• Monday, June 24, 2024
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Oil pipelines surveillance contract: How Asari Dokubo is trying to eat Tompolo’s lunch

How prolonged pipeline projects robed Nigeria of gas gains

Nigeria’s Niger Delta crisis continues to threaten Africa’s biggest economy. Long after violent militant groups ceased fire after being offered amnesty in 2009 in exchange for peace, the country continues to suffer a decline in oil revenue, due to recurrent attacks on oil infrastructures in the region.

The amnesty programme was introduced by the late President Yar’Adua in 2009, against a groundswell of violent conflicts in the region and threats the violence portended for the Nigerian state, including reduction in revenues accruing from oil sales.

The amnesty programme faces challenges including a major challenge of corruption. Much of the money, Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi, a lecturer in the Department of History and International Relations, College of Humanities, at Redeemer’s University, noted in a report cited by the African Union, “goes towards paying ex-militants’ commanders, managers of the programme and the surging number of consultants and contractors – to the extent that the programme itself is now perceived as being a very lucrative business, rather than a transformational strategy.

“Many people now form organisations to benefit from the largesse. According to a panel set up in January 2010 to review the rehabilitation aspect of the DDR, about 80percent of the budget had gone on payments to consultants and contractors, leaving just 20 percent for the rehabilitation of ex-militants. It has also been observed that vast constituencies of people alienated by petro-business interests, but lacking the means of violent action, have been excluded from the post-amnesty deal.”

The Delta continues to face the risk of “ugly violent conflict” between competing militant groups.

To keep the region safe for oil exploration and unimpeded inflow of cash into the nation’s lean treasury, Nigeria’s Federal Government unable to militarily end the conflict went into quiet, yet shady deals with some of the top militant commanders.

The militant commanders have easily transmogrified from wanted men to ‘nouveau riche’ billionaires.

Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a. Tompolo and his Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were once accused of killing 11 soldiers in the Gbaramutu creeks. Mr. Tompolo later got a sweet deal from the Federal Government through his Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL), to secure the security of the nation’s maritime environment; a job Nigeria’s Navy is constitutionally tasked to execute.

Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, the then Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), said in 2012 that, GWVSL, under the contract, will “Provide Platforms for Tracking Ships and Cargoes, Enforce Regulatory Compliance and Surveillance of the Entire Nigerian Maritime Domain.”

Under the Buhari administration, Tompolo, was awarded a N48billion pipeline surveillance contract across the delta region.

Under the terms of the deal, the Tompolo-owned GWVSL would protect all oil pipelines criss-crossing nearly all the states in the Niger Delta. The scope of the contract also covers the entire Kingdom of Kalabari, the ancestral home of his arch-rival Asari Dukobo

In September 2022, Asari Dokubo, the commander of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, fumed at the Federal Government’s deal with Mr. Tompolo.

He said it smacked of greed for Tompolo to be in charge of pipeline protection for all the ethnic groups in the Niger Delta. He vowed to stop Tompolo from being in charge of the surveillance contract for the 83km pipeline criss-crossing his Kalabari area in Rivers State.

He accused the former Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, of deliberately giving everything to Tompolo to spite him (Dokubo) and destabilise the Niger Delta.

“You will take pipeline contract in Delta State your place and then you come to Kalabari to take another one saying you are an Ijaw man because you are the only one that knows how to eat.

“You took the ones that belong to Gbaramatu, Itsekiri, Isoko, Urhobo, Kwale, you took all because you are the only one that knows how to eat. You went to Bayelsa and took everything then you came to take the one in Kalabari.

“If Timipre Sylva gave you because he said he wanted to clip my wings as if he were a god, when Sylva was a member of the House of Assembly, did I clip his wings? I am older than Sylva.”

In June 2023, Asari Dokubo announced to a shocked nation that he had a ‘sweet heart’ with Buhari administration to protect the Abuja-Kaduna highway.

