• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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From militancy to consultancy: How Niger Delta ex-militants became govt contractors

General Popor Augustine (1)

The actual number of ex-militants in the Niger Delta is never known but not less than 100 ex-warlords are now big-time government contractors. The journey from the creeks to posh offices took pains and blood.

The decision to include militants (former or present) in contract business did not come by romance. It came in a very hard way: blackmail, threat, sample killing, etc.

One story in the underworld in the Goodluck Jonathan years seems to excite most persons in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) space. The story can never get confirmation from government but the creek boys relish telling how a N13bn contract was won by a vicious warlord.

The president was to land by helicopter at a spot in Delta State for a maritime institution. A warlord was said to have appeared on the scene and threatened to blow up everybody and everything if his permission was not obtained for the VIP to land.

The gist says everything was said and done but no dice, and the craft continued to hover and eventually went back. After that ugly incident, the name of that particular warlord whose home was bombed twice sent jitters up the spines of the VIP. Soon, the warlord was asked what he wanted, and soon, a juicy contract landed on his laps. He has continued to dictate the pace in the oil region and Delta State to this day.

Many say he is relied upon to maintain peace in Ijaw areas especially Delta and Bayelsa States. Whether such a story is true or not, these tales are consumed wholesale in the creeks and they seem to fuel more bravado in the midst of the creek boys who think they hold the four aces.

The story goes about a formerly cult chief in a part of Rivers State who focused on dictating what happened around the jetties and waters from Port Harcourt via Okrika to Bonny. His boys decide if a ceremony especially burial would hold in the villages or not. Killing was for business, it was said.

By 2009 when the likes of Asari Dokubo who were believed to be Ijaw freedom fighters and militants began to get government recognition for Amnesty, the cult leader was being denied such lofty recognition which required leaders to submit names of their boys for integration into the Amnesty. The leaders were to get the funds for their boys and pay them, too.

This cult leader was said to have threatened everybody saying he alone ensured the killing of up to 2000 persons and should therefore, not be underrated when violence was involved. His voice got attention and he was given the appropriate status that guaranteed flow of funds from the Amnesty Scheme to him and to his boys. Today, he is a top contractor and man in charge of many things for many people.

Amnesty was introduced by the late president, Umoru Musa Ya’Adua in 2009 when oil theft reduced Nigeria’s daily crude output to as low as 900,000 bpd. A BusinessDay report those days advised the new government to consider giving roles to the creek boys instead of wasting over 800,000 bpd, and that the revenue from it could pay the boys. That was the reasoning that encouraged the government to realise that amnesty was not a waste of funds but redeployment of wasting resources.

The Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) which was seen as equivalent to giving pap to babies was not meant to last forever, but for a determined short period, but Yar’Adua died. His successor, Jonathan, was blackmailed into leaving it for some more time because his kinsmen wondered how a northerner could give them something and their own brother would come to stop it. So, Amnesty has continued to stay.

The next issue is pegging the number. It was envisaged to cover 15,000 militants with N60,000 per month and training, all not exceeding one year. Soon, the number grew to 29,000, and later another 30,000 claimed to be militants too. Today, some say 60,000 persons have been recognised and treated as ex-militants.

The men who run PAP choose to talk of impacted number, putting it at five million.

Havoc in the creeks before PAP came:

Governments did not just float PAP for nothing. August 15, 2005, a Sunday, could be identified as the flag-off day for militancy in the region, at least in Rivers State. Guns began to boom around the Marine Base area of the Garden City and many fled. It was later learnt that young men with guns were demanding for attention.

In about 1999, some young people were being unruly in the Black-Market area of Yenagoa (Bayelsa State capital). They were said to be boys used by the first civilian governor to run himself to power, and they talked about ‘egbesu’ power. The boys claimed they were used and dumped and thus came out on the roads to find food; robbing, snatching, raping, etc. The man they claimed commissioned them was abroad with his family for a brief period; some said to allow the bad boys get tired and disperse. It didn’t work out that way.

