There are pieces of evidence that Gabriel Suswam, a former governor of Benue state, is currently funding and sustaining a violent kidnapping ring in his home state, SaharaReporters can confirm.
An exclusive investigative report obtained by SaharaReporters revealed that the first wave of carefully orchestrated violence started in 1999 on the orders of George Akume, who was then-governor of Benue State in 1999.
In the beginning -Akume
As his popularity diminished, Akume engaged the services of two members of his government at the time – Mzenda Iho, a former speaker of Benue State House of Assembly; and Emmanuel Udende, ex-commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs – for the purpose of mobilizing youths who were converted to political thugs for his re-election campaign.
Subsequently, the thugs were overtly or covertly given the mandate to harass, intimidate and destabilize political opponents, snatch ballot boxes, obstruct electoral process or rig elections.
The duo were from the Sankera part of Tiv, comprising Katsina-Ala, Logo, and Ukum in Zone A senatorial district.
The report showed Prof. Daniel Saror also tried to raise a similar group to counter the Akume’s in Sankera axis, a task which proved unsuccessful.
Aside from Senator Saror, Paul Unongo, then of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), also from the opposition, was able to match, violence for violence in the electoral process, Akume in Sankera and Kwande.
The violence led to unprecedented bloodshed compelling the Senate to set up a committee led by Senator Iyabo Veronica Anisulowo; as well as the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, to intervene.
Within the same Zone A, Akume recruited Chief Benjamin Aboho, a retired colonel, to perform similar duties in other local governments, which include Kwande and Ushongu LGAs.
He was the main man countering Unongo. His allies were Chief Asom Bur and Mrs. Margret Gom, now late.
Those recruited by the former governor were expected to deliver their respective constituencies to Akume with a promise that they would be returned to their offices after the elections.
In Zone B senatorial district in the Minda axis, comprising Makurdi, Guma, Gwer West, Gwer East, Samuel Ortom, a local politician, now governor of the state, held forth for Akume.
The Rise of Ama Bai
In the same Zone B in the Jembagh area, Ama Bai, suspected to have a long history in armed robbery, was recruited by Akume, supported by Dr. Iyorchia Ayu and the late Comrade Baver Zeremo, a former Tarka Local Government chairman, to oversee activities in the Jembagh area comprising Gboko, Tarka and Buruku.
Bai, who recently lost his son, Orkuma Ama Bai, to a rival gang, was said to have committed a lot of atrocities in the area.
He went on a killing spree in retaliation of the murder of his son. Because of his violent activities and relationship with the state government, a young man was killed by a mob, nicknamed One Man Squad, in order to give security operatives working on the case a false impression that it was not Bai that is causing mayhem in the area.
Among cases linked to Bai was the murder of an expatriate with the Benue Cement Company in Yandev, Gboko.
The second was the case of Mr. Ternenge Labe, owner of Lambeth Pharmacy around Bristow roundabout in Gboko.
He was killed after they failed to recruit him to poison and assassinate Senator Barnabas Gemade under the instruction of Suswam during the electioneering for the 2015 general elections, the report said.
However, they did not know Labe had revealed the plot and his objection to kill Gemade to his wife before he was killed him.
The Nigeria Police Force commenced investigations into the murder but powerful political interests led by Suswam intervened and scuttled the investigation.
How Suswam Sustained Akume’s Violent Legacy
In 2007, Suswam, popularly known by his Tiv kinsman as Kpatema U Iee, literally meaning ‘black cat’ in Tiv, emerged as the state’s governor.
Being a beneficiary of the entrenched violence structure, the report noted, Suswam then became conscious of the need to sustain and use the established structure to retain power and impose his hegemony in Tiv politics and Benue State.
Suswam was reported to have recruited a more sophisticated and ruthless killer squad. It was at this point that Suswam recruited a younger and unknown member of one of the militia groups, Terwase Agwaza, popularly known as Gana; a violent village youth, petty thief and a school drop-out.
Introduction of Kidnapping into Benue Politics
Adopting the Niger-Delta militancy approach under the tutelage of Suswam, many Benue people began to fear Gana as the Tompolo of Tiv. At this point, Suswam introduced kidnapping to the Gana group.
Their targets were clearly political opponents and relations.
The Gana group was well-funded, assisted to acquire arms and shielded by the state government. His closeness to Governor Suswam made him become so powerful that after security meetings of the state’s Exco, he had access to the deliberations and would confront, visit the homes of state officials, reminding them of their contributions and what they said about him at the state security meeting. These made people become unsafe and feared Gana the more.
ADC Dickson Orlu Pawa; Gana Goes Wild
Suswam subsequently appointed Dickson Orlu Pawa, a police officer as his ADC. He is from Sankera. The governor, through the ADC heavily funded Gana with public funds to acquire arms and recruit many youths for his gang.
Suswam had high trust and confidence in Gana because they have blood relationship and kinship affinity; while Gabriel Suswam is from Gambe/Tiev, Terwase Agwaza, Gana, is from Gambe/Ya – both of the Shitile clan of Sankera, part of Tiv land.
Gana became so powerful that politicians, businessmen and other stakeholders in the state started paying unsolicited levies to him which provided a veritable source of revenue for his squad. The levies were necessary for the safety of the payers and their family members, not to incur the wrath of Gana.
The report added that Gana further expanded his militia group in the entire Sankera land and other parts of Tiv. The heavy funding by the Suswam government attracted school drop-outs and other young men who had abandoned their trades and handiworks, to go into militia activities because it became a reliable source of employment and an easy way to get rich quick.
The Emergence of Spaco: The First Kidnap Operation
In Zone B senatorial district, Markudi, Suswam made one of Gana’s allies, popularly called Spaco, the commander of another squad.
Spaco became too powerful that even the commissioner of police, property owners and companies consulted and paid homage to him. The situation was such that even the police and other security agencies could not tame Spaco because of closeness to the governor.
Spaco was suspected to have carried out the first kidnapping operation in Benue under Suswam’s instruction. The first kidnap victim of the gang was the son of Clement Nanev Uhondu, a former member of the Benue State House of Assembly, representing Guma. He was a notable critic of the Suswam administration.
After a series of appeals by Tiv leaders that kidnapping is strange to Tiv society and politics, the kidnappers abandoned Uhondu’s son at a petrol station in Makurdi after three days.
Expanding the Militia Groups
Other militia groups were also established and funded by Suswam under different social mobilization identities.
These included the Suswam Boys, Shitile Youths for Suswam, Katsina-Ala Central Youths for Suswam, Minda Youths for Suswam.
In practice, they were thugs terrorizing people and were shielded by the state government from arrest or being clamped down by the police and other security operatives.