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Avengers: The new face of Niger-Delta militancy

Inside story of Tompolo, militants’ face-off

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South & Brisibe Perez

WHEN  the former‘General Officer Commanding, GOC’, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, took space in some national newspapers, last week, to  criticise the latest militant group in the region, the Niger-Delta  Avengers (NDA), it was apparent that there was fire on the mountain.

The group, which, some months ago, claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Forcados 48-Inch Export Terminal in Delta State, in clear defiance of Tompolo’s assurance of peace in the region, also said it was responsible for last week’s attacks on the Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL’s facilities to demonstrate its readiness to undermine the ex-MEND leader.

Tompolo, who is currently on the wanted list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Nigeria Police, had stated: “My attention has been drawn to security reports linking me to a new militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which claimed responsibility for the damaged Forcados 48-Inch Export Pipeline some time ago.

 

File: Militants before the federal govt amnesty programme
File: Militants before the federal govt amnesty programme

“It is imperative to state, unequivocally, that I do not have a link with this new militant group. I am not part of the group. It is very unfortunate that I am still being accused of pipeline vandalism despite several press releases I have made, denying my involvement in the renewed hostilities in the Niger Delta region.”

Tompolo, in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, entitled: ‘I am not part of the Niger Delta Avengers group, also  urged the oil servicing companies  awarded the contract to repair the damaged Forcados 48-inch pipeline to go about their job without fear.

His words: “I wish to appeal to the servicing companies to go about their normal operations, particularly the repair of the Forcados 48-inch pipeline, which is very crucial to the economic stability of our country.

“I have said, on many occasions, that I will not resort to violence because of my case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or wage war against the Federal Government, as my legal team is working towards the resolution of the issue.”

Avengers’ fury

His statement infuriated the new  militant group, which, 24 hours after his tirade (Tuesday),  issued him a stern warning: Do not  give false guarantee to oil servicing contractors, adding that his recent show of support to the President Buhari-led Government was provocative.

The NDA  said: “With due respect  sir, we, the Niger Delta Avengers, respect you and all former agitators from the region.  We admire your love for the region and all you have done. The Niger Delta Avengers made it clear that we are not part of the Presidential Amnesty program because the program is not genuine.

“We, the Niger Delta Avengers, have only decided to pick the struggle up from where you and the former Niger Delta agitators left off; it is only the actors that are new. You are not one of us and you need not bother yourself to try to convince anyone.

“As a result, if you can’t join us, please take your hands off our activities because it is a slap on our face for you to give a nod for repair works to continue on the 48-inch pipeline at Forcados despite a stern warning by us for no one to go near the blast site.”

Group demands apology

As if to underscore its readiness to confront Tompolo, the NDA gave him a three-day ultimatum to apologize to the group.

“We hereby give you a three-day ultimatum to apologize to the Niger Delta Avengers in the same national dailies, as anything other than that will mean that we shall bring the war to your doorstep by blowing up all oil installations within your backyard, Gbaramatu Kingdom, since you have taken sides with the Federal Government to fight the Niger Delta people.”

Tompolo rebuffs, group launches attacks

Tompolo did not apologize but the group, about 24 hours later, launched an attack on  out other Chevron’s Valve Platform on  Wednesday, May 4. It  carried out  other attacks  on the Chevron Well D25 in Abiteye and gas lines feeding the Warri and Kaduna refineries, belonging to the NNPC, on Thursday, May 5.

The attacks, it was gathered, also affected major pipelines with direct link to the Abiteye, Alero, Dibi, Otunana and Makaraba flow stations, which feed  the Chevron Tank Farm in the area.

Recounting the impact to Sunday Vanguard, an official of Chevron, who spoke on anonymity, hinted that the destruction would also have a severe impact on the crude line feeding the Warri and Kaduna refineries respectively and would further deplete power supply across the country.

But Chevron’s General Manager, Policy, Government and Public Relations, Deji Haastrup, in an SMS to Sunday Vanguard, simply said: “I would revert to you when I have information”. He did not revert as promised at the time of this report. Attempts to speak with the NNPC spokesperson, Garba Mohammad, were fruitless, as he did not respond to calls and SMS sent to him.

Meanwhile, Chevron,  in a statement,  late Friday, by its spokesperson, Isabel Ordonez, said approximately 35, 000barrels per day of its net crude oil production in Nigeria was being impacted by the incident with all persons at the platform being accounted for and no injuries reported.

Group boasts of firepower

NDA  attributed  the Wednesday attack  to the diligent effort of its Team 6, stating that it was in line with its promise to the Nigerian government to cripple the economy.

“We want to pass this message to the all international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta that the Nigerian  military can’t protect their facilities. They should talk to the Federal Government to meet our demands else, more mishaps will befall their installations,”it stated.

