The State Security Service (SSS) said on Sunday that some notorious arms dealers operating in states across central Nigeria have been arrested.
A nationwide sweep that lasted 10 days until March 18 ended with the arrest of the alleged gunrunners who were on the wanted list of the secret police for several years after their supplies were linked to violent activities which included armed banditry and kidnapping, the SSS said.
On March 13, at about 12:20 p.m., SSS operatives arrested John Abbey, a suspected arms dealer, in Wukari, Taraba State.
Mr. Abbey, also known as Jonah Idi, was arrested alongside his alleged driver, Agyo Saviour, a.k.a.: Dan-Wase, the SSS said in a statement attributed to Tony Opuiyo. The press release was circulated through PRNigeria, a pro-government public relations firm based in Abuja.
Mr. Abbey had been “on the wanted list of the service for the last 10 years over arms and ammunition trade,” the statement said,
He allegedly supplied arms to criminal groups in Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Rivers, Imo, Anambra, Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue,and Taraba, working closely with Terwase Akwaza, a.k.a.: Ghana, to terrorise residents in Benue State.
Mr. Akwaza has long been identified as a major suspect in the ongoing attacks on Benue residents. Last month, Governor Samuel Ortom increased a bounty placed on him from N10 million in 2016 to N50 million.
The SSS said it recently linked Mr. Abbey to a movement of arms and ammunition from Konduga, Borno State, to Taraba State, saying Mr. Saviour was the driver used in the operation.
“Indications are that he sources arms from the Republic of Cameroon and parts of the North-East of Nigeria,” the SSS added.
David Akinremi, the police commissioner in Taraba, confirmed the arrest of Mr. Abbey and his driver to PREMIUM TIMES Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Abbey’s arrest came a few days after the secret police arrested Sesugh Aondoseer, another suspected member of the ‘Ghana’ gang. Mr. Aondoser, who was arrested on March 7 around 12: 23 a.m. near the International Market along George Akume Road in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, was accused of masterminding “several kidnap and robbery operations in Katsina Ala-Ukum and Gboko-Makurdi axis of the state. He was also linked to attacks in Takum, Taraba State.
The development could lead to a significant reduction in movement of suspicious arms and ammunition amongst deadly attackers that has fuelled recent killings across the region.
Deadly attacks in the North-east, North-west and North-central parts of the country have left hundreds of citizens killed this year along. While some of the attacks are linked to suspected herdsmen, security analysts fear that the arms and tactics being deployed by the killers appear too sophisticated to be attributed to herdsmen.
“These attackers are clearly people of higher capacity,” said Ona Ekhomu, a Lagos-based security analyst. “But it is good that one of the major suppliers had been arrested after 10 years. This shows that the SSS is focused and not engaging in security by accident.”
But he warned that the arrest may not have its desired impact if the Nigerian government fails to act decisively on the fragile security situation.
“A national security audit showed that Nigeria has estimated 50 million pieces of small and light weapons, the largest in West Africa,” Mr. Ekhomu told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Sunday afternoon. “The failure of government that we’ve been witnessing all along cannot continue for too long.”
He advised the SSS to immediately commence trial for Mr. Abbey and other suspects arrested in connection to the herdsmen crisis.
“His trial should be expedited to send a strong signal to arms dealers and killer in the country,” he said. “If nothing is done and Nigeria goes up in flames, there’s no country that would take our refuges.”
The SSS said its operatives recorded success in other operations conducted within the same period.
In a similar operation on March 15, 2018, around 5:00 p.m., operatives arrested a suspected kidnapper, Lawal Ibrahim, at Chiwarna Hotel, Angwan Rogo, along Bauchi Road, Jos North Local Government Area in Plateau State. Mr. Ibrahim, a.k.a.: Alhaji Anwalu, was arrested alongside Ado Saleh and Bayero Adamu, some of the men suspected to be members of his kidnap-for-ransom syndicate.
The SSS accused them of killing one of its operatives, Daanan Balgnan, on December 30, 2017, amongst other criminal offences in Plateau and neighbouring states of Nasarawa, Kaduna and Bauchi.
Operatives recovered N1.5 million in cash from the suspect. The money is said to be a part of a ransom which the syndicate allegedly collected from Ayuba Gamale, a staff of Industrial Training Fund (ITF), whose two abducted family members were released on March 14, 2018.
In the South-east, the SSS arrested Nnaemeka Udoukwu and Nkem Nnonyelu for alleged ties to an abduction syndicate in Anambra State.
The were arrested on March 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Ifite, a village near Awka, the state capital.
“Both suspects have been on the wanted list of the service for their involvement in series of kidnap incidents in the state,” the SSS said,
For instance, Mr. Udoukwu was linked to the abduction of Margret Orji, mother of an Onitsha-based businessman, Michael Orji, in January 2017, allegedly collecting a ransom of N2 million before freeing the senior citizen.