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Written by Shehu Abubakar & Solomon Chung
Saturday, 15 September 2012 05:04
They used to fight in the creeks; now they live big in the cities. We turn the spotlight on top ex-militants who are now living big
Few years ago, they were seen as wanted men disrupting the flow of oil in the Niger Delta by attacking oil facilities, security personnel and other symbols of authority. But even then, Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a. Tompolo, Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo, Tom Ateke and Ebikabowei Victor Ben, aka Boyloaf, were seeing themselves as the champions of their marginalised people.
Then came the proclamation of unconditional amnesty for militants in the Niger-Delta region by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009, ostensibly to resolve the never-ending insecurity in the region, which was position a serious threat to the nation’s main source of foreign earnings.
The militants accepted the government’s offer and handed down their arms, giving the government the chance to implement its amnesty. But since the death of Yar’Adua, and the subsequent installation of Goodluck Jonathan first as acting president and later substantive commander in chief, the former militants became the darling of government, getting favours.
Tompolo and his members of his Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were once accused of killing of 11 soldiers in the Gbaramutu creeks. But he is now said to be the principal promoter of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL), which is executing a $103.4 million (N15bn) for the security of the nation’s maritime. GWVSL has since entered a 10-year concession agreement, which is renewable for two terms of five years each.
According to the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, believed to be an ally of Tompolo, GWVSL, under the contract, will “Provide Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforce Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance of the Entire Nigerian Maritime Domain.”
The NIMASA boss said the partnership with GWVSL was necessary because the federal government could not bear the cost of the project. There was outcry from the opposition parties and other Nigerians, but the government pushed through with the deal which translates to N49m weekly to the Tompolo-linked company.
Born to a royal house in Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu kingdom, Warri South-West Local Government, Delta State, little Government attended Okepopo Primary School, Warri and later, Warri Comprehensive College, leaving in 1993.
The increasingly combative restiveness of Niger Delta youths against what they perceived exploitation by the federal government cut Tompolo’s future out for him. In 1997, he began his quasi-military career as an Ijaw soldier during the bloody crisis between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri over then Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha’s relocation of a local government headquarters from the Ijaw area to Itsekiri’s. Once disclosing what prompted him into militancy, Tompolo explained he and others like Paul, Dennis, Ketson, Kingsley Otuaro, Oboko Bello, Dan and George Timinimi were furious that what they firmly believed was their land was being taken over by their Itsekiri neighbours. He narrated that in the 1980s, there was a time the Itsekiri people wanted to collect rent from those living in Okerenkoko, a town that is today an Ijaw community in Gbaramatu kingdom. “The Itsekiri people say they are the owners of Gbaramatu kingdom as a whole. From what I was
told, we (Ijaw) are the original owners of the land in question, and our Itsekiri brothers came to meet us there,” he asserted.
By the time of the amnesty in 2009, Tompolo had become so influential that even powerful figures in the zone looked up to him for economic and political empowerment.
Reacting to the allegations that the former militants have abandoned their struggles and are now living big in cities, Prince Paul Bebenimibo, Media Aide to High Chief Government Ekpemupolo A.K.A Tompolo said it is false to say that his principal has abandoned the Niger Delta struggle.
“Chief Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) is still very much in the struggle to see that his people, the entire Niger Delta have a better and decent life. However, in the first place, did anybody sent him to do the struggle? It is nobody’s assignment. He started it by himself all for the love of his people. He is still on course. Just like I said nobody sent him in the first place for the person to say he has abandoned the work.”
He said the those issues that have threatened the Niger Delta region are still there, the environment is still polluted, youth unemployment is still high, the long neglect by oil multinational companies and government still persists in the region. The issues are very much still there.
Mr. Bebenimibo further said that the Amnesty programme is not an end in itself but just a means to an end.
“Agreed, the Amnesty is there, but that those closed down the clamour totally because those neglected issues are very much there. My principal is still clamouring for a better life for his people.”
He said the Niger Delta people want to be part of decision makers on what happens or needs to be done with the oil revenue.
Reacting to the lifestyle of his principal, (Tompolo), he said people wrongly exaggerate the financial muscle of Tompolo.