“Until our demands are met, no repair works should be done at the blast site.”

Tompolo’s dilemma

*Tompolo
*Tompolo

When Tompolo embraced the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP,  in October 2009, many saw his move as a turning point in militant activities in the Niger Delta. Oil production improved and government hired him and other former militant leaders to secure oil installations in the region.

He said: “Most Nigerians, if not all, are aware of the role I played in safe- guarding, protecting crude oil and gas facilities during the last administration, which I  am still interested in doing for the love of country, humanity and out of patriotism. It is worthy of mention that, as I was protecting oil facilities, I incurred the wrath of pipeline vandals and illegal refinery operators, and some of them are still angry with me. Therefore, it is worrisome for security agencies to link me with such people that are still angry with me.

“It could be recalled that when I founded the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) at the peak of the Niger Delta agitation for a better living for the people, I did not mince words. And so, if it was me that is behind the Niger Delta Avengers, I would have come out openly to claim the leadership.”

Not many militant groups in the region share Tompolo’s new ideology of non-violence..

Regrouping of ex-militant leaders at Yenagoa

The general discontent propelled the meeting of ex-militants, January 23, 2015, at Yenagoa, Bayelsa state. At the meeting, Tompolo had appealed to youths and political figures from the region to forgive one each other, forge a united front and work towards the re-election of former   President  Goodluck Jonathan  via  the February 14 presidential election.

The meeting was also attended by a  former  Chairman of  PAP, Kingsley Kuku;  Mujahid Asari Dokubo;  Victor Ben Ebikabowei, aka Boy Loaf;  Eris Paul, also known as General Ogunboss, and Pastor Reuben.

However, the peace in the region was short lived following the emergence of NDA, which has continued to wreak havoc on oil facilities in the area in the past few weeks.

Following  the loss of Jonathan at the polls, Tompolo summoned a meeting of commanders and leaders of the various wings of MEND for an emergency meeting on July 25  at Izon House, Yenagoa to discuss the place of the Ijaw nation under the then incoming Buhari administration.

Security forces aborted the meeting at the last minute.

Birth of NDA

NDA  took the region by storm when it announced its formation  on February 3. It  launched a website and social media page, which it uses to publish statements of its activities, including its February 10 blow up of the Bonny Soku Gas Line carrying  natural gas to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas plant and an independent power plant at Gbaran.

Probably, an act of coincidence, about  a  year after Jonathan lost the presidential election, the group launched  the attack on the Forcados 48-inch Export Pipeline at the Forcados export terminal.

 ‘Operation Red Economy’

A  day before the attack on the Forcados terminal, the NDA  launched its “Operation Red Economy” with a 14-day  ultimatum to the Federal Government, amidst series of demands from  government.

The demands include:  The immediate implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference; and apology from Buhari, the DSS and Timipre Sylva to the people of the Niger Delta  and family of the late Chief DSP Alamieyesegha over his death and harassment because of his party affiliation.

Other demands  are 60 per cent ownership of oil blocks for people of the Niger Delta  and 40 per cent for those from non-oil producing regions,  immediate commencement of the 2015/2016 academic session  at  the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko  an apology from the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, over his comments on the location of the institution and immediate clean-up of the region with full compensation to the host communities.

The group further demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the leader of the Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kalu; continuation of PAP and trial of all indicted members of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Militants serving masters’ interests —NCNDE-A

In a related development , the National Coalition of Niger Delta Ex-Agitators, NCNDE-A, has said that those behind  renewed attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta are ex-militants serving their masters’ interests.

Speaking through its National President, Mr Israel Akpodoro, yesterday, in Abuja, the ex-agitators condemned the call for vandals of oil facilities to drop their weapons and embrace dialogue with the Federal Government.

They, therefore, urged the Federal Government to order the JTF to go after them in full force and protect national assets from further attacks.

Akpodoro expressed shock over the comment credited to the General Paul Boro-led Amnesty Office, noting that those behind the renewed militancy and armed struggle against the Federal Government were enemies of Nigeria and were common criminals who should be treated as such.

According to the Urhobo-born ex-militant, those who claimed responsibility for deliberate destruction of oil facilities in the Niger Delta  were serving the interests of their leaders who, according to him, were those who failed in the 2015 presidential election, describing them as bad managers of defeat as he questioned the rational behind Boro’s comments.

Akpodoro warned of dangers in dialogue with the Avengers group, alleging that some of those responsible for the renewed vandalism were ex-militants  already receiving stipends from the FG. He stated that there were no new militants in the region but errand boys for prominent ex-agitators.

He called on the FG to declare total war on the economic saboteurs in the region  while raising questions on the sincerity of General Boroh.

The ex-militant challenged Boroh to provide proof that members of the NDA were not known ex-militants.


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