Orders came and the boys were dislodged. They were said to have relocated to Odi near Kaiama town where they increased their nuisance. Police and later army came to stop them but got killed. This led to the inglorious Odi massacre.

This could mark the actual origin of militancy. Soon, it became a widespread slogan that they were fighting for ‘Resource Control’, a loose term that captured every crime and killing. When the 2005 shooting began in Port Harcourt, it was understood to be a protest to the sitting governor then, Peter Odili. It grew into a pan-Niger Delta violent agitation and the objective was unified to be war against oil giants.

Growing into government contractors:

Government seems to be the most vulnerable entity around and government contracts seem to be the easiest carrot available to appease aggrieved citizens, no matter what their grievances are. Also, governments in Nigeria seem to believe in one thing, pacification. In the absence of creative programmes and welfare schemes that mop up growing people and deliver opportunities for self-employments and openings, government resorts to pacification.

The havoc they caused before amnesty:

The militants had held sway in the creeks. They had cells and were a menace to members of the armed forces. They disrupted oil exploitation and exploration. They made marine transport dangerous. They discovered kidnapping and were behind the abduction of oil workers, starting with expatriates. This brought Nigeria’s oil capacity to half.

Politics, drugs, cultism jam militancy:

Before militancy, drug barons were quietly controlling things underground. They used the creek routes to create a distribution network. They built cells and armies. For secrecy and trust, cultism was introduced to create fraternity within camps. When politics, came in 1999, the groups soon found new patrons and new uses. The new leaders began to recognise and patronise them.

When each leader won an election, he gave jobs and appointments to the educated ones and contracts to the others. It soon became clear that if you did not have a mob behind you, you would hardly win any position in the oil region. So, violence supported politics and politics supported violence. Over the years, an intricate network of politics, thuggery, cultism and veiled militancy emerged. Now, there is no clear difference between a militant and an ex-militant; a thug and a cultist, etc.

Outstanding ex-warlord or ex-agitators have emerged as successful in their businesses and government contracts, the most outstanding probably Gen Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) whose firm, Tantita, does huge contracts especially in pipeline surveillance and protection with hundreds of boys down the line. Some others from Delta State include ‘Gen Augustine U Ogedegbe JP’, now a successful general contractor; ‘Gen Michael Brakemi’, Fineman Kpolotor a.k.a Indiami who has poultry farms and fish ponds; ‘Gen Joseph Figbele’, ‘Gen Ramsay Umukoro’, ‘Gen Para Ekiyes’, Gen Popor Augustine whose company, Popor Augustine Global Enterprises, is into agriculture, agro-allied consultancy, general contracts, and merchandise.

Big guns exist in Rivers State. They include Asari Dokubo regarded as a true militant and freedom fighter; HRM Gen Ateke Tom, a businessman and a king in Okochiri, Okrika, ‘Great Khali John’, Christopher Sogboma, and High Chief Solomon Ndigbara from Ogoni areas.

Bayelsa State has a number of generals or ex-generals too who are now contractors and business leaders; ‘Gen Afranus Ukparasia (a.k.a Africa); Victor Ebikabowei (a.k.a Boyloaf), and ‘Gen Selekumo Damigo’. There is also Abraham Ingobere, the incumbent Speaker Bayelsa State House of Assembly, now Speaker for a second term and is in his fourth term in the House representing Brass Constituency. There is Gen Gibson Munalayefa. He represented Ogbia Constituency 3 in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly for two terms (2015 – 2023). There is Gen Reuben Wilson, now Pastor Reuben Wilson who operates a non-governmental organisation, Reuben Initiative for Good Leadership and Accountability (PRIGLA). He campaigned extensively in the run up to the last general election in all the Niger Delta states. There is Victor Ebikabowei (aka Gen Boy Loaf) who has since returned to normal business doing marine transportation.

There is Joshua McIver, who runs a marine transport business. He is into politics and was running mate to former governor and former Minister of State Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, in the last governorship election in the state.

There is Clifford Wilson, trained as a pilot in South Africa after receiving amnesty and served as an appointee on aviation to former governor, Henry Seriake Dickson. He is a chief and leading figure in Kolokuma 1 representing the community in the KEFFES Development Foundation under the multinational oil company, Chevron.

