In what appears to be a return of fresh hostilities, suspected Niger Delta militants have bombed major gas pipelines in Delta State inflicting maximum damage on the already comatose Nigeria oil industry, and by extension, the ailing Nigerian economy.
The blow-up which occurred on January 14, 2015, affected major gas pipelines in the Escravos oil hub in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State believed to be the mains conveying gas supplies to Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country.
It would be recalled that few days earlier, the former Niger Delta militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemokpolo (a.k.a Tompolo) was declared wanted by the Nigeria security following a Federal High court in Lagos bench warrant for his arrest.
However, the Gbaramatu-born High Chief has distanced himself from the recent bombing, noting that he had raised an alarm a few days earlier that some militants were planning to sabotage oil facilities in the Niger Delta with a view to making it look like an attempt by him to hit back at a federal government determined to prosecute him on charges bordering on corruption. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) had accused the ex-militant of corruptly enriching himself and engaging in economic crimes ranging from N13billion, N15billion and N34 billion respectively. He is accused of engaging in fraud relating to a land acquired for the establishment of Maritime University in Okerenkoko of Delta State. EFCC’s letter of invitation had specifically requested Ekpemupolo to appear at the Lagos office of the anti-graft agency on December 17. There are other sundry issues bordering on allegations of fraud and corruption. After failing to appear, the Court had issued a warrant of arrest for the arrest and subsequent trial of the ex-militant.
But the ex-militant leader speaking through his media adviser, argued that he was aware of the charges against him and was prepared to seek justice through legal means.
These are not the best of times for the Nigerian economy, especially with the dwindling fortunes from oil which remains the only string of hope, at least for now, which the Buhari administration relies on to run the government.
The anti-corruption crusade of the government seems to have come to a critical moment where the federal might will be put to test on how successfully it can tackle the challenge of prosecuting high-profile Nigerians being investigated for various corruption-related offences. One of such personalities is the ex-militant warlord, Tompolo.
Tompolo agreed to a cease-fire following the late President Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme for the former militants who also agreed to surrender their weapons in exchange for the amnesty largesse. While former President Goodluck’s administration lasted, Tompolo got mouth-watering contracts from the former president who ensured he kept him and his boys busy outside the creeks.
However, the huge patronage he enjoyed from the Jonathan-led government was not without some criticisms from a cross section of Nigerians. For instance, Tompolo’s former colleagues-in-arms accused him of sidelining them and ‘eating alone’. When he was in control of the creeks, Tompolo maintained some kind of military command with him as the Commander and a battalion of foot-soldiers. But shortly after he embraced the government amnesty programme, he was said to have cornered everything, alienating his former field commanders from the juicy contracts he was getting from the federal government. Since then his relationship with his colleagues has soured.
Whether the recent bombing are planned to implicate him or it was Tompolo’s way of trying to hit back at the Buhari administration over its bid to prosecute him, remains a mystery for the Nigerian security to unravel. But what is very clear at this point is that President Buhari’s battle-fronts are increasing by the day as the corruption monster tries to fight back.
With crude oil price dropping below $30 dollars per barrel, it is obvious that the 2016 deficit budget of the federal government of over N6 trillion will not be too easy to finance. And in the absence of any other tangible sources of revenue to cater for the country’s balance of payment in the current year, all hope is still hinged on the dwindling oil revenue which energy watchers predict will crash further. Only recently, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe Emmanuel Kachukwu, projected an increase from the current 2.5 million b/d production of crude oil in the country to 3 million b/d in the next few months. But the recent resumption of hostilities by militants poses a real threat to Kachukwu’s projection and to the fragile Nigerian economy.
It would be a mistake for the government to treat the Escravos bombing lightly. It is capable of finally bringing the country to its knees and returning it to a level of crude production worse than the pre-Yar’Adua days. Boko Haram’s activities in the North East have adversely affected development in the country but successive governments, including the current President Buhari-led administration, have managed to keep on. This has been made possible by the trickling revenue still flowing from the Niger Delta oil hub; but a total shutdown of that source might spell doom for the entire country.
