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30 Jul 2016

Top government officials run gun syndicate in Benue – Former amnesty coordinator

Terwase Akwaza, a former Chief Coordinator of Amnesty Program in Benue, has accused top officials under Gov. Samuel Ortom of running a gun syndicate in the state.

Akwaza told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in telephone interview on Saturday in Makurdi that the existence of the syndicate was a major setback to the amnesty program.

Akwaza is alleged to be fleeing from the police after being incriminated in the April killing of Ortom's Senior Special Assistant on Security, Mr Denen Igbana.

He said while the programme gave amnesty to criminal gangs who surrendered arms, those that sold the arms never embraced it.

"Of what use is the amnesty when arms are surrendered, but those selling them are not part of the programme.

"The reason why arms are still in circulation is because they still get to buy them from those that are selling’’.

Akwaza called on government to take the programme seriously by extending the amnesty to those top shots in the administration that were dealing in arms.

He alleged that a top retired military officer in the administration was coordinating the arms trade for the syndicate.

Akwaza, who coordinated the surrender of arms from criminal gangs to the government, said most of the gangs that were granted amnesty purchased weapons from the syndicate.

He expressed regret that while the programme was embraced by bandits, those who sold such arms remained adamant to government's overtures.

Akwaza advised government to grant proper amnesty to government officials running such syndicates.

He said it was important for such officials to embrace the programme in order to halt the proliferation of arms trade in the state.

He said that most of the promises that were made to those who surrendered arms in their possession were yet to be fulfilled.

Reacting to the allegations in an interview with NAN, Ortom's Special Adviser on Security Matters, Retired Col Edwin Jando, said such allegations were baseless and could not be substantiated.

He said there was no gun running syndicate in the state and described the allegation as "spurious".

He specifically denied the existence of such a racket and said if it did exist, it was only in the imagination of Akwaza and his gang.

"As a retired military officer, I don't even know the procedure of importing arms into the country and I can't be involved in such a thing after serving in the army for 27 years."

He denied ever meeting Akwaza before the amnesty programme.
“I never met him before the amnesty programme, so how could I have been supplying arms to him or his gang".

The security adviser also denied that the government was not sincere in prosecuting the amnesty programme, pointing out that its only impediment was paucity of funds.

He alleged that Akwaza was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the programme having collected N6 million from the government for the arms he surrendered to the amnesty committee.

He also denied allegations of infighting amongst members of the programme, saying that " if there is such I am never aware of".

The adviser said the amnesty programme of the administration was on course, stressing that it had moved to the last stage of prosecuting those hoarding arms.

“You will be lucky to remain alive if you are found to be in possession of arms in the state.

“This administration is not joking with this matter; we can't hand over the state to criminals".

He said about 707 arms and ammunitions had been recovered from criminal gangs across the state.

NAN reports that the state has witnessed a resurgence of criminal activities, especially kidnapping and armed robbery in recent weeks.

Ortom, who admitted the resurgence of criminal activities in the state on a radio programme in Makurdi, warned the perpetrators of such crimes to refrain from them or face the wrath of the law.

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