By Bolaji Akinola
When in 2011 the administration of then President Goodluck Jonathan awarded a maritime security contract to Global West Vessel Specialist Nigeria Limited (GWVSNL), a company controlled by an ex-militant, Government Ekpemukpolo a.k.a Tompolo, many of us raised eyebrows to the danger of such arrangement.
My argument at the time was that it was insane to have conceded our waterways security to a former warlord.
We all remember how Tompolo and his cohorts under the auspices of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) held this country to ransom for several years before a truce was reached with the administration of late President Umar Yar’Adua. Granted that by embracing Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme in 2007/2008, the militants got blanket pardon for bearing arms against the Nigerian nation, it was nonetheless foolhardy to hand over the nation’s security system to any of them but that was exactly what Jonathan did when he became President.
Tompolo practically became the chief security officer of the nation’s territoarial waters with several troops at his command. His other militant brothers including Ateke Tom, Asari Dokubo and others were also rewarded with juicy oil pipeline security contracts. These ex-agitators were asked to take charge of the very pipelines they once targeted for destruction.
One cannot tell what Tompolo would have brought into the country through the waterways but we all remember clearly that his acquisition of seven warships from Norway in December 2014 became a subject of media attention.
Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet which brought the acquisition to public knowledge informed that the former warlord also upgraded the ships with new weaponry.
Norwegian Defence Chief, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hansen, would later apologise to his country’s lawmakers for selling the warships to Tompolo but the deed was done. Norway had sold seven warships to a man with a history of violence. Daglabet reported that the sale was implemented through a shell maritime Security Company based in the United Kingdom, CAS Global.
CAS Global was used to evade a requirement by Norway that arms dealers obtain export license from their country’s foreign affairs ministry.
Tompolo’s kinsman and brother-in-arms, Asari Dokubo never minced words about what would happen in the Niger Delta region post-Jonathan presidency.
He made it clear that he and others would return to militancy once Jonathan’s tenure ended. Despite these utterances, he was in charge of oil pipeline security. He had unhindered access to the seat of power. He was a regular face at Aso Rock Villa. After one of his visits to President Jonathan, he told the media that Nigeria would be made ungovernable if his kinsman was not re-elected. Yet the man was allowed to walk free. And he remained in charge of security of the nation’s most critical asset – oil pipeline.
Shortly after President Buhari’s victory in the 2015 General Elections, Dokubo renewed his threat, yet the Jonathan administration refused to arrest or call him to order.
“The conditions that advanced the need to embrace the creeks have been sadly re-energised. It is clear that a vicious government who may maim and murder the voice of the so-called minorities may have just been birthed. Indeed integration is nonexistent as regional gang ups and supremacy is symbolic with this victory.
“While President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan enjoys his moments and bask in the euphoria of a now world renowned statesman having congratulated Muhammadu Buhari his conqueror, we must quickly remind that our struggle was never about Jonathan nor about presidency.
“President Goodluck Jonathan was an establishment beneficiary of our struggle, our sweat and blood that many bled and died for. He was never in the struggle and he can never wish away our collective march forward for statesmanship. Yes indeed to an extent he was a mitigating factor in self-determination pursuit as we went on sabbatical, this mitigation he seem to have willingly repudiated.
“The days coming will be critical, we shall study all the conditions and consult widely before determining the way going forward for our collective existence and survival as a people. The days coming shall either drive the quest of integration or further separate us,” Dokubo declared in April 2007.
Clearly, while it can be argued that the Goodluck Jonathan administration did not create militancy in the Niger Delta region, it certainly empowered the brains behind it. The militants are now richer, bolder and have the security blueprints of the pipelines and the waterways. They have also amassed necessary war arsenal to wreak maximum havoc on the economy.
Dialogue is good but maximum force will also be required from the Nigerian state to tame the misguided avengers.