At the moment, no one seems to know the stance of Mr. President on the amnesty programme. A retired army general from the Niger Delta has been appointed to coordinate the programme, but the fact that the programme ought to live its full cycle this year and no visible plan as to what becomes of it thereafter remains a puzzle. Besides, complaints about the inability of the Amnesty Committee to address the huge outstanding allowances due to beneficiaries of the programme, especially those stranded in their various training institutions abroad and within the country remain worrisome. In addition to this, some discreet allowances which hitherto have been accruing to some of the ‘ex-generals’ have come under the scrutiny of the committee recently prompting it to adopt some auditing measures for the payment of allowances to the beneficiaries.
Does this have anything to do with the recent bombing?
But some Ijaws who spoke with The New Diplomat blamed the resumption of hostilities on Tompolo, advising him to turn himself up and face the matter from the legal points. Said one Ijaw activist: ‘’ He should face them at the law court rather than running into hiding and allowing our poor people to suffer another round of hardship in the Niger Delta. Did these poor people enjoy the payments with him? How much was paid to the community as compensation? Who was the Lawyer that drafted the agreements? They should all be invited by the EFCC to explain why the community and its people were so short-changed in this deal allegedly by our ex-militant leaders. Besides, I think blowing up pipelines would not help matters. There are laws of economic sabotage which if applied to the later, have grave implications for what is currently on-going in that area. I would humbly advise him to go and answer the charges….”
It is also pertinent that a cross section of views from the Niger Delta, especially among the Ijaw-speaking areas, point to the fact that the ongoing anti-corruption war of Mr. President is not only politically lopsided but particularly directed at the Ijaws. This grouse, perhaps, could be responsible for the arms build-up in some parts of the Niger Delta. There seems to be a nexus between this general feeling and violence in the Bayelsa governorship election and re-run election. But another school of thought in the Niger Delta disagrees sharply. One Timi said: ‘’ Whoever says so is wrong. They are doing so for their selfish motives. Some of them have used the name of the Niger Delta agitations to make themselves over-night billionaires. They got slush contracts from the Jonathan’s government using the struggle as a basis. But we have all seen that it is all fake. People are much wiser now and they are not ready to be used as guinea-pigs anymore by a group of self-serving individuals who call themselves militants or freedom fighters.”
A tactical handling of a resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta is not cowardice ,neither is the use of military might, bravado. Attempts must therefore be made to distinguish between sheer criminality and a just struggle for the Niger Delta. Yet at another level still, a School of thought posits that allegations of fraud and corruption should be dealt with according to the laws of the Land in order not to allow people to misconstrue the pursuit of anti-graft war against Tompolo and his fellow accused persons to mean a targeted war against the Ijaws. An analyst added: ‘’Let Tompolo give up himself and not allow innocent Ijaw people in the creeks suffer another round of bullets from the Nigerian Military. On the other hand, the Federal Government must face the war against corruption with just and open transparency in order for politicians not to latch on it to achieve political goals.”
Yet Nigerians are waiting on President Buhari to deliver on his promise of positive change.
Hon Abdul Oroh to Tompolo
If Tompolo is reading this, let me advise you as a brother from Bendel : you should not go down fighting. You did well by accepting amnesty. If there is a case against you, fight it in court as you have been doing. The charges against
you does not include the death penalty. As we say in Bendel, man no die e no rotten. If you are to refund something, do so. You will never be poor again and you will still be able to help your people. Don’t defy the court . Don’t blow up oil pipelines or take up arms. You have grown beyond that. DO A DEAL. You can’t defeat the federal government. They know more about you now than before. Even your fellow Ijaw militants will betray you. So don’t fight. Follow the law. It may appear challenging for now but ultimately, you will live to tell your life story at old age to your grand children. Don’t die as a bandit. Die as an ex- freedom fighter who gave up arms for peace to reign in your country. God bless you.
+Hon Abdul Oroh, Journalist, Lawyer, Human Rights activist, former House of Representatives Member and currently Honourable Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Edo State Government, cautioning ex-Militant Tompolo against blowing up oil installations and pipelines in the Niger Delta.