•Why security agents don’t want to ‘sacrifice’ him
Regional Editor, South-South
MYSTERIOUS to many Nigerians, ex- militant leader and General Officer Commanding, GOC, of the Niger Delta struggle, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, met with President Muhammadu Buhari soon after his 2015 victory in Abuja.
Some influential Nigerians facilitated the closed-door meeting at which Tompolo pledged to assist Buhari to maintain peace in the Niger Delta region, but immediately after he left the President’s office some other equally powerful Nigerians commenced a plot to throw spanner in the works.
What went awry? Why did security agents chase Tompolo underground soon after his visit to President Buhari? Who changed President Buhari’s mind after he accepted Tompolo’s olive branch and why? Where did Tompolo escape to and how is he surviving in his hideout? Saturday Vanguard tracks the affair.
Since the 48-year-old ex-militant leader, popularly known as General Officer Commanding, GOC, of the Niger Delta struggle, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, swiftly went undercover in 2016, following a Federal High Court, Lagos bench warrant and subsequent manhunt for him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, nobody can say precisely his whereabouts.
However, a quiet person, his current secret life contrasts strongly with the state of affairs in 2009 after he accepted amnesty, as the Federal Government under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua accorded him a VIP status with police details, while the then Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, provided a choice guesthouse for him in Warri.
The Nigeria Police Force, NPF, only withdrew its operatives from Tompolo, in fact, a High Chief andthe Ibe-ebidouwei of Ijaw Nation seven years after in 2016 after EFCC slammed charges of corruption against him.
Just as Tompolo described the criminal charges against him as political, so militants and some rights groups in the region believe and they have remained vehement in demanding that government drop the charges for enduring peace to prevail.
At a time, Tompolo dared that he would appear in court to prove his innocence, but following intelligence he received, the GOC backtracked, observably opting to live and fight another day.
He was some years ago, a billionaire and the richest ex-militant leader in the country. Sources close to him confided that with the freezing of his bank accounts and assets, things are no longer at ease with the ex-militant leader.
Strides that set him apart
Barely educated Tompolo sent many Ijaw sons to institutions of higher learning, within and outside the country on scholarship. Until he ran out of cash and handed over the Cottage Hospital, Okerenkoko, to the Delta state government, he single handedly equipped the health institution with up to the minute facilities and paid the salaries of doctors, nurses and other workers in its employ.
That Oporoza, the traditional headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, is now a community to reckon with in the riverside area of Delta state is by his power. He bankrolled the construction of a more dignifying palace for the monarch after the military bombarded the former one in 2009 or thereabout.
He made Kurutie, his father’s hometown and temporal site of NMU, Okerenkoko, to become the little London of Warri South-West Local Government Area with imposing structures in the creek community.
That Okerenkoko, where the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro is from, has become the fastest growing riverine community in the state presently is not without Tompolo’s imprint. Otuaro, however, has used his authority as number two citizen of the state to drag other infrastructure to the town.
Tompolo also facilitated jobs for contractors of Ijaw and Niger Delta origin, who are captains of industry today.
He practically turned Gbaramatu kingdom around to the envy of leaders of other neighboring kingdoms, who wondered how he got the vision to embark on some of altruistic projects.
How he survives, whereabouts, authority
Ironically, he is reportedly surviving nowadays through the assistance of some business associates and friends, who truly believe that he is not the devil that the system has portrayed him.
Regarding his whereabouts, this paper learned that he relocated to his Gbaramatu Kingdom home base from Warri when security agents started stalking him and had remained there ever since. However, some security agents are sympathetic to his cause for the region and sent messages through intermediaries that he should just stay calm wherever he is.
No doubt, his authority has weakened with his current travail, but Tompolo still exerts significant influence and commands authority in Gbaramatu Kingdom, where is he is admired with awe, Ijaw nation and Niger Delta.
A militant leader told Saturday Vanguard, “Yes, he still wields influence not just among the youths and ex-militants, but also among the political class and elders as he possesses true leadership qualities.”
“He is honest, passionate and has a clear vision of urbanizing the rural areas for the people to live a decent life. He is worried about the crime rate in the region and has converted many criminally- minded youths.
Still fighting criminality from hideout
“He has turned the mind of over 10,000 youths from crime in the last two years in the Niger Delta region, which obviously reduced the rate of crime in the region. He has been dealing with the issue of kidnapping by way of working with security personnel in arresting kidnappers promptly,” the militant leader added.
Asked to mention the criminal cases Tompolo handled while underground, the militant leader simply said, “You are a journalist; find out, he has helped to tackle many kidnapping, destruction of crude oil facilities and assassinations. It is because of his nationalistic role to assist security agents, especially in crude oil facilities destruction cases, that security agents, who know him, are not ready to sacrifice him.”
