FULL NAME: Government Ekpemupolo
DATE OF BIRTH: 12th April 1971
KNOWN TO BE A: MEND commander and Businessman
MARITAL STATUS: Married
Tompolo whose real name is Government Ekpemupolo is a Billionaire Nigerian businessman, ex-militant and commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. He was granted amnesty in 2009 by president Yar'Adua.
EARLY LIFE AND BACKGROUND
Tompolo had his earliest education at Okepopo Primary School, Warri in Delta State of Nigeria. He grew up just like any other regular growing boy in his community until at a certain age of his life, he started noticing some of the unwarranted marginalisation of his community from the benefits accruing from oil exploration and production which was drilled from his own community.
Tompolo recalled that he was always accompanying his father’s elder brother, the late Papa Gbamido Ekpemupolo as he went from one court to another, in Benin, Warri or Abuja, over cases between the Ijaw in Gbaramatu and the Itsekiri. “So when we realised that if we didn’t stand firm we would be forced to pay rent to our neighbour, we decided to take our lives in our hands and fight out the battle. That is where the battle between us and our Itsekiri brothers started,” he stated. The face-off was compounded by the relocation of the headquarters of Warri South-West Local Government Area from Ogbe-Ijoh to Ogidigben, an Itsekiri community.
The war threw up Tompolo as a ruthless and brave soldier and a good manager of forces. After the war, threats to his life and his own ambition of playing in the bigger league compelled him to move to Oporoza within the Gbaramutu kingdom. There, two developments emerged to lend Tompolo excuses for his militancy and its underlying goal of mercantilism. Violent agitations against the oil multinational, Shell, had been growing since Abacha deployed soldiers against the Ogonis and other Niger Delta elements protesting against oil spillages, general environmental degradation and non-development of the oil-producing areas. The coup de grace was government’s hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an Ogoni and environmentalist.
CAREER AND LIFE
In the 90s, Ekpemupolo was in command of thousands of militants and was very successful in attacking the insensitivity of the government and the Multinational oil companies to the exploitation and degradation of the peoples and environments of the Niger Delta.
Tompolo’s profile and stature soared in 2006 when he gathered his fellow group leaders from across the Niger Delta at Camp 5 to accord their struggle a definite name and platform. Besides, the new platform was meant to be immediately used to press for the release of Asari and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the former Bayelsa State governor, both of who were incarcerated by the federal government. So it was at Camp 5, Tompolo’s headquarters, that the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, was formed. MEND was, however, not formed as an umbrella organisation of all the militant groups but as an organ to issue unified, rather than discordant, statements for them. So if any of the groups attacked any oil installation or kidnapped any figure, it was MEND that would admit responsibility for the act.
Tompolo had maintained in a rare interview that it is not an issue in dispute that he was the founder of MEND. “I did not go to school, so anything concerning paper work, there are people who handle it. I am not the only person; there are others. If you are doing something, you have to put heads together with others because the idea is to cut across our nine states. That was how MEND was formed and that was the reason the last time that all the ex-militant leaders went to Abuja. In the presence of everybody, I told them that I am the owner of MEND. It was formed in Camp 5. I said it in the presence of everybody and nobody can contest it with me,” he declared. Names Tompolo was referring to as the intellectual minds behind his operations then included Oboko Bello, who studied Mathematics up to the doctoral level and Henry Okah, who was appointed in Camp 5 as the propangadist for MEND though he was not in the country. Okah has since been arrested in South Africa for gun-running and the 1 0ctober 2011 (Independence Day) bombing in Abuja.
Tompolo boasted that, apart from Dokubo-Asari and Ateke Tom, every other militant general had his tutelage at Camp 5. “Henry Okah was one of us. That is the truth and he is somebody that if not for greed and his trying to say that I want to be all and all, he is one person that all of us respect. He is one of us,” he said. Based in South Africa, Okah was the brains behind the e-mail and text messages to media establishments on MEND’s activities.
MEND announced its first signature statement with the abduction of nine foreign staff – three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino – of Wilbros, an American oilfield services company based in Panama but with a major office and company executives in Houston. Its Nigerian operational base is Choba, Port Harcourt. Wilbros has since been acquired by Nigerians; it is widely believed that former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, now serving term in an English jail is behind the acquisition. MEND, which claimed to be fighting for a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth, claimed responsibility for the Saturday 17 February 2006 abduction. There followed a series of raids which consequently cut Nigeria’s crude oil exports drastically and negatively impacted on the economy.
Until the JTF fell out with Tompolo’s militant group, he was the Task Force’s favoured boy. The JTF was always turning to him for information and assistance to nail pirates and kidnappers, and as one unconfirmed source said, his magnanimity was always rubbing off in some forms on the men and officers of the Force. In July 2004, Tompolo was said to have assisted the JTF, then under the command of Brig-General Elias Zamani to capture John Togo, a notorious sea pirate and his gang that included Perembowe Ebinimie, Felis Dissi and Peter Dolobowei. The JTF and the Delta State government were also said to be employing Tompolo’s structures to provide security for the troubled waterways in the state. The source alleged that Tompolo was earning as much as N100mn every month to maintain peace, on behalf of government, on the waterways.
