects of the insecurity that is facing the state and he was giving this press conference on the basis of the decision of the Security Council. That is why we are here. But basically, it is his duty and that is why he has given you the briefing. I want to make it abundantly clear that the administration of Samuel Ortom is very concerned about the insecurity in the state. If you observed, when we came in early in this administration, we worked very hard and brought insecurity in the state to its barest minimum.
Before we came in, the state was bedeviled by very high level of insecurity but as soon as we came in not quite three months later, everybody was moving fairly free. Unfortunately, some people saw the amnesty program which was very successful as a threat to their political base and suddenly our findings proved that the level of insecurity thereafter was instigated by these politicians. Somebody asked that question, are we looking into the case of Akwaza’s insinuation that it’s the political class that created him? Well, our investigation so far somehow is pointing to that. You know this administration has been fighting all forms of criminality including political criminality. If you understand what I mean and therefore some people are not happy with this administration and they are using all means from different angles to fight the administration. One of which is the instigation of some criminals to heighten criminality in order to point out that the amnesty program did not succeed but all Benue people, those who were resident in Benue could attest to the fact that some months following the amnesty program saw a very stable state. The same Ghana we are talking about today the self-confessed criminal because if he is not self-confessed, he wouldn’t have brought those arms that were in his possession out and surrendered them, you were all witnesses to that.
Secondly, he didn’t just surrender arms; he also came out with the people he said were his comrades in criminality. Over 700 of them, he brought them; he said they were his comrades in crime. The State government, because we keep telling you that we believe in God, we decided to use the carrot approach and with open arms, we accepted this self-confessed criminal who said they had taken a new leaf in their lives and that they will now want to live a normal life. The state government organized a training program for them. We gave them all sorts of training, we gave them lectures, we brought people from all disciplines including the clergy, psychologists to talk to them and for quite some time we saw a very high level of peace in the state. But suddenly, because of the reasons I mentioned earlier, some people started instigating them. And let me make one point clear, the first question that was addressed to the Commissioner of Police today was about Fulani herdsmen’s atrocities in Benue State vis-à-vis the issue of Ghana, his involvement in cattle rustling. The Commissioner did not say absolutely that it is because of Ghana’s cattle rustling that we were witnessing herdsmen’s atrocities in Benue. He didn’t say so. When he started his briefing, he said he was talking about some particular areas of the state. He didn’t say he was talking about an issue that envelops the entire state. I don’t think we heard that, what he was trying to say and what we the Security Council is very much aware of is the fact that, in addition to other reasons, why the herdsmen are ravaging the state is the fact that in some areas and due to rustling activities of some criminals these herdsmen also in addition to whatever reason that may be there would decide to retaliate. Only yesterday, the Sultan of Sokoto was warning herdsmen from destroying farmers’ crops. We must look at this problem that is enveloping the entire nation from an objective point of view. Is there anybody here who would tell me that Fulanis have never retaliated because of the rustling of their cows or the killing of their cows? It has happened but the Commissioner did not intend or did not say that that is the sole reason that Fulanis are ravaging Benue State. I think I need to make this point clear and I believe it’s clear now. The Ortom administration is never and has never taken and is never going to take the issue of occupation of our land lightly. Never. We have made the point clear at the Presidency. I represented the Governor at the National Economic Council meeting where we made it abundantly clear and at the national retreat that took place in Abuja and I was there and I represented the Governor, and we will never, let me emphasize, allow anybody to come and occupy our land. The issue of Moon as you talked about is high on the agenda of the state government and we are working on it but at this point, whatever action that is going on is not something that we reveal here but be rest assured that the state government is not sleeping over the matter and the state government is going to do something and the Security Council is taking it seriously. The army and the police are very much aware and I can assure you that something is going to happen because one inch of our land will never be given to anybody in the name of occupation.
In the meantime, I want to thank each and every one of you who has made it a point of duty to attend this press conference. We have a new commissioner of police, some things happened in the past and we have recorded a high turnover of police commissioners in the state in the last three months. You know we have had three commissioners of police in the last three months but we are happy to tell you that we now have a police commissioner who is very conversant with the demography, the geography and the nooks and crannies of Benue State. He has been a DPO here, he has also served as a higher level officer in Benue State for a number of years so he knows everything about Benue and he’s going to put in his best to arrest the high level of insecurity in the state. In the meantime I can only admonish all of you to give him the necessary support that he requires to make life comfortable for all of us. When I mean all of us I mean including you. What we are talking about is not limited to any section of the society. Kidnappings can be from even amongst you. Arm robbery can happen to you and that is how it can happen to anybody that is in Benue State. It doesn’t depend on religion, it doesn’t depend on tribe. In the recent past, kidnappers had concentrated on the Igbos. They are not indigenes of Benue but they have dealings with them and therefore we need the public to support on this fight. It is my belief that the vast majority of the people of Benue Sate are very much behind the law enforcement agents in the bid to bring peace to our state. What has happened in the recent past has given rise to very high level of peace that had eluded the people of Sankera area of Benue State. Today as the Commissioner said, you can go about and work freely there and the people are happy but what we are saying is that nobody should take laws into their hands and that is why the police and the army; they are carrying out what they are doing now according to the rules of engagement. The Security Council will never allow anybody to go outside the rules of engagement and so far, we are happy and satisfied with the manner in which the police and the army have gone about trying to restore peace in our land.

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