“If the Buhari-led government can engage me to bring safety for the people on the Abuja-Kaduna road, it should be commended. Do you know how many lives were saved? Do you know how many people were brought out from depression and trauma? Have you ever spoken to people who have been kidnapped?

“We did not employ ourselves. The government saw the potential in us and knowing that we can deliver and they engaged us. That the Buhari government engaged me shows that they know who I am. I was not a friend of Buhari. For seven years, I was anti-Buhari. Buhari with all that saw the capacity in me that I am capable and the government came.

“There is a full-scale war going on and the blackmail of the Nigerian state by the Nigerian military is shameful,” he asserted, adding, “they said they do not have enough armament and people listen to this false narrative. They are lying. They are liars. I repeat they are liars because I am a participant.

“I am a participant in this war. I fight on the side of the government of the Nigerian state in Plateau, Niger, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Rivers. And in Abuja today, you are travelling to Kaduna on this road. It is not the army that makes it possible for you to travel to Abuja or travel to Kaduna, and vice versa. It is my men, employed by the government of the Nigerian state, stationed in Niger.

“Today, you travel to Baga, you go to Shiroro, you go to Wase. We have lost so many men and in all these engagements, we don’t even have one percent of the armament deployed by the Nigerian military. One percent and we have had resounding success. So, this blackmail must end. They (Nigerian Army) have enough resources to fight. Instead of fighting, they are busy stealing. They are busy making the government spend unnecessarily.”

Dokubo also accused the military of oil theft. While the armed forces rejected the allegation, there has been no official response to the issue of securing Abuja-Kaduna highway from the government.

Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, last year berated the Federal Government for awarding critical security contracts to private organisations, saying it was safe to conclude that the Federal Government had impliedly, permitted non-state actors to bear heavy assault weapons while denying the same privilege to the states, the federating units.

Mr. Dokubo calls himself a businessman who goes where the money is. His high-profile visit to President Bola Tinubu in June might not be unlinked to his desire to grow his expansive business portfolio especially in the national infrastructure protection sector which has increasingly been privatised Nigeria’s government.

Dokubo is keen to grab a large piece of the extremely lucrative pipeline protection contract available in the Niger Delta region. He has never been shy to criticise Tompolo’s dominance of the private contracting business in the area, accusing Tompolo of being greedy.

You are collecting over N4.5bn a month for doing nothing. And people are supporting you. You must leave the 82km pipeline for Kalabari (Dokubo’s hometown). You can’t take it. Take all other place but this one in Kalabari, you can’t take it,” he warned last year.

Dokubo has defined his relationship with President Bola Tinubu as one of friendship. During the 2023 general election campaigns, he openly declared support for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as he described Tinubu as his benefactor whom he would do anything to support.

Read also: Oil theft: Tonye Cole defends Dokubo, urges govt to focus on finding solutions

President Tinubu while campaigning for the presidency called the militant commander his friend.

“A very hard worker, a very courageous man. Brave, bold and honest. Since I have known him for several years. Asari Dokubo has been very consistent, straight forward and hardworking. He is my brother. I do not deny my friend no matter what you say,” he said.

Read also: Nigeria’s oil production at risk on renewed militancy

Many have accused Dokubo of lobbying for pipelines surveillance contract from President Tinubu.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) says Dokubo was playing to the gallery by seeking to obtain favour and an ‘oil guard’ contract from the Federal Government using the name of Nnamdi Kanu as bait.

Mr. Dokubo had earlier asked President Tinubu not to release the detained leader of IPOB who is standing trial for treason.

“We have two sets of militants in Niger Delta. Some are fighting for resource control to better their region while some are fighting to enrich themselves through Federal Government-sponsored oil contracts and bunkering as the region is exploited,” the group said.

Asari Dokubo might feel that his man has come to power. He is no doubt keen to displace Tompolo as the leading security contractor in the Niger Delta; security contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.