By 2009, Tompolo had amassed so much influence in Niger Delta affairs that even powerful figures in the zone looked up to him for economic and political empowerment. Reliable Niger Delta sources affirmed that his influence sustained his kinsman, Chief Wellington Okrika as Executive Chairman of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, for so long. Tompolo was also said to have virtually single-handedly enthroned Godwin Bebenimibo, a retired Superintendent of Police, as Gbaran III Agadagba, the traditional ruler of the Gbaramatu kingdom.
In May 2009, Brigadier-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, commander of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF, in Niger Delta, had declared Government Ekpemupolo the most wanted man in Nigeria. Bello had fingered Ekpemupolo, or Tompolo, as he is widely known, and his band of militants in the Gbaramutu creeks of the Niger Delta as executing the killing of 11 soldiers – one officer and 10 junior men. It was just one of the many instances of the militants’ atrocities.
The militants had been running riot in the Niger Delta, perpetrating illegitimate bunkering, operating illegal refineries, vandalising oil pipelines, engaging in kidnapping and doing piracy. And Tompolo was in the thick of it as one of the leaders. The JTF was intent on doing him in. Bello’s men stormed the Okerenkoko, operations headquarters of Tompolo, desperately searching for him. They were successful all right, but not in nabbing Tompolo. What they found were numerous rifles, machine guns, Uzzi guns, Army mistin carriers, dynamite and gun boats. In the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, ruthless, invincible and taciturn, was and is indeed, a government all of his own.
So when in June 2009, the President Yar’Adua administration embarked on implementing its Amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants, it could not but court Tompolo as the arrowhead of the programme. The federal government could not afford not to patronise him; his acceptance of the amnesty programme largely influenced other militant leaders to embrace peace. His embrace of the peace overtures largely crumbled MEND, the structure that wrought havoc and nearly crippled the economy of the nation. Newspaper reports painted how Tompolo received a hero’s attention on the day he led more than 1,500 militants to surrender their weapons in Oporoza village. Received by then Minister of Defence, retired General Godwin Abbe and cheered on by hundreds of people wearing vests with the inscription Tompolo Is Our Hero, the militant surrendered a large cache of arms that included general purpose machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, explosives and countless numbers of various ammunition.
Tompolo was reported to have shed tears at the occasion while remembering close friends, associates and relatives who had died while the militants were waging what he called a fight to free the people of the Niger Delta from bondage. He promised that since the militants have embraced amnesty, the issue of MEND and the reason to shed blood was over. The warlord insisted that anybody using MEND for any liberation cause for the Niger Delta would be doing so for his personal interest. He, however, warned that if the federal government reneges on its promises to develop the Niger Delta, militants in the area would have no choice but to go back to taking up arms.
Tompolo always cites Isaac Adaka Boro, the late Ijaw militant who was killed during the Nigerian civil war, as his hero and the main inspirational figure for his daring struggle against the federal government. He strongly believes in the Egbesu deity, the god that many Ijaw worship, and sees it as directing his survival so far. He explained that the deity helped him to achieve his aims and objectives, since he was pursuing what he insisted was “a genuine struggle”.
Today, Tompolo is not only a free man, he is a darling of the very federal government that only three years ago, considered him an arch enemy deserving of extermination. Despite his violent past and little education, he is one of the most influential Nigerians today. There is no doubt that he is very close to President Goodluck Jonathan. To cement the romance, government has invested the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, GWVSL, a firm widely believed to be owned by Tompolo, with a contract worth $103.4 million (over N15 billion) to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, had last year sent a memo titled, “Award of Contract for the Strategic Concessioning Partnership with NIMASA to Provide Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforce Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance Of The Entire Nigerian Maritime Domain,” to President Goodluck Jonathan.
In considering the memo, President Goodluck Jonathan and Akpobolokemi chose GWVSL as the preferred company for the 10-year concession agreement. The concession is renewable for two terms of five years each. Jonathan, in a memo dated 9 November 2011, with reference number PRES/99/MT/61, approved Akpobolokemi’s memo, which the Federal Executive Council rubber-stamped on 5 January 2012. According to Akpobolokemi, GWVSL “will provide platforms for effective policing of Nigeria’s maritime domain and ensure compliance with international maritime conventions on vessels and ships voyaging the country’s waters”. NIMASA maintains that the concessionaire would help the federal government to enforce the sabotage law and collect levies on its behalf.
NIMASA’s projection shows that about N124bn is expected to be generated in revenue to the federal government by GWVSL. Akpobolokemi underlines the public-private partnership with Tompolo’s company as necessary because the federal government could not bear the cost of the project.
Ekpemupolo was granted full amnesty as well as all of his men when he embraced the amnesty offer on the Federal Government of Nigeria under president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on June 27, 2009.
Ekpemupolo is currently helping the government of Nigeria in tracking down miscreants who were taking advantage of the struggle to commit crimes in the region. This follows the handing over of weapons by militant commanders in the Niger Delta region in exchange for the promised amnesty and guarantee of jobs and training by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
SOURCES: saharareporters.com, nigerianbiography.com, wikipedia.org
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