“If you want to know, he fished out the killers of one Chief Tortor in Tebijoh community in Gbaramatu kingdom and as I speak to you, he is presently working towards the apprehension of the kidnappers that took away the mother and aunt of the Pere of Kabowei Kingdom. The abductors released them few days ago after collecting huge ransom,” he stated.
One thing that goes for Tompolo today in Gbaramatu kingdom and Niger Delta region is the establishment and take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko. It is a project he envisioned would bring development to his people and he fought for it.
A Gbaramatu leader said, “The people believe and know that he is truly working for their own interest, as evident in the role he played in the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko. This is why they have been showing him love over the years and particularly at this time of his travails at the instance of the Federal Government.”
A peace deal truncated by distrust
What went awry? Soon after President Muhammadu Buhari took over from former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Tompolo paid him a visit in Abuja where he reportedly assured him of his support, having accepted amnesty in 2009 and already involved in peace and security programmes with the Federal Government.
A dependable military source hinted, “That visit to President Buhari in 2015 was facilitated by a former chairman of the Board of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Administration Agency, NIMASA, Col Agbu Kefas (retd) and one-time Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. It was to work with the government because of his wealth of experience in the Niger Delta region, as peace is a prerequisite for good governance.”
Unfortunately, two former governors and powerful leaders of All Progressives Congress, APC, from the region were not comfortable with the visit. They, according to unconfirmed report, purportedly “poisoned” the mind of Buhari, which led a former National Security Adviser to direct the EFCC to arrest Tompolo.
The action of the known politicians , who instigated the fresh security surveillance on Tompolo, who had denounced violent agitation and assured President Buhari of his support, infuriated some militants and his ex-militant followers, who vented their anger by bombing oil facilities, nearly crippling the nation’s economy.
Our source confirmed, “Tompolo’s followers were angered by the action of government, but he (Tompolo) was not involved in their action. Rather, he was the one appealing to them to stop the bombings because he no longer believed in violence as a means to resolve problems.”
A confidant of the ex-militant leader told this reporter that despite his travails, Tompolo is happy that the President Buhari –led Federal Government finally allowed the take-off of a project dear to him, NMU, Okerenkoko, which one of Buhari’s ministers did everything to stultify.
His words, “Though his freedom is inhibited, Tompolo is very happy because Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, is a dream come through. He is so passionate about the development of the coastal communities.”
…Read newspapers, watch television in hideout
Wherever he is hiding, does Tompolo read newspapers and watch television? We asked, our source snapped, “Yes, he watches TV and reads newspapers. He is not happy that the current government has destroyed the legacies left behind by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration.”
How they manipulated Buhari against Tompolo- Dr. Bebenimibo, Media consultant
Media Consultant to Tompolo, Dr. Paul Bebenimibo, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard stated, “Tompolo is in Gbaramatu kingdom. The government just wants to kill him through extra judicial means and is not interested in prosecuting him.”
Asked why the moves by some politicians to find a political solution to the Tompolo debacle seemed not to have materialized, he said, “The truth of the matter is that the people around the President are manipulating him because of his health condition and weak nature. These are evident in his handling of issues like the installation of National Assembly leadership and certain electioneering crises in some states like, Imo, Zamfara, Rivers, Ogun, etc. They are using same method on him in Tompolo’s case. Simply put, he has no total control over the government. He is running the government in proxy.”
Dr. Bebenimibo corroborated the love for Tompolo by the people, saying, “Yes, even the little children in the region know that the charges against Tompolo are political. He has done far more for the people than the government.”
Hear him, “He (Tompolo) was accused of selling empty land to the government, whereas it was a fully developed property of over 15 gigantic structures originally meant for his International Diving Academy, and this he did to enable the government start the Nigerian Maritime University.”
“He was also accused of partaking in sharing NIMASA fund whereas it was fund due for Global West Vessels Specialist Limited, which is in partnership with NIMASA in surging up its revenue base. He assisted Global West in its duties and was not among its directors,” Dr Bebenimibo added.
Sad over looting of his property by security agents
Bebenimibo, however, pointed out that Tompolo was bitter over the looting of his property in his boatyard in Warri by security agents deployed to protect the assets. “He felt so sad that personnel of the same government that is persecuting him happened to be the people that looted his property. That further reveals that his case is purely witch-hunt and jealousy.”
He disclosed, “Tompolo has not stopped drawing Federal Government’s attention to his strong conviction that some persons were politically witch-hunting him and not withstanding his open letters to President Buhari, his emissaries explained his position to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, when he visited Gbaramatu Kingdom and he (Osinbajo) also saw things himself.”
…Still carries out his function as Egbesu chief priest
The consultant hinted that the ex-militant leader, who is the chief priest of Egbesu deity, has not abdicated his function, saying, “Yes, he is a very religious person and so still perform his religious duties despite his present condition.”