People & Politics

June 18, 2009

Confronting Tompolo

By Ochereome Nnanna
BEFORE  the conquest of his Camp 5 den about a month ago by the Joint Task Force (JTF), few Nigerians knew the true size and clout of Chief Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo.

Even now, not many people can boast of having seen his photograph in the newspapers. The more familiar and visible figures associated with the Ijaw struggle were Ijaw Leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Chief Oboko Bello; the leader of the Niger Delta Volunteers Force, Alhaji Dokubo Asari and  a number of others.

Even now that he is on the run and wanted by the JTF “dead or alive”, Tompolo is many things to many people. To his fellow Ijaw, he is a hero of the war in the creeks who holds the key to negotiating acceptable terms of peace in the area.

To the Delta State Government headed by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, the dislodgement of Tompolo, which made the Delta sector the current main eye of the storm, is an unhappy disruption.

Tompolo, before his current situation, was a major figure in ensuring a relatively calm environment for Uduaghan to operate his highly visionary agenda. But since the JTF moved against the Ijaw warlord, Delta State has not only lost a N5 billion soccer stadium investment but also the right to be one of the hosts of the impending FIFA youth soccer championship.

But to the Federal Government, Tompolo is a dilemma. He has become the proverbial boil on the scrotal sac. Leave it alone, you will continue to suffer pain. Try to remove it, you will suffer even greater pain, but at least you will have your freedom in quicker time.

It is not clear to me if the authorities knew what was in the offing when they sent the JTF to start its expedition in the Warri South West areas, especially Gbaramatu kingdom where Tompolo erected his Camp 5 and other camps.

I am not sure if they share the same excitement that the military officers have been exhibiting since they stumbled on sensitive information that summarises why the Niger Delta crisis became intractable.

Tompolo, from all indications, was until the military expedition a familiar figure in the corridors of power both in Asaba and Abuja.

He was clearly a double agent, and his methods were very widely mimicked among the more privileged sections of those engaged one way or the other in the Niger Delta struggle.

He would approach government and present himself as a credible middleman and link to “the boys” in the creeks.

Through him and many other Ijaw leaders, governments and oil companies made a lot of concessions in order to buy a peaceful atmosphere to move crude oil into the world market.

Then he went behind to recruit, finance, equip and command the same militants he is supposed to keep under control. He thus reportedly became one of the wealthiest and most influential militant warlords in the Niger Delta creeks.

He was in good business and he became a source of inspiration to other groups which proliferated camps similar to his all over the creeks, especially as the Delta and Bayelsa states willingly paid millions every month for peace.

When the JTF announced to a shocked nation that they had recovered documents from Tompolo’s custody containing the lurid details of his mode of operation and names of fellow Niger Delta members of the elite who have, like him, bunkered oil illegally and funded the militants’ rebellion against the state, many people felt that Yar’ Adua had been handed the tool he needed to bring criminality in the area to book.

All that he needed to do was to let the world know who the nation’s economic saboteurs were and order immediate and arrest prosecution of the culprits. It is now three weeks since the JTF made this discovery at Camp 5. Apart from series of meetings the President was said to have had with top security and military officials, nothing else has been heard.

The reason for the apparent delay may not be far-fetched. It is very likely that some of the names belong to key government officials and chiefs of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as other parties whose exposure and prosecution might completely upset the applecart.

We may find out at the end of the day that Chief Government Ekpemupolo was not doing anything different from what his fellow chiefs in the Niger Delta have been doing for years, possibly with full collaboration of principalities and powers from outside the region who have held the reins of power over the decades.

It is a fact that illegal oil bunkering, theft, piracy and gangsterism (which now masquerades as militancy of freedom fighters) in the area could not have gone on for so long without the Nigerian ruling class, including those that Chief Edwin Clark likes to describe as “the traditional allies” of Niger Delta chiefs being involved in the illicit gravy train.

It is also not possible for the sabotage of our national strategic interests in the Niger Delta to continue for all these decades without crooked international collaborators who find ready markets for stolen oil and the firearms that are used to do the stealing.

It will take a very brave government to arrest and prosecute Government Ekpemupolo if he is caught alive, because it might mean the arrest and prosecution of serving government officials that he put in office, as well as other notable untouchables of Nigeria.

I will not be surprised if Tompolo suddenly emerges from hiding in the company of lawyers demanding to be given the amnesty that the Federal Government has put in place. He is qualified, just like other warlords. This might be the soft landing everyone involved in this saga might need.

Can Yar’ Adua act on the list? Or will he look for a line of least resistance? Let us watch and see!