analyses the possible cause of the recent agitation by the Niger Delta Avengers. Tompolo was implicated, although he denied the accusation. The Avengers seek a Niger Delta sovereign state and in their quest to attain this objective, pipelines of oil companies have been bombed. People within the region have had to flee their homes as the army has invaded the communities. Maryjane Arubi is a final year student of Gbaramatu Grammar School in Okerenkoko, Warri South local government area of Delta state. She finished the West African School Certificate Examination (WAEC) in the middle of May and she is confident of achieving a good grade, believing that she did well in the examination. Now she is taking the second exam, the National Examinations Council (NECO), in Kurutie, another community in the same council area. But on Monday, May 30, 2016, the students were sent home as they could not continue the exams due to the heavy military presence; the warships and the jet fighters deployed to the area in search of the Niger Delta Avengers in Gbaramatu kingdom. Mary and her colleagues stopped their exams and fled the town along with their parents. According to her: “We had to flee because we can still remember what happened a few years back when the soldiers came and leveled many of the Gbaramatu communities in search of the militants. My parents decided that we leave now that the soldiers have not started shooting on sight.” Mary, her parents and other community members were seen boarding the engine boat and ferrying themselves out of the community with no specific date of returning to their ancestral home.
As the boat moved out of the town and swerved into the middle of the brackish water, there was a painful sigh on the face of her father, Michael Arubi, who had left his fishing business in search of safety for his family members. The family of four is now in Warri with relatives, thereby swelling the number of residents in that home.
Desertion A formerly bubbling community in the Niger Delta region, Gbaramatu kingdom has become almost god forsaken. A first time visitor to the community would be shocked to see almost a ghost town. Residents, including students, women and the aged, have fled to safer havens, not necessarily because of the emergence of the new militant sect, the Niger Delta Avengers, but due to the heavy military presence and the threatening jet fighters deployed to the area by the federal government of Nigeria. The military personnel are in the kingdom under strict instructions from the presidency to search for the Niger Delta Avengers and take them bound to the Nigerian army headquarters for prosecution. Gbaramatu kingdom, comprising communities like Okporoza, Kokodiagbene, Okerenkoko, Kurutie and many others, host most of the oil firms in Delta state. Chevron, Shell, Agip and other oil prospecting firms have pipeline installations that crisscross the area. Besides the pipelines, they have their base in the Ijaw communities. It is therefore the major area of oil production in the state. Besides Gbaramatu, Escravos and Burutu are also oil-producing communities in Delta. Essentially, Delta is one of the major oil states in the Niger Delta region of the country. In discussing issues affecting the region, Delta is therefore a major stakeholder which cannot be wished away by a wave of the hand. However, despite the quantity of oil being produced in the region, the Niger Delta is conspicuously lacking in its share of the proceeds. In the matter of social amenities and the good things of life, the region shows no visible sign of being the reservoir of funds feeding the entire country with its oil wealth. It can therefore be likened to a paradox of plenty: a region with so much wealth, yet the people live in abject poverty, want and penury. Even basic necessities of life are lacking, including potable water, electricity, good roads, schools and hospitals. In addition, the environment is degraded as the oil firms have destroyed the ecosystem and the polluted the environment. A former information commissioner in the defunct Bendel state, Veronica Bamuza, accused the Nigerian government of marginalizing the region. “Any time I visit my country home in the Ijaw area of Delta state, I always weep because there are neither facilities nor social amenities in the area, especially in the Ijaw speaking area of the Niger Delta region.
