Polscope with Eddy Odivwri
When the crisis in the Niger Delta reached a head around 2008, the name of Mr Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo had become a reference item.
By early 2009, the platform for the agitation of the Niger Delta militants called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had become as fiercely violent as danger can be. And when the group allegedly killed eleven soldiers, in the creeks of the Niger Delta, it was the crowning of the villainous profile of Tompolo. He was declared wanted by Brig Gen Yaki Bello. With smoking guns and crushing arsenal, the Nigerian army swooped on Camp 5, the Okerenkoko base of the Tompolo-led militants. Tompolo was nowhere to be found. But his camp was leveled and armoury ravaged and seized.¬† That was during the war. Peace has since followed, after the late President Umaru Yar‚ÄôAdua granted the militants amnesty.
Today, the erstwhile villain called Tompolo, has transformed to a loyal ally of the same government that wanted him dead. He is now a valued patriot. In fact, they have long become business partners, with both parties providing complimentary services to boot.
Sometime in 2011, the Federal government awarded a pipeline surveillance contract worth $103.4m (about N15 billion)¬†¬† to Tompolo‚Äôs company‚ÄîGlobal West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL). It was essentially to protect the nation‚Äôs water ways so the theft of crude which was going on at the time would be curbed. The underlying argument was that since the militants are from the creeks, they know the in-and-out of the crannies of the creek, therefore, they are in a better position to provide security to the pipelines, repel pirates and oil thieves who usually sail into the Nigerian waters at night to steal oil. The Federal Government, it seemed, was persuaded by the argument, especially with its determination¬† to court the militants so there would be peace. Sale of crude oil had dropped to all time 700,000 bpd because of the¬† unrest.¬† The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), a government agency, awarded the contract packaged like a concessionaire agreement with the private sector. It practically ceded the security and protection of the nation‚Äôs maritime to an individual, thus making the Nigerian Navy (NN) somewhat irrelevant in the business of securing our territorial waters. Beside Tompolo, other militant leaders like¬† Asari Dokubo, Dagogo, Egberi Papa, got N2billion contract to also secure the oil pipelines in Bayelsa and Rivers States. N580m contract was awarded Boyloaf‚Äôs (another militant)‚Äôs company.
But two years down the line, the volume of oil theft is unprecedented and unimaginable. All the oil companies are wailing. Even the federal government is perplexed, wringing its hands in near helplessness.¬† From Shell to Chevron, down to Agip, Total, etc, it is the same story: brazen and unbridled theft of crude. Indeed, many of the oil companies have had several shut-ins because of the oil theft. Once, it used to be done cautiously. Not anymore. Production and sales has dropped to somewhere around 1.3m bpd now, down from 2.7m bpd.¬† The manner of the theft now is such that seems to ask:¬† ‚ÄúYes, I am stealing, what can you do?‚Äù It is more than ever before, an organized cartel. The arising national loss is humongous.¬† The wisdom in giving fish to the rat to keep is so there would be no guessing who ate the fish, if and when it is tampered with. The attendant verbiage is that it must be the rat who ate the fish kept in its custody.
So in this case, Tompolo and co were given the lucrative contract of securing the pipelines, and everyday, not only are raw crude being stolen by armed local and foreign crooks, even pipelines are being vandalized across the country. The present drop in electricity generation in the country has been blamed on disrupted gas pipelines which have disrupted supplies to gas stations. So there is no gas to power the gas stations. And everybody is in darkness. On every front, the nation is losing egregiously. Yet, the nation pays some people for the same job of protecting and securing the pipelines.
You get a picture of how badly the nation‚Äôs economy has been bled from all its pores, on account of the oil theft, when you listen to the Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She said the nation was losing about 300,000 barrels of crude per day which translates to the loss of $1 billion in revenue per month. So on the average, the nation loses $12 billion per annum to oil thieves, yet, it pays billions of Naira for the protection of the same vandalised pipelines. Little wonder we have a plethora of private jets in the country.¬† It does not make sense!
It is not enough for government to say the 10-year Tompolo contract will not be renewed, it should indeed demand an explanation for the sharp rise in oil theft. Otherwise, the impression will be created that government is treating this economic sabotage with kids glove because it is either a conniver or that it is helpless. None will be appeasing.¬† Only in such a government will a security man be so serviced with huge salary and reward when his master‚Äôs prized properties and treasures are being stolen with vexatious efficiency.
All kinds of economic malfeasance now take place in the Niger Delta. With illegal refineries in almost everywhere in the creeks, booming illegal bunkering , naked theft of crude oil and routine pipeline vandalism, the nation‚Äôs economy is indeed hemorrhaging¬† and unless some caution is urgently applied, a collapse is imminent, no matter what government propagandists want us to believe.
The final and last issue on this matter is the subtext:¬† what has been the lot of the people of the Niger Delta four years after the so-called amnesty programme was¬† granted?¬† What is the fortune line of the region? Yes, former insurgents are being trained in local and foreign institutions and centres, what has happened to the vast majority of the people of the zone? Where are the promised roads, hospitals, schools, bridges, and all the accoutrements of better life, whose absence, ab initio, powered the protests in the region?
Pray, was the entire amnesty programme meant to just ‚Äúsettle‚Äù the ‚Äútroublemakers‚Äù of the region and forget the rest of the peaceful people of the region in their aged misery and fury? Was that the intent of Yar‚Äô √Ådua? I scarcely think so!