Storm over Tompolo’s N48bn pipeline surveillance contract

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DELE OGUNYEMI examines the controversy surrounding the N48bn pipeline surveillance contract awarded to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, by the Federal Government

It is no longer news that a former militant leader in the Niger Delta and ex-commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, has consolidated his hold on the multi-billion naira Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited’s oil pipeline surveillance contract awarded to him by the Federal Government amid opposition. The N4bn per month contract, which covers the Ijaw-speaking part of Bayelsa State (Southern Ijaw and Ekeremor local government areas), Delta, Ondo, Imo and Rivers states, has attracted a groundswell of opposition from some stakeholders in Bayelsa, Ondo, Imo and Rivers states.

Others, including the Amalgamated Arewa Youth Groups, have been questioning the Federal Government’s patronage of Tompolo, who they labelled a fugitive. On July 15, 2020, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had, in a landmark judgment, dismissed the 40 counts bordering on alleged N34bn fraud/theft and money laundering filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, a company linked to the former warlord.

Other defendants in the case filed in 2015 were a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpolokemi; Kime Engozu, Rex Elem, Gregory Mbonu and Warredi Enisuoh. Three other firms, Odimiri Electrical Limited, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited, and Destre Consult Limited, were also defendants in the criminal case. Tompolo was initially listed as the first defendant in the suit, but following his refusal to answer repeated court summons, Mr Festus Keyamo (SAN), who handled the matter for the EFCC, had to apply to the court for Tompolo’s name to be removed from the charge sheet.

Tompolo has since the emergence of the pipeline surveillance contract been adroitly engaging key stakeholders in the Niger Delta region, assuring them of his commitment to run an all inclusive operation to stamp out pipeline vandalism, oil theft and illegal bunkering in the region.

In the past few days, Tompolo, a man renowned for his native intelligence, has met with traditional rulers, youth and women groups, activists and other stakeholders in the South-South geopolitical zone, urging them to support the efforts to rid the region of oil thieves for the good of all.

Recently, Tompolo declared a clampdown on all illegal activities in the region as he held a stakeholders’ consultative meeting ahead of the commencement of the pipeline surveillance activities on Saturday, September 3, 2022.

While speaking at the stakeholders’ meeting held at the palace of the King of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Oboro Gbaraun, in Oporoza, Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, Tompolo promised to reach out to all stakeholders and pointed out that “the business of pipeline surveillance is all inclusive.”

Tompolo used the forum to advice youths in the Niger Delta to always engage in productive ventures that would add value to the region, noting that they must always be seen to be doing the right thing.

It was, however, gathered that Tompolo’s efforts in engaging stakeholders had succeeded in softening the hard line posture of other known ex-militant leaders in the region. Some of them, who were earlier not in sync with the idea of awarding such a huge contract to Tompolo, had noticeably fallen in line with the newly-found peace-building processes.

This was manifested in the reactions of the Chief Superintending Officer, Supreme Egbesu Order, a religion practised by Tompolo and several Ijaw people, as well as other ex-militant agitators, including Apostle Bodmas Kemepadei, who remarked that Tompolo’s decision to carry everybody along had brought about peace. Kemepadei confessed that “he (Tompolo) has reached out to the likes of Asari-Dokubo and King Ateke Tom,” noting that both of them did not even come out again to criticise him. “They are in cordial talking terms. There is no problem; everybody is on the same page,” he stated.

Also, the Arogbo Ijaw Network, through its National Coordinator, Feyebo Eperetei, declared in a statement that Tompolo was deserving of the contract “because of his charisma and capacity to interface with everybody in the Niger Delta region.”

Speaking in the same vein, a former lawmaker in Bayelsa State, Ofoni Williams, commended what he described as the genuine intention of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to take pragmatic steps to curb Nigeria’s economic downturn caused by illegal bunkering activities and oil theft in the Niger Delta region.

Williams affirmed that Tompolo was a seasoned hand in handling issues of security “and has the capacity to carry out the assignment given to him to the letter.”

It is also worthy of note that the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, had earlier hailed the award of the contract to Tompolo and counselled the ex-militant leader to ensure “responsible, all-embracing implementation.” Omo-Agege, in a statement by his Executive Assistant, Aruviere Egharhevwa, said he wholly ‘‘supported the decision of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited to award its major pipelines surveillance contract to a company where High Chief Government ‘Tompolo’ Ekpemupolo reportedly has interests.

“It is a thoughtful decision that holds the promise of impacting positively on constant efforts by the Federal Government to curtail avoidable disruptions in our crude oil production and improve our national economy, security and stability.”

But youths of the Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State issued a stern warning to Tompolo and other militants not to enter their territory in the name of protecting pipelines. The youth, under the aegis of Ibeno Men-Clue Development Association, argued that as an oil producing local government area hosting ExxonMobil, youths of the area did not need ex-militants to safeguard oil facilities passing through their territory.

This was contained in a statement jointly signed by the Coordinator of the association, Mr Itam Ikotinye; Chairman, Christopher Akpan, and seven others, in which the youth said they found it difficult to accept any intrusion or external aggression by way of adopting any group as a sole contractor for the protection of oil and gas pipelines in the Niger Delta to the exclusion of the Ibeno host community in Akwa Ibom State.

The statement read in part, “We shall resist any attempt by any militant or former militant groups or whatever name they might be called to parade themselves as members of the Ibeno oil and gas community just for the purpose of grabbing the contract of oil and pipeline protection to the detriment of Ibeno people who are suffering environmental degradation.”

Also opposing the award of the contract to Tompolo, a northern group, the Amalgamated Arewa Youth Groups during a protest staged at the headquarters of the NNPC in Abuja, handed down a seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to revoke the contract or be ready for a protest and legal action.