“The successive governments in the country lack conscience. If not they wouldn’t have treated the Ijaws the way they did. The very few schools we have in the riverine areas lack enough teachers to teach the few students in the schools. The children, especially the girls, are always seen roaming the streets, hence they become easy prey to young boys who make them mothers at very early age of their lives,” Mrs. Bamuza, an octogenarian, said. This apparent neglect is clearly a major cause of the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta region. Following the political leaders’ quest for a regionalised government, the 13% derivation and the call for resource control, militant groups in the heyday of High Chief Government Ekpemupolo took over the struggle from the political leaders and felt the best approach to bring the government’s attention to their plight was to blow up oil pipelines, kidnap expatriates and demand ransom payments. READ ALSO: Feature: The plague ravaging the nation’s tomatoes The violence reigned until the days of the late President Yar’Adua who organized an amnesty for the militants. His government was unable to complete the programme before he died. His vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, took over as president and the amnesty was fully implemented. It led to over 30,000 youths surrendering their guns and declaring peace in the fragmented Niger Delta region. However, an important measure that Jonathan implemented in order to quell the uprising and placate the militants was to award pipeline surveillance contracts to many of the repentant warlords in the region. These contracts guaranteed many of the militants millions of naira, even making some, like Tompolo, billionaires. And while Jonathan remained in the presidency, and the former militants made billions from pipeline surveillance contracts, peace reigned and the youths were subdued. But the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani of northern extraction, brought an end to the pipeline surveillance contracts. Buhari viewed the arrangement as uncalled for and corrupt. The contracts were cancelled. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Avengers The youths saw the development as a systematic plot to stop their source of funding and an action in the wrong direction. Tompolo, who is believed to be the leader of the repentant militants, has consistently pledged to be law abiding and align with the programme of President Muhammadu Buhari. But in the process of Buhari’s prosecution of his anti-corruption war, the sledgehammer of the president fell on Tompolo over the sale and purchase of the property where the Maritime University is built at Okerenkoko in Delta state. The land on which the university is built, it was learnt, belonged to Tompolo, but in order to establish the university in the community, he sold the property to the federal government through the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). As Buhari’s corruption searchlight beamed on him, he became a wanted person on the list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). This was the beginning of Tompolo’s travails at the hands of the federal government. To evade arrest and prosecution, he went underground, communicating to the world through his media adviser, one Paul Bebenimibo. While in hiding, he has consistently pledged his allegiance to the federal government, vowing to remain law abiding and denying any plans to return to militancy, even preaching to others to lay down weapons and let the region be developed. He may have thought that his repentant proclamations would melt Buhari and make him cease chasing him. He was, however, wrong. On several occasions, the EFCC placed advertorials in the media calling for Tompolo to appear in court to defend the case against him. His home town in Gbaramatu was also invaded in an attempt to arrest him, but his whereabouts has remained a mystery to the security agents in the country. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Court jails Army colonels for duping church The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) While his game of hide and seek continued with the presidency and the EFCC, a new militant group emerged out of the blue, named the Niger Delta Avengers. Initially, the country took them with a pinch of salt, believing them to be jokers. But their actions and the guerilla methods with which they operate have thrown the nation into confusion about the best way to handle them and quell the uprising in the region. While the nation and the Nigerian army were sleeping, taking the group for granted, the militants unleashed their first onslaught on February 10, 2016, through coordinated multiple attacks on the Shell Bonny Soku Gas Export line, which is one of the country’s gas exporting platforms in Rivers state. Following the success of the first attack, the militants went on social media to announce to the world their birth and threatened to cause more havoc to the nation’s oil sector. Initially, the federal government and most Nigerians dismissed the Avengers with a wave of the hand. However, they took the group seriously after the Bonny Soku Gas Export line attack. This line conveys natural gas to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant, and to an independent power plant at Gbaran, near Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa state. Not relenting, the group now hit Shell Petroleum Development Company’s vital underwater Forcados 48-inch export pipeline. The attack almost brought the nation’s economy to a standstill as oil exportation was adversely affected. On the same day, the group blew up the Clough Creek Tebidaba Agip Pipeline Manifold in Bayelsa state. Though the group suspended attacks on oil installations in the region following the deployment of more soldiers to the area, it resumed attacks on oil facilities in May with an attack on Chevron Valve Platform located at Abiteye, a Chevron offshore platform. Oil experts say the platform is the most significant of Chevron’s platforms as it serves as the main connecting point linking all other platforms, and it also serves as a fulcrum for Chevron BOP and the Chevron tank farm. While the federal government was still trying to figure out what it could do