Renewed Rage In Niger Delta Region
LAST week Friday, unknown militants under the cover of darkness blew up the 24 inch gas pipeline conveying gas from Escravos to Warri, Lagos and some West African countries. The attack, which is said to be costing the federal government N470 million daily has effectively affected gas supplies to power plants in the country and compelled Chevron and the Nigeria Gas Company operators of the pipeline to temporarily shut down its operations.
The incident has raised tension in the Niger Delta area especially the Gbaramatu kingdom as military personnel of the special joint task force (JTF), Operation Pulo Shield that guards oil installations and ensure hitch free oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta has swung into action by combing several Ijaw communities in search of the suspected militants.
The development has built up tension in the Western Niger Delta area especially in Gbaramatu kingdom where the wanted ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo popularly known as Tompolo holds sway. The incident has led to the invasion of five Ijaw communities namely Ikpokpo, Saghara, Opuedebubo, Okpeleama and Tebujo by the JTF with about 5,000 local villagers allegedly displaced. Even as of today, an expanded military operation is still ongoing as military personnel comb communities searching for the perpetrators of the act described by the Minister of Defence, Brig Gen Monsur Dan-Ali (rtd) who visited the scene of the pipeline bombing last Tuesday as an unpatriotic economic saboteurs.
The Commander Operation Pulo Shield, Major General Alani Gafar Okunlola has threatened to hold community leaders responsible for acts of sabotage perpetrated against the oil and gas facilities in their domain.
The alleged invasion by the military has been condemned by the Ijaw citizens within and outside Nigeria. The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Gbaramatu chapter spokesman, Comrade Godswill Doubra Wuruyai, said the invasion after the pipeline destruction was premeditated saying that President Muhammadu Buhari administration had long been planning the invasion of Gbaramatu kingdom since after taking over government.
He said: “The invasion of the communities by the military due to militants’ attacks on pipelines across the region logically pinpoints to the Federal Government eagerness to invade Gbaramatu Kingdom under the auspices of pipeline vandalization in the region. It is imperative to note that Ijaw communities are not the only communities in the Escravos vicinity as such should not be the only place the military should concentrate its search warrant.”
Many are of the opinion that a number of factors brought about the militants blowing up the multi-billion naira Escravos gas pipeline, the immediate being the court warrant authorizing the arrest of ex-militant leader, Chief Governemnt Ekpemupolo popularly known as Tompolo. Other issues include the political tension in Bayelsa and Rivers states, the freezing of the bank accounts of Tompolo’s companies – Mieka Divers Limited and Global West Vessels Limited, the decision by the Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi to suspend activities concerning the N68 billion Maritime university at Kurutie, Delta state – a pet project of former president Goodluck Jonathan, NIMASA and Tompolo.
Others include the alleged manhandling of former NIMASA director general, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, an Ijaw man, at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, by the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the alleged plan by the Buhari administration stop the amnesty programme for the repented Niger Delta militants among others.
Prior to the governorship election in Bayelsa, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) sensing that militants were preparing to return to the creeks especially over the Tompolo issue, quickly convened a meeting in Warri where they warned that tension was building in the region and urged the federal government not to take action that would ignite another round of crisis in the Niger Delta. They warned against discontinuing the amnesty programme for Niger Delta ex-militants and the alleged plan to scrap Nigeria Maritime University at Okerenkoko amongst others to defuse the gathering storm and return calm to the region.
The President of the INC, Barrister Boma Obuoforibo, particularly frowned at the alleged pronouncements by the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, that the Nigeria Maritime University at Okerenkoko would be scrapped. Amaechi had at a meeting with management staff of NIMASA- as part of his familiarization tour of Lagos ports and maritime agencies– disclosed that the ministry had ordered suspension of work on the Maritime University project at Okerenkoko and that all efforts would be concentrated on developing the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) in Oron, Akwa Ibom state to meet international standard.
Obuoforibo noted that the Nigeria Maritime University Okerenkoko facilitated by the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was duly approved by the Federal Executive Council having satisfied the requirements of the National Universities Commission. He said the University with a temporary site at Kurutie in the Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State is the only legacy project of the Federal Government in the oil- rich but environmentally degraded Delta Ijaw territory.
In anticipation of the impending government action on the Maritime University, Ijaw youths under the umbrella of Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), raised the alarm, and accused President Muhammadu Buhari of planning to stop the University project. They also specifically alleged that recent policies of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have crippled the expected take-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko and the NIMASA Science and Technical College, Okoloba, both in Delta State.
In a statement issued by its spokesman; Eric Omare, they accused the NIMASA administration of alleged political victimisation and deliberately issuing order against the continued funding of the Maritime University and the NIMASA Science and Technical College.
They added that: “President Buhari’s administration has ordered all ongoing projects, programmes and the take-off of the Maritime University, Okerenkoko to be stopped, whereas other tertiary institutions in other parts of the country where maritime programmes being sponsored by NIMASA are allowed to continue.
While all these were going on, the region was again suddenly shocked by the court warrant to arrest Tompolo after he allegedly bluntly refused EFCC’s invitation to appear in court. The warrant was a direct order on the Nigerian law enforcement agencies to immediately arrest Tompolo, and produce him in court. Judge Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court said an arrest warrant had to be issued after Tompolo failed to respond to invitations to appear before the court. The judge said the process of compelling a defendant to appear before a court is to first serve him a summon. “When he fails to appear, the other way to compel his compliance is by way of arrest,”
The court order to arrest Tompolo provided the venom in the already heated up Gbaramatu kingdom and the entire Ijaw land that eventually led to the Escravos gas pipeline being blown up by militants suspected to be loyal to the wanted ex-militant leader.
Mr. Festus Keyamo counsel to the EFCC told journalists outside the court room that one individual (Tompolo) cannot be bigger than the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that it would be up to the law enforcement agents to effect his arrest.
Loyalists of Tompolo described the arrest order as disregard for the rule of law. Tompolo also said he is yet to honour the invitation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over an alleged N34bn fraud, because he does not want to be arraigned before a biased judge.
Tompolo, who accused the federal government of flouting court orders with impunity, said no one should be above the law, even as he promised to honour the invitation of the anti- graft agency, claiming to be innocent in the dealings he had with the Nigerian Maritime Safety Agency, NIMASA.
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