By Ori Martins
The dust raised by the Federal Government’s N4.5 billion annual pipeline surveillance contract awarded to former leader of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo, may not have settled down but it has effectively torn the militants in the oil rich region apart.
Obviously rattled by how the federal government sensationally mentioned Tompolo as the sole supervisor of the pipeline security deal, another leading Niger Delta freedom fighter, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, sounding crestfallen and certainly dejected wondered why his comrade at arms, Tompolo, ingeniously excluded him and other ex-militant leaders in the contract.
Dokubo, known for his frankness, and even truculence, revealed that the initial pipeline surveillance awarded to the Niger Delta militant leaders was a $144 million coastal protection contract by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.
Therefore, the leader of the Niger-Delta People’s Volunteer Force, NDPVF, launched vituperation against Tompolo shortly after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, NNPCL, awarded the pipeline surveillance contract to Tompolo and other contractors in the Niger-Delta on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Going by the reactions and responses of all of elders, youths and other Niger Delta groups’ leaders, it can be deduced that Dokubo may be fighting a lost battle. This is even as most of the stakeholders in the region who have a say or who are opinion moulders have directly or indirectly given their support to Tompolo to the chagrin of NDPVF leader’s anger, bitterness and frustration.
For instance, the commander of the defunct MEND, Victor-Ben Ebikabowei, otherwise known as Boyloaf, and other ex-militant leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta, from reliable sources, are not happy with Dokubo and have reportedly pitched their tent with Tompolo.
Boyloaf and his group are of the view that Dokubo’s castigation of Tompolo on issues concerning the pipeline surveillance contract “was purely unnecessary and cannot be tolerated”.
Dokubo who did not hide his bitterness on Tompolo’s romance with the Federal Government and subsequent award of the pipeline contract, made his point known through a post on the social media.
According to him; “Many people have called me about Tompolo getting a contract. I do not have a problem with Tompolo having a contract, never, and I will never have a problem with Tompolo or any other person.
“Tompolo had been doing contracts, I never complained. Now, during the time of Goodluck, he awarded through NIMASA a coastal protection contract to Tompolo, Amanyanabo Ateke Tom, myself, Boyloaf, Egberipapa, Farah and everybody went to meet with the former President and he said the contract was for all of us.
“And we left that place. We tried to communicate with Tompolo. He said the contract was exclusively his. We did not want to raise an eyebrow over the $144 million that they gave him per year. He did that contract for two years. He did not give anybody a dime.
“Today, they lied that the Trans-Nembe line contract was the Olu of Warri’s, who has Rivers State; it is a lie. I am talking of Kalabari, I am not talking of Rivers State. 83 kilometers of pipeline pass through Kalabari, through my native Kula, my native Ilama to Cawthorne Channel. They gave it to him.
“People said he is not a greedy man. If a man can take $144 million that the former President gave us, Goodluck is alive, let them meet him. Boyloaf was there, Ateke was there, ask them. I will not try to please anybody; he vehemently refused that the contract is his, that he will involve nobody and did not involve any of us.
“I do not need anybody’s respect, you do not have to respect me, I will say the truth. You cannot take what is Gbaramatu’s, after taking Gbaramatu, you want to take Kalabari’s own (portion). I do not want to talk about these things but when you make comments, I will talk about it, and I will clarify issues.
“So, if the Olu of Warri has taken Rivers State, he took this, he took that, what was the approach of Olu of Warri to the people from where they gave them and the approach of Tompolo? Did Tompolo reach out to anybody when he got the contract? He assembled small boys at Oporoza and people started complaining, and he said we should come to Oporoza”.
He noted why he would not go to Oporoza. “I spoke to him on the phone; I am older than him; that I should take my two legs, enter a boat, and go to Oporoza. Amanyanabo Ateke should take his two legs, enter a boat, and come to Oporoza. All the others should come, they went because they want the money, I cannot condescend to that level because of money and go to Oporoza.