to keep the group at bay, the Avengers launched another coordinated attack on the Chevron Well D25 in Abiteye, and blew up major pipelines which, according to security agents in the area, have the ability to put the flow stations that feed the Chevron tank farm out of operation. The Avengers have repeatedly evaded security to destroy crude oil pipelines unhindered, even with the tight security presence in the region. As the nation realized that the group’s activities were already getting out of hand, the federal government and Nigerians began to call for a ceasefire, as the nation’s economy was already being adversely affected. However, the group gave 12 conditions to President Buhari to be fulfilled before it would agree to a ceasefire and allow the economy to pick up again. The conditions, in the reasoning of Buhari and the Nigerian military, are not attainable, hence the decision to handle the insurgents with the deployment of military jet fighters, powerful gunboats and battalions of the Nigerian military to the area. But the presence of the military has not deterred the boys from hitting the oil installations, and the military remains helpless to prevent the attacks. READ ALSO: 365 days of the Boko Haram fight: Experts score Buhari highly Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Ayiri Emami Ayiri Emami Tompolo As the attacks continue, Tompolo has distanced himself from the Avengers. He has told the federal government that he is not involved in the new wave of militancy. On several occasions he has warned the militants to cease operations and join the Nigerian government in the peace-building process. In a press release, Tompolo said he was constrained to write to members of the Niger Delta Avengers to put an end to the acts of pipeline vandalism, as they would not do the country any good. “You members of the Niger Delta Avengers are aware that some mischievous persons have continued to point accusing fingers at me that I am either behind you or directly carrying out the destruction of oil pipelines across the Niger Delta region, therefore I should be arrested by the Nigerian military. “Sadly, the military had bought this ethnic induced and wicked accusation without any proof to show that I am truly behind you. On the other hand, some have suggested that you may be part of the multitude of persons I had catered for, economically and otherwise. “And that as am out of circulation as a result of my travails in the hands of the EFCC, you might be tempted to strike on your own for sheer survival. Whichever the case, I still maintain that I know nothing about your group and the destruction of crude oil facilities in the Niger Delta region,” he said. “I have made it clear in many occasions that the issue I have with the EFCC will not make me to resort to violence and bombing of oil pipelines as my team of lawyers have already challenged the defective process of legal service on me in the Court of Appeal. I am a man of truth and peace, therefore I will not be involved in violent activities. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Niger delta “I therefore wish to appeal to you once again to stop the bombing of oil facilities, and embrace the path of dialogue, as the government is ready to hear you out on whatever issues you wish to discuss with it. You know that I do not know you and how to reach you, except through the mass media. If truly as you claim that you are fighting for the well-being of the people of the Niger Delta, then you must adhere to this appeal, otherwise, the world will label you as criminals,” Tompolo added. The ex-militant leader continued: “Come to think of the consequences of your actions in the region so far, particularly as it affects me and the people of Gbaramatu kingdom. The Nigerian army has invaded the ancestral headquarters of the kingdom, Oporoza, under the guise of looking for members of your group, particularly me, who they have wickedly linked to your group, and unleashed mayhem on the innocent people of the community. “And this happened in my absence as I am currently out of Gbaramatu kingdom, but what I gathered from some of the victims of the army invasion is unspeakable.” Even pots of soup were not spared, he claimed, adding that the army has massively looted residents’ homes, desecrated traditional places of worship, committed sacrilege, abominations and carried out other obnoxious acts.
Troops of the Nigerian army, he claimed, “have continued to occupy the community till this moment. One thing you should know is that government is not interested in its constitutional duty of protection of lives and the welfare of its citizens, rather it is interested in the continues flow of crude oil in the region, therefore it could do anything to make the oil flow, not minding the security and the welfare of the people. To this end, you must put an end to this economic sabotage and allow the government to look into your demands now. I believe a word is enough for the wise,” Tompolo wrote. But his stance has earned him the wrath of the Avengers who have also warned him to stay away from their actions as they are fighting for their people. In a statement by Brig. Gen. Mudoch, the Avengers’ spokesman, the group said: “To ex-agitators of the likes of Tompolo, we know why you people are after us. Our agitation is more civilized than yours, the Niger Delta Avengers is more concern with people of Niger Delta unlike you that were into kidnapping, killing of Nigeria soldiers, sea pirates, vessel and tanker hijacking. “But we were able to carry out all our operations without killing a fly. We have sophisticated arms far better than what you used to have during your kidnapping days. “Let’s make it clear, to you our elder brothers that we are not begging you to join this agitation. We are young, educated, well-travelled and most of us were educated in east Europe but don’t worry when we achieved our goal (sovereign state of Niger Delta) then you people will be proud of us. “In as much as we respect you as our elder brothers, please don’t dare to stand on our way because if you do, we will crash you.” Although the Niger Delta people have never called for a sovereign state, the group is also agitating for a sovereign Niger Delta republic. To this end, it said: “By October 2016 we