The group also called on Buhari to sack the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva; and Director, Upstream, NNPC Limited, Adokiye Tombomelye, for promoting what it called “ethnic and regional interest;” as well as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, for using his office to “reward criminality.”

The northern group described as unfortunate a situation where the NNPC would succumb to the blackmail of the former Niger Delta warlord to award him such a contract despite being declared wanted by the EFCC. The coalition, comprising 225 youth groups from the 19 northern states and Abuja, noted that the seeming triumph of people like Tompolo over the nation’s armed forces was “a clear case of abdication of responsibilities, otherwise, hundreds of his likes wouldn’t have succeeded against 200 million Nigerians.”

However, barely 48 hours after the pronouncement by the group, the Pan Niger Delta Forum through the First Republic Federal Information Commissioner, Chief Edwin Clark, warned northern youths against provoking a crisis in the Niger Delta region with their “unnecessary and misguided” statements. PANDEF, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, warned that the threat by the AAYG was capable of severe consequences in the oil rich region.

PANDEF cautioned that the threat by the group to paralyse activities at the NNPC headquarters if the contract awarded to Tompolo was not revoked was absurd and delusional.

The Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, also picked holes in the award of the oil pipeline surveillance contract to private organisations, noting that it reinforced the belief that the whole defence architecture in the country needed an urgent overhaul.

The governor said, “The award of contracts to private organisations to protect against vandalism of pipelines raises fundamental questions on the sincerity of the advisers of the government on security issues. The open and seeming enthusiastic embrace of this oddity, despite the constant and consistent avowal of the readiness by the security agencies, in particular the Navy, to contain the pervasive and deepening crises of breaches and threats to lives and property, attracts the charge of insincerity bordering, deplorably, on dubiety.”

But the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, hailed the decision of the Federal Government to award the contract to an indigene of the Niger Delta. Okowa, who spoke through the state Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, said it was an acceptable practice all over the world to localise some jobs, adding that the essence of it was to get the buy-in of the locals.

Speaking on the issue, the Zonal Chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Audu Osihiokhamele, stated that the body did not have any problem whatsoever with the oil pipeline surveillance contract awarded to Tompolo. According to him, once the government is convinced that Tompolo has the capability to handle the project, there will not be any issue.

“What we are concerned with is the safeguarding of the pipelines from oil theft and vandalism that threaten the national economy,” Osihiokhamele added.

Similarly, the President, Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, Austin Ozobo, told our correspondent that Tompolo’s ability to deliver on the surveillance contract was never in doubt, “being a repentant ex-militant commander, who also knows very well the terrain and modus operandi of pipeline vandals.”

“Tompolo is a respected servant leader in the Niger Delta. He is also a good team player, and of much more importance, Tompolo is very patriotic to the cause of the Niger Delta region. It is my candid opinion that he will surely deliver in this regard to the satisfaction of all by chasing oil thieves and vandals out of business in the region,” Ozobo said.

Speaking on the opposition against the contract, the Director of a non-governmental organisation, Agape Birthrights, Ann-Kio Briggs, told Sunday PUNCH that it was wrong for any group to criticise the action of the Federal Government, adding that the beneficiary of the contract was a businessman, who was not on the wanted list of the government.

The environmental activist stated, “Tompolo is not a fugitive; he is not a wanted person. So, why will some groups be against the pipeline surveillance contract awarded to his company? If Tompolo was still wanted, the Federal Government would not award him the contract. The people on the wanted list of the government are Boko Haram members and armed herdsmen who are killing people. It is ridiculous for some northern groups to oppose the pipeline surveillance contract to Tompolo. These Arewa people always get up and oppose whatever the Niger Delta people want. If we are in our own country and they are in their own country, what will they be opposing?

“If we also get up and oppose the fact that northerners own almost all the oil wells in the Niger Delta region, I think there will be war in the country. The people that bought the NNPC are all northerners, and there is no Niger Delta person among them. Tompolo is doing exactly what is expected of him. He has been given a contract and he is going about it the right way; he is engaging other people, because he knows all the places where the pipelines run. Of course, he is engaging the people from places where the pipelines run. It is the right thing to do.

“He (Tompolo) needs them and they also need him. Most of these pipelines are in the ethnic nationalities that are of the Niger Delta. Is there any place where they are producing oil in the North?  If they want to get contracts for security, they should get contracts to go and protect the Sambisa forest and secure the porous northern borders. That is what they should be doing because that is what Tompolo is doing in securing pipelines.”

Similarly, the Chancellor of the International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said there was nothing wrong in awarding such a contract to an indigene of the Niger Delta, adding that Tompolo had the capacity to execute the job.

He stated, “The contract was duly approved by the Federal Government. If they want a contract of that nature, they should ask the government to give them a contract to secure the northern territory from foreign invaders. They should ask the government to give them a contract to secure the North against cattle rustlers; they should ask the Federal Government to give them the contract to stop Boko Haram menace in the North, and stop making a nuisance of themselves by going against the pipeline surveillance contract awarded to Tompolo.

“Tompolo is not the only person in the Niger Delta. A lot of considerations were put in place. The job scope was equally placed in front of the Federal Government and they have seen his capability before they awarded the contract to him. So, why are the northern youths and a few others making noise? They should equally apply for contracts to decimate ISIS and Boko Haram; such contracts are viable. They should stop behaving like wayward children.”

On his advice to the ex-militant leader, Omenazu said, “I’ll ask Tompolo to diligently execute that job. That job is a matter of trust. For him to have secured that contract, it means the Federal Government trusts his capability and we want him to deliver the job according to the terms of the agreement.”

Additional report by Hameed Fatteh


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