Voices:

Ambassador Gloria Unukotete, founder and chief executive director, Uriri Ladies and Youth Developmental Initiative, Delta State, said: “As far as I am concerned, the amnesty programme has not met the need for which it was created because somehow, it has been politicised in the sense that it is just revolving around some few persons.

“And even those that are utilising it, I think some don’t really need it. It didn’t trickle down to the populace. Everybody is not really captured as far as I am concerned. Most of the people approached it from the angle of ‘Man Know Man.’

“They didn’t do adequate research/survey to find out the real people that need it. Though they have done a lot, so many people have benefitted but I still feel it’s not fair.

“I know there is a handful of persons in it and they are doing well and are well respected.

“The success rate of the amnesty programme, to me, is 20 per cent. If the programme was meant to put smile on the faces of the Niger Delta Youths, it would have been all-inclusive; because we know that Niger Delta is a place where the money that helps build the nation’s economy comes from.

“You discover now that most of our youths are unemployed despite the fact that we are educated. Outsiders take up our positions in oil companies. Even when it comes for our people to be recommended, our leaders still go out to sell our positions to strangers. Community leaders and traditional rulers, because they are the custodians, they sell the slots of the indigenes.

“I think the purpose of the amnesty programme is to make people of the oil-bearing communities to feel the positive impact of the oil.

“The programme has space for educated militants but I can say my community in Ughelli South LGA, as oil-producing community, don’t have a beneficiary there – We have oil wells but the impact of the amnesty is not felt there.

“I think most of the people who did all these things did so in such a way that those who were not part of the affected areas went and buy guns and submitted claiming that they were among, and they were included in the programme. It’s just the survival of the fittest of for those who can play smart.

“Due to the way the programme was implemented, restiveness is still very much with us. The programme should be reviewed and the real grassroots people like us partake in the enumeration.”

General Popor Augustine, Ojuku Camp Leader and the Coordinator of Urhobo United Ex-Militant Leaders. He is the chief executive officer of Popor Augustine Global Enterprises, said: “To some extent yes, it has brought peace to the Niger Delta region and increase oil production.

“The amnesty programme is a success to some extent because, it has calmed down the agitations and restored relative peace in the Niger delta region. Because of the amnesty program we have trained engineers, technicians among others. We also have Niger delta indigenes going for training in different field of human endeavour. I think to some extent, the amnesty programme has stopped the incessant attacks and sabotage of oil facilities, it has stopped the destruction of lives and properties in the region. I will rate the success of the programme 60 to 70 percent.

“The presidential amnesty programme still has some short-coming. The programme can be improved through: Improved training strategy, coordination, and assessment. There should be advisory board consisting of knowledgeable and civil actors, representatives of the beneficiaries and other stakeholders in the region. The board could provide valuable advice and strategic directions as well as evaluation of the training programmes.

“Secondly, the monthly stipend should be increased to around N150,000, since N65,000 can no longer buy anything in the market in this present economy.

“I wish to use this medium to congratulate the Amnesty new boss, Dennis Otuaro PhD.”

Amnesty made a bad situation worse Warri-born Journalist

The media practitioner, who chose to remain anonymous, said: “When Yar’Adua was introducing Amnesty for violent Ijaws, the concept failed to create a corresponding reward, if not more, for peaceful Niger Delta ethnic nations, like my Urhobo, who equally hosts as many oil assets as Ijaw.

“By appeasing only the violent, Goodluck Jonathan who aggravated the ethnic tone to Amnesty gave room for sustained birthing of militant groups as violence became the only language FG understands.

“Save for a few earliest beneficiaries who enjoyed overseas training and got engaged on their area of competence (and the figure so insignificant), Amnesty only benefitted the militant leaders and made the followers to be puns in the chess game, perpetual dependants in life.

“The media share in the blame for glorification of the militants as ex-militants or ex-agitators. “There is no such thing. Whether Tompolo, Boyloaf, Asari, name them, these people remain militant leaders. They still talk, act, gain recognition as militant leaders. Why would anyone call Asari ex-militant leader when he openly still maintains a private army?

