George Okoh in Makurdi
Troops of Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) operating in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states have arrested 19 suspects for offences bothering on armed banditry, kidnapping and weapons supply.
Two of those paraded, Dauda Atara and Andrew Imbwase have confessed to be major armourers and suppliers of weapons to the Benue State most wanted criminal kingpin, Terwase Akwaza (aka Gana).
OPWS Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Adeyemi Yekini, who disclosed this, also added that 10 of the suspects were arrested in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State, while three others, who are members of the Gana gang, were arrested during a raid operation at Gana’s hometown of Gbise in Katsina-Ala Local Government Area of the state.
Parading the suspects before journalists at the OPWS Headquarters in Makurdi yesterday, Yekini said the two major suspects were the number one weapon suppliers and armourers of Akwaza.
“Gentlemen, you have seen and interviewed the suspects and I can tell you with every sense of responsibility that these suspected criminals are perhaps, the most deadly set of criminals that we have ever arrested since the inception of Operation Whirl Stroke and our hope is that, the prosecuting authorities will do a good job so that these people can be removed from the society for a very long time.
“You will recall that some weeks back, we had a press briefing during which I promised that we shall be focusing on how to break the weapons supply chain that has been fuelling criminalities in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states.
“I am very happy to inform you that we have been able to record some successes. Our star suspect today is: Don Moji. He is the number one weapon supplier to Gana. He is responsible for between 80 and 90 per cent of weapons that Gana has been using to terrorise the people of Benue state. Our intelligence team got wind of Don Moji’s activities about four months ago somewhere around Abuja.
“Just as we were closing in on him to effect his arrest in Abuja, he suddenly disappeared and reappeared a few days later at Owode Idiroko in Ogun State. We again sent troops to the area to arrest him but again he disappeared and for almost two months, we lost track of him. During this period, he did a lot of things to cover his tracks and hide his identity.
“So when he was sure that he had covered himself well enough after two-month period, he appeared again at Abuja to continue his weapons supply activities to Gana. This time around, he was not that lucky as we were able to arrest him with the support of Guards Brigade troops. We tracked him to somewhere between Kashi and Kurudu in Abuja where we arrested him,” Yekini explained.
According to him, during interrogation, Imbwase led troops of the operation to the main armourer of Gana, adding that the armourer was arrested around the North Bank area of Makurdi.
“That’s how we got three members of the ring. Though there are up to four other members of the gang who are still on the run, we are trailing them from Benue up to Plateau State down to Taraba. So, the weapons supply ring extends from Benue to Plateau and Taraba states,” he added.
He said the 10 suspects arrested in Gboko general area were members of a kidnapping group under Shawa, stressing that the group was responsible for the bulk of kidnapping and other violent crimes in and around Gboko.
“You will recall that some VIPs were kidnapped in Gboko of recent. These 10 people were responsible for most of the kidnappings. They also spread their criminal tentacles beyond Gboko into Vandeikya and parts of Cross River State. Since we made the arrests, the rate of kidnappings had gone down considerably in Gboko and we intend to keep it so.
“The rest three were arrested during a raid operation I mentioned earlier at Gana’s home of Gbise in Katsina-Ala. One of the suspects that we arrested and paraded earlier, Moses Zever, led troops to the hideout at Gbise where the three of them were arrested. We also destroyed a logistics warehouse belonging to Gana during the operation,” he said.
He noted that the arrest of the two kidnappers at Umaisha brought to 15 the total number of suspected kidnappers his troops have arrested around Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State in past few months which had also improved security in the area.
Yekini expressed hope that the prosecuting authorities would do a good job. “If by mistake or for one reason or the other, any of them is allowed back into the society due to lack of diligent prosecution, it will certainly not augur well for the society as a whole as these are dangerous criminals. I hope the prosecuting authority will do a very thorough job to get these people out of the society for a very long time to come.”
Speaking to newsmen, Imbwase admitted that he was arrested in connection with arms and weapons supply.
“I was contracted to supply weapons and I contacted somebody in Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State. The last time, I supplied 2000 ammunitions to politicians in Gboko and I got my supply through one Atara who is my friend. I am the one who led army to his house in North Bank after l was arrested.
“I know Gana and I supplied weapons to him through one of my maternal uncles who spoke to me about him. I have been in the business of weapons supply before the introduction of amnesty programme by Governor Samuel Ortom. I was working with one of my late brothers. Later on, I committed a crime in which I was taken into the DSS custody for a very long time. So when the last general election was around the corner, I was brought to come and assist some politicians. I collected three AK47 rifles and ammunitions from Atara which I used throughout the elections period,” he admitted.
Atara, who was alleged to be armourer of Gana, said he supplied weapons and ammunition to both Gana and Imbwase.
“What Don Moji said is true because I was the one that gave him all the guns and ammunitions. It was not even three AK47 that we gave out to politicians but four. I supplied weapons to Gana but at a time l stopped because he wanted me to join his gang but I refused. I have been supplying guns to Gana since 2014.
“I also supplied 2000 ammunitions to Moji and I got them from one Bala Igige in North Bank area of Makurdi,” he confessed.
Kidnap gang leader Amyam Andoakura from Gboko Local Government Area of Benue State also confessed that he had kidnapped two people who paid him N2 million and N2.5 millions respectively.