will display our currency, flag, passport, our ruling council and our territory to the world”, even as it called on the United Nations to join them in the fight for the sovereign state of the Niger Delta. “To the United Nations, we are not asking for much but to free the people of the Niger Delta from environmental pollution, slavery, and oppression. We want a country that will turn the creeks of the Niger Delta to a tourism haven, a country that will achieve its full potentials, a country that will make health care system accessible by everyone. With Niger Delta still under the country called Nigeria, we can’t make it possible. “After looking at all these injustices and devilish acts going on in Nigeria the Niger Delta Avengers concludes that nobody is loyal to this entity called Nigeria, instead, we are insisting that the entity called Nigeria should break up and let the South, East, West and North be governed by their own people. “So we are calling on Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations and all Heads of the governments of the five Permanent Security Council members to come to the aid of Niger Delta people. We are calling on world leaders to come to the Niger Delta to see the atrocities committed by the Nigeria government and help us have our sovereign state where we are free to manage our resources and live our lives to the fullest.” The statement said that the Nigerian state that was amalgamated in 1914 by Lord Lugard collapsed in 1966 and there is no more Nigeria. But a section of the Nigerian people is tracing the new militant group to the former militant commander, High Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, aka Tompolo. They are of the view that Tompolo is using the group to fight the federal government so as to divert attention onto them and away from the allegations leveled against him. Even the Nigerian army is not convinced that Tompolo has no hand in the onslaught of the Avengers on the Nigerian economy. Hence, the military has continued to chase him and raid his community with gunboats and jet fighters in search of his whereabouts. Tompolo has decried the military siege on the Gbaramatu kingdom, describing the development as unfortunate. Blackmail In another press statement, Tompolo expressed disappointment with the federal government and the Nigerian military over the siege on Gbaramatu communities under the guise of looking for members of the nascent Niger Delta Avengers. He said he is baffled that the Nigerian military has refused to believe him that he is not part of the group and its activities as contained in several media statements he has made. According to him, he is obviously a victim of circumstances in the matter because of his case with the EFCC. He wondered how he could resort to the destruction of oil facilities because of what he described as trumped-up charges against him by the EFCC, when his lawyers were already challenging the faulty process of legal service on him. The ex-militant leader claimed that he was greatly disappointed with the manner in which the Nigerian government and the military are being arm-twisted by the unfounded claims of one Ayiri Emami, a business mogul in the region, and others, that he is behind the Niger Delta Avengers when there was not a single piece of evidence to back the claim. He said Ayiri Emami and others accusing him of the destruction of oil facilities in part of the Delta were simply looking for relevance, recognition and pipeline surveillance contracts. “If anyone doubts what I am saying, such should find out from the Minister for State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu because Ayiri and his likes have been troubling the minister for pipeline surveillance contracts for some time now,” he said. According to him, “the minister has even succumbed to the Emami’s gimmick by appointing some of his cronies as special advisers. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter bayelsa “The funny thing about Emami is that he does not even have the capacity and goodwill to protect oil facilities. It would be recalled that when I had the one year pipeline surveillance contract in Delta State, Ayiri Emami was one of the directors of the company (Oil Facility Surveillance Limited) in 2012. “It is a pity that President Muhammadu Buhari and the military do not know the kind of informants that are working with them. I want the whole world to know that I am not in competition with Ayiri Emami on pipeline surveillance contracts. And so I wish to call on his acquaintances to call him to order, as there is no blessing in the path he is treading,” he stated. But Ayiri Emami fired back, saying he will not be intimidated by Tompolo. “I am saying the truth. If I am lying, why did the Delta State Government set up an advocacy committee to stop pipeline vandalization in the creeks of the state? Who is the committee, headed by the deputy governor going to meet in the creeks, is it Itsekiri militants or Ijaw militants? he asked. “I said it before that we all know those bombing the installations, they are going to meet them. If he says he is not the one, then, he should challenge me, he can go to court. “I have my business that I am doing before I was dragged into the pipeline surveillance contract he was talking about under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua government. They did not bring me because I was the one bursting the pipelines, I was brought in because of my pedigree. He should come from hiding and face the charges against him,” he said. While the argument continues over who is actually behind the bombing, the military jet fighters are still in Gbaramatu kingdom. The communities are deserted and the people have left their means of livelihood. But while the army and the navy occupy the area, the vandals are still carrying out the destruction unhindered. The chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai, was once quoted as saying that the Avengers are using black power in their operations. But whether black power or not, the pipelines are getting blown up. Now the poser: as the bombing continues in the presence of the military, who blinks first? Is it the federal government and the military or the daredevil militants? Time and events will tell.
(curled from naij.com)