“What is the approach of the Olu of Warri to the people within the area that he operates, how has the Olu of Warri been reaching out to the people? Did he sit somewhere and be sending people or even if he sent people, did he ask all of them to come to Ode-Itsekiri or to Warri to meet him in his palace?”
Meanwhile, Chief Lori-Ogbebor who seems to be the lone voice covertly backing Dokubo, descended heavily on the Federal Government for its inability to maintain peace and order in the Niger Delta in particular and the country as a whole. She advised the federal government to immediately cancel the contract awarded to Tompolo unless she wants a worse insecurity situation in the already troubled Niger Delta zone.
“I have called you because of the anarchy in our land. There is anarchy in Niger Delta. Some weeks ago, I was a guest at national television and they sought my position on insecurity in the country.
‘’What they asked was connected to the train tragedy. But I told him then that the instability in the country, which is in the Northern areas of the country, is little compared to what was coming in Niger Delta.
“I said there will be anarchy and it will be very serious. I told the anchor people should be worried about what is happening in the Niger Delta for two reasons. One, the Niger Delta is where the food is produced, the food basket of the nation and is also what gives us foreign exchange. Till today, people have been crying about foreign exchange and it keeps worsening every day.
“It is not only that our food basket will stop, our food production, even the foreign exchange of Nigeria will keep going down the drains. I told them, kidnapping is one thing but killing, bloodshed and kidnapping, alongside lack of foreign exchange will be double tragedy. At the time I said it, they said I did not understand the question posed to me.
‘’But I am sure now that they understand. It is not more than four weeks and everyone is running amok, with revelations coming out. When I talked about small and big thieves, they did not understand me. When I talked about vessels being used to take our oil to the high seas and oil bunkering, they did not understand me. I warned then that it is not the small thieves that they should worry about but the big thieves and since then, they have pursued vessels out of our waters.
“Mallam Kyari, GMD of NNPC agreed that everybody is involved in the stealing, that they even found pipelines in churches and mosques. That is how bad it is. I said then that the problem we have is FG, all they do, instead of tackling this problem, is to give few people money to go and give few boys in the communities.,” she noted in a press conference in Abuja.
Yet, other stakeholders in the pulsating contract cold war disagreed with her. The Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, a rights group in Niger-Delta, sternly called on the Federal Government not to toe the line drawn by Lori-Ogbebor to revoke the pipeline surveillance contract awarded Tompolo.
Boyloaf, who read the resolution on behalf of the other ex-militant leaders stated thus; “I condemn the attack on Tompolo by Dokubo-Asari. This is unacceptable and unexpected of a leader of his calibre.
‘’He is qualified for the contract and Dokubo-Asari did not oppose when somebody else from Edo State, the late Capt. Hosa Okunbo did a similar contract in Rivers. His company still operates in Rivers.”
From the elders and region’s leaders’ point of view, the battle for the control of the pipeline contract deal must not continue. This intervention was carried out by The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, a socio cultural body in the South-South zone, and Ijaw National Congress, INC, the umbrella body that binds all socio-cultural groups of Ijaw ethnic nationality in the Niger Delta.
Another leader who has called on Dokubo to walk and work harmoniously with Tompolo for the sake of tranquillity in the region, is Dr. Clarkson Aribogha. A respected voice in Niger Delta affairs, Aribogha charged Dokubo, to “sheathe his sword and opt for peace with his fellow Ijaw brother, Tompolo.”
In his advice, “You cannot destroy the house you have built. It is better not to get involved than get started because there are more rivers to cross. Dokubo must tread softly over the issue else, he may take the wrong step.”
He labelled Dokubo’s approach on the entire affair as an “emotional outburst”, insisting whether it was “Ijaw national struggle, Kalabari struggle or personality egoistic struggle”.
Aribogha made it known to Dokubo that “Federal Government never gave contract to someone sitting at home, uninterested person, or to someone who never applied.”
He added, “Contract award is never by political appointment or civil service recruitment, but based on federal character and an application fulfilling requirements, integrity, capacity, trustworthiness, and acceptance and not by coercion; but rather on recommendation,