By Emma Amaize
WARRIâ€”MORE facts emerged yesterday on the controversial N1.8 billion shoreline protection contract for Kurutie community, Delta State, in which ex-militant leader, High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, was alleged to have sent a threatening SMS message to the Minister of Niger-Delta Affairs, Chief Ufot Ekaette.
Vanguard learnt that the matter, which has gradually metamorphosed into a sizzling feud between Tompolo and Chief Ekaette, started when the ex-militant leader, who is from the community, discovered that the contract was awarded to an Abuja-based contractor from the northern part of the country.
Tompolo felt it was wrong to award the contract to a non-Niger Deltan, and hearing that the contractor was supposedly recommended by a top Presidency official, he reportedly sent a text message to the official, stating his objection.
He also copied Chief Ekaette, the Minister of State for Niger-Delta, Elder Godsay Orubebe and others.
Vanguard asked to see the exact text message sent by Tompolo yesterday from one of his aides, who insisted that his master was not available.
However, an aide to Chief Ekaette said his boss was threatened by the ex-militant leader in the text message in which he allegedly gave him a week ultimatum to re-award the contract to a Kurutie native or he would make trouble.
A source said Ekaette, a former Secretary to the Federal Government, was miffed that Tompolo had the temerity to challenge his competence on the award of a contract in his ministry.
The source said: â€œProbably, the Minister thinks itâ€™s Tompolo that is bidding for the job and using somebody as a front. He also felt that Tompolo does not have the competence to execute the job and this much his aide stated in a recent interview when he said the minister was not interested in â€˜arrangeeâ€™ awardâ€.
However, what seemed to have infuriated Chief Ekaette was an excuse that Tompolo should be given the contract to enable him settles his boys that accepted amnesty and surrendered arms. According to one of his aides, â€œWhy Tompolo should be given the contract to settle his boys, what does that mean, if they think how Chief Ekaette wants to run the Niger-Delta ministry, they are getting the whole thing wrongâ€.
Vanguard reliably learnt Tompolo thought it was the Director-General of Bureau for Public Procurement that recommended the award of the contract to the Northern contractor and based on that, he sent him a text message for what he believed was a wrong action, and copied Ekaette and others.
â€œTo our chagrinâ€, one of his lieutenants told Vanguard, â€œsome a powerful official of the ministry has an eye on the contract and has decided to get his percentage from the Northern contractor than with Tompolo, who would prove difficultâ€.
In his words, â€œThat is even where they got it wrong. They said Tompolo bid for the job and because he did not get it, that is why he is threatening. Thatâ€™s not true, he did not bid for the contract.
The job, in the first instance, was built into the budget of the Ministry of Niger-Delta by a Senator from the region who wanted to use it as a favour to an indigenous contractor from Kurutie, but, he was outsmarted. Some people who did not how the job came about now want to reap from what they did not sow by all meansâ€.
â€œTompoloâ€™s interest is that the job should be awarded to a contractor from the area to empower the peopleâ€, the chairman of the Warri-Ijaw Peace Monitoring Group, Chief PatrickÂ BighaÂ said in an online press statement, yesterday.
His words, â€œWe wish to state the truth on a screaming news story that Tompolo is threatening war over a N1.8 shoreline protection contract carried by a national newspaper (not Vanguard), having investigated the matterâ€.
â€œFirst, it is true that the Kurutie shoreline protection job is in the budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta affairs. But it was not Tompolo that bid for the project; rather it was another indigene from Kurutie community that bid for the job long before the proclamation of the Presidential amnesty.
And the Minister of Niger Delta affairs and the Minister of State in the Ministry are aware of this.
â€œTompolo only advocated that the job be awarded to the indigene because that will go a long way to help to empower the youths from the area. Besides, non- indigenes that such contracts are awarded to either carry out a poor job or abandon such jobs.
For instance, the shoreline protection jobs in Okpelama and Okerenkoko towns by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as well as the Okerenkoko Secondary School building project awarded by the Petroleum Development Trust Fund(PDTF), all in Gbaramatu kingdom were abandonedâ€, he stated.
Chief Bigha pointed out, â€œThere are records of successful projects handled by indigenes in the kingdom. The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 2006 awarded over 10 electrification projects to indigenes of Gbaramatu kingdom and all were completed as scheduled. The skill acquisition centre at Oporoza town awarded by NDDC to an indigene has been completed long agoâ€.
He further stated, â€œTompolo is the brain behind the success of these projects because he closely monitors the jobs. And it is his promise to continue to monitor such jobsâ€.
According to him, â€œTo Tompoloâ€™s greatest surprise, the Kurutie shoreline projection job was awarded to a couple from the Northern part of Nigeria as recommended by the director of due process, Dr Emeka Eze. It was then Tompolo sent an SMS to Dr Eze that it was wrong for him to do that. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and others were only copied in the SMSâ€.
He said the aide to the minister who was quoted in the report by the national newspaper and the newspaper itself should be investigated because the reporter do not have facts and figures to support the report, adding, â€œWe hereby challenge anyone to produce facts to contradict this releaseâ€.
A close lieutenant of Tompolo who responded to the diatribe in an interview with Vanguard in Warri said, â€œPresident Umaru Yarâ€™Adua made it clear that ex-militant leaders should be involved as much as possibleÂ in the development process in their different areas in the post-amnesty programmeÂ and so, I am, therefore, at a loss, as to why the Minister of Niger-Delta, Chief Ekaette thinks a leader like Tompolo should not be involved in a development projectÂ within the post-amnesty period that is to be undertaking in his communityâ€.
â€œWho told him that Tompolo should not be consulted on the contract that is to be executed in his own community? Tompolo is from Kurutie , his father isÂ alive and still living in theÂ community. In fact, his houses in the community were targeted and burnt by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta in the ill-fated Cordon and Search operation for Tompolo and his men between May and June over the disappearance (read killing) of some JTF soldiers in a clash with militants in Gbaramatu kingdom.
â€œAssuming but not conceding that Tompolo even asked that the job should be given to somebody so that he could through it empower the boys that waged the Niger-Dela struggle with him, what is wrong with that? Why are they saying that itâ€™s because he said he wants to empower his boys with it that they stopped the contract from going to the Kurutie indigeneâ€, he said.
The lieutenant who maintained that Tompolo never threatened the Minister maintained that it was unthinkable that a Northern contractor who does not even know Kurutie would get a shoreline protection job in the area, saying it was not acceptable to the people.
â€œThere is no way the contract will be done by that contractor, let them try it if that is what they want to doâ€, he asserted.