“If Amnesty is a total failure and exposed the fact that none of the modern day militant leaders took arms against the nation to fight for the common interest of their people, all the arms struggle, kidnapping of expatriates, killing of soldiers, vandalism of oil assets and oil theft were for personal gains and to coarse FG to appease them with their share of the national cake.

“That is why as soon as they get such personal appeasement, the professed agitation for massive transformation of the oil host communities was never realised. Instead, militants are getting multibillion-naira projects and sundry opportunities.

“If Amnesty is not a scam, why is has government duplicated oil assets surveillance contracts and structures in place that makes it the most expensive oil and gas enclave to operate. The huge part of the operating cost has gone into securing assets.

“Tantita and other engaged private bodies. All oil fields accommodate an army of occupation called JTF with mandate to guard oil assets. Local contractors have separate engagement to guard assets in their localities. Navy, Army, Civil Defense have separate mandate to protect assets. It’s hard to know who is in-charge of oil assets protection.

“If Amnesty succeeded, why do we still have more armed groups popping up from everywhere, demanding recognition. It is annoying.”

Modular refining licences promised by the FG will conclude amnesty objective – Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface of YEAC

He said: “The number of ex- militants that have gone through the Amnesty Programme (AP) of the Federal Government is high. Naming them one by one is difficult, but we know some of those warlords that were granted pardon and integrated into the society with even government contracts such as Government Ekpomodo (Tompolo), now a high chief.

“Pipeline contract is helping many of them. Some former warlords in Rivers State are doing well now as monarchs, contractors, leaders, etc including Ateke Tom who is now a royal father in Okochiri, Okrika local council area. There is another high chief, Solomon Ndigbara in Ogoni area. They have boys who are loyal to them and they use them to maintain peace these days.

“Many of them were trained abroad, some got special skills, some remained abroad, while some are in government jobs, some as, in non-government places, some in ventures, etc.

“Amnesty spared them from arrests. But some are still roaming about, earning the N65,000 monthly stipend.

“They can’t get full jobs. Also, not all of them got foreign scholarships. Some didn’t even get skills.

“Amnesty is somehow a success because it reduced militancy and reduced theft of oil and vandalism in the oil region, but some went back to oil theft and crime.

“Government has not done enough in terms of Amnesty. Not all that are doing contracts have employed their boys. So, those in pipeline vandalism can be mopped up by modular refineries system.

“If the Federal Government can conclude the licensing of modular refineries and give the licenses already approved by the Muhammadu Buhari administration for the youths in the Niger Delta, it would solve the issues of restiveness and pollution.

“The Presidency can legalize artisanal refining and revisit the Presidential Artisanal Crude Oil Refining Development Initiative (PACORDI) that was developed by the Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) in July 17, 2020.

“We cannot say for sure that those granted amnesty are not part of those participating in crude oil vandalism in the Niger Delta. They are almost same people. Let government therefore do what it can to arrest crude oil theft and vandalism in the region.

“If modular refinery licenses can be given, and artisanal refineries can be legalised through the PACORDI suggestion, and if the FG goes ahead to establishes the Niger Delta Industrial Park (NDIP) promised by the presidency, most of the youths currently on amnesty pay would be sent to those places, then amnesty budget can focus to other aspects of the Niger Delta.

“Amnesty programme was not designed to become a permanent scheme but because it has failed to meet the objective and because of entrenched interests that would not want it to end, this has continued.

We (YEAC) are building mini solar grids in communities for steady electricity to reduce unemployment that fuels militancy and crude vandalism in the oil region. This is our own contribution to the efforts to the militarization of the Niger Delta.”

Conclusion:

Guns seem to have failed, bribery through contracts may have failed too. What many point to is sustainable entrepreneurship which modular refinery network can achieve. The FG had gone far with PACORDI, a little push may conclude it and turn the Niger Delta into a hub of refining networks spilling diesel and petroleum to the nation and beyond.