In Nigeria’s resource-rich but hunger ravaged communities of the Niger Delta, young men aspire to be one of many things; a militant, pirate, warlord, terrorist or whatever names people like to call them. They don’t just care anymore and their role models are never in short supply. Those are careers they believe could easily get one noticed, earn a great deal of respect and recognition from the soceity but most importantly, guarantee an endless supply of the great things of life, big and small.
Ateke Tom, Henry Okah, Brutus Ebipadei Solomon Ndigbara, Tubotamuno Angolia. If those names do not sound familiar to you, don’t worry. Trust me, no one can keep up with all of them. Born in the harsh swamps and creeks of the Niger Delta, their vocation is one of the fastest growing sub-sector in Nigeria’s burgeoning crime industry.
But even if you have no idea that Ateke Tom, the former leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante is currently the first Amanyanabo of Okochiri Kingdom, you cannot in all honesty, pretend or feign ignorance of the brash talking and fire-spitting Melford Dokubo Goodhead Jr, aka Mujahid Asari-Dokubo.
Born into a middle class family in Buguma, River State in the year 1964, Asari-Dokubo is one out of five children. His father was a judge and mother, a homemaker. The young Melford grew up in Port Harcourt but would later gain admission to study law at the University of Calabar. He didn’t graduate though. His activism, which was starting to pick up steam at the time, caused him to drop out in 1990, after a three-year stint in the ivory tower.
Asari went home and became fully involved in regional politics. He spent much of the 1990’s contesting for political positions, first in 1992 and later on in 1998 but failed at both. He then joined efforts with other like-minded individuals to form the Ijaw Youth Council and later led the group to pursue an agenda of “Resource Control and Self Determination By Every Means Necessary.”
By 2004, Asari had retreated from public view and went on to create the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, declared an all out war against the Nigerian state and engaged in oil bunkering among other vices. As part of Yar’adua amnesty incentives to check the activities of militants in the Niger Delta, Asari allegedly received an annual cash payment of US $10 million per year from Abuja, as part of the federal government’s pipeline security protection fee. Apparently, if you are a Niger-Deltan, it pays to go the hard way.
But despite Asari-Dokubo’s famed riches and overbearing influence, it pales in comparison to the exploits of the rave of the moment, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo.
Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo is truly of the royal stock, his family belonging to the Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta state. Not much is known about his professional history or educational background, except that he attended Okepopo Primary School in Warri and like to be referred to as the chief priest of Egbesu, the Niger-Deltan god of war.
In 1998, Tompolo following the path of his Ijaw brother, Asari-Dokubo, joined first the Ijaw youth council and later the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) where he quickly rose to become a high commander. Tompolo has in his army, thousands of militants and proved successful in unleashing a barrage of devastating attacks on government oil assets and that of the multinational oil companies
In the deal where Dokubo collected $10 million a year, Government Ekpumopolo netted a princely sum of $22.5 million yearly. Cool right? There has to be something prescient about a parent giving their new borne child a very unconventional name.
When Buhari came on board, he was not pleased with the terms of the amnesty negotiated during Yar’Adua and later Jonathan. This is a President that often compared Niger Delta militants who even though employ barbaric tactics to their protest, have a legitimate reason to struggle, against jihadis-terrorists in the northeast. In fact, under his government, a warrant for Tompolo’s arrest was issued on charges of theft and money laundering in January 2016. Tompolo and his group simply disappeared from public view and went under. Again. It was not long though, before Buhari realized that strong arm tactics is not the answer to a people who have lived out years in perpetual oppression and in August 2022, renewed a lucrative contract in the amount of $1.08 billion according to one source, to monitor the Delta region pipelines with Tompolo.
Just as was the case during President Jonathan’s era, oil theft today is at an all time high and instead of adequately equipping the navy and other related agencies to protect the geese that lays Nigeria’s golden egg, a rentier state continues to outsource the protection of its most important source of revenues to criminal elements.
At a time Nigeria is paying one militant group (and there are many others) more than a billion dollar a year to protect national assets, Nigeria is unable to meet her daily OPEC production quota because more than 400,000 barrels a day of crude oil are being frittered away by agents of the state reportedly. And we are talking about a nation that is neck deep in debt and has continued on unmatched borrowing spree.
The most unfortunate of all is that those militants hardly know what to do with the money. Apart from Asari-Dokubo who used his newfound wealth in 2013, to acquire Benin citizenship, relocated to Cotonou and built schools and colleges, most spend theirs in feeding human excesses. During President Jonathan’s time, Government Ekpemupolo used his windfall to buy a warship. Yes, you heard that right, a warship. Go figure! This may not make sense to ordinary humans but then, ordinary humans don’t get rewarded with such a ridiculous amount of money for being an outlaw.
Apart from those over the top purchases, what is common among all militants that get paid is to spend a good chunk of the money stockpiling ammunition in order to strengthen their hands in readiness for future battles. It makes sense because their power flow from the barrels of guns. It’s exactly the same thing that kidnappers do when they receive ransom payments. These are funds that should have been used to develop the Niger Delta and hopefully prevent the emergence of another Dokubo or Tompolo in the future. More importantly, the money could have provided means of livelihood to the silent majority; the millions who have been trapped in cycles of poverty and abandoned to their fate following years of environmental devastation of their homeland.
What a country!
•Dr. Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]