“People just used some misleading information from hearsays and some unethical media reports to judge issues. If Tompolo has that kind of wealth, my brother, his people would feel it. He is a generous man that is always eager and ready to help his people because he understands the living condition of the people of the Niger Delta.”
He said why are all eyes on Tompolo? Is he different from other Nigerian business moguls like the Dangote, the Otedola’s etc? Nobody gives Tompolo money. Like other Nigerians and business people, if somebody from the Niger Delta is given a contract that follows due process and he has the capacity to deliver what is wrong with that?” he queried.
“Even before the Amnesty and contract issues, Tompolo has been doing his business, they their family company which does contract for Shell and other multi-national companies operating in their domain, thus he is not new to contracts.”
“My brother even the much talked about contract was not directly given to Tompolo, he was just called upon to do the job due to his capacity and experience. He has already started delivering, how many vessels have been intercepted presently. He is doing the job real good.
Why so much noise about the Niger Delta people? How many Northerners, Nigerians have been doing and are still Federal government contracts, be it in the oil and gas, Maritime and other sectors?
If Tompolo makes money like others in Nigeria, he will help, he will create jobs, in his humble capacity at the moment he has even created jobs already, and people are benefitting and are happy.”
As for the 48-year old Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo (born 1964), who was born Melford Dokubo Goodhead Jr., before he converted to Islam, he is president of the Ijaw Youth Council and later the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force. He is believed to have come from an average background, unlike Tompolo. He received both primary and secondary education in Port Harcourt and was accepted into law school at the University of Calabar but dropped out after only three years in 1990, citing problems with university authorities as his reason for doing so. He made other attempts to complete his education but his activism caused him to quit on his degree at Rivers State University of Science and Technology for reasons similar to those at Calabar.
Neighbours of Dokubo in Wuse II before he moved to a new apartment said he was a very simple man who, even though he has a number of cars in the house, can be seen in a commercial vehicle. They however said that he is always in the company of so many people.
In her defence of the kind of lifestyle her husband is making and the favours he, along with other ex-militants, is getting from the government, Mujahidat Daba Asari-Dokubo, said in a Facebook post that those raising their voices over the money her husband and other militant kingpins are insane. She even accused Northerners of over-criticizing the president.
Several phone calls made to Mujahidat were not going through and text messages sent were not replied.
The story of Ateke Tom is also interesting. The former rebel leader now wines and dines with those in the corridors of power. When his wife dedicated their son recently his village, the Okochiri community in Okrika local government of Rivers State, witnessed the influx of who is who.
Tom accepted amnesty about three days before the closing of the programme. Today, Weekly Trust heard from sources that the slightly aged Ateke Tom remains a symbol of ex-militants around the Rivers state axis of the region. Our source, who happened to have met with him couple of times, told Weekly Trust that in spite of Ateke’s wealth, the man has resolved to live in his home town of Okochiri, where the first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan hails from.
“He operates like a political kingpin, his convoy blares siren sounds just like the rest political office holders. He has in his convoy, a white Hilux van, a black jeep which he drives personally, no chauffer in his personal SUV, with yet another car in his convoy. The Hilux has all the emergency lights on it like any other security agency’s Hilux van,” the source said.
Mr. Ateke is said to always look simple in casuals, mostly a T-shirt and face cap to match, a gold necklace, designed with a lion’s head in the core.
At his palatial country home, where he is said to be living, access to the boss is not easy, series of clearance needs to be conducted before final access to him. “The man has his private guard who are up and doing, they are always cautious in their screening process. The guys are even more meticulous than the average Nigerian government security operatives; they seem well-trained, educated and smart to the borne. They also seem to me as well paid and motivated, considering their attitude to work and security of their principal.”
At the gate of the house, lots of villagers as well as other associates are always there from dusk to dawn, waiting in anticipation to see the boss for different reasons, mostly in need of financial assistance amongst others.
However, our source is of the opinion that Ateke is highly regarded among the villagers. He is like amiable amongst his people, said our source. Stepping into the large compound, there different flags flying, though the source could not say what such flags represent.
Another ex-militant, Ebikabowei Victor Ben, aka Boyloaf, recently served as a Presidential envoy inspecting venues for the training of former militants. He is sad to be making fortune from carrying out government activities and getting some favours along the way.
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