Held in awe, perceived as villain: Has Nigeria abandoned search for Tompolo?
25 Jul 2017
He once ruled the creeks of the Niger Delta. Feared and dreaded, his name struck terror and sent chill down the spines of both friends and foes. Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, a former militant leader is on the run. Today, nearly 18 months after, he is Nigeria’s most wanted fugitive.
Tompolo was on February 11, 2016, declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his failure to appear in court to defend himself of corruption charges, allegedly running into several billions of Naira.
Since his disappearance, not much has been heard about his whereabouts except for his earlier hunt by soldiers and the mentioning of his matter in courtrooms. One of such occasions was the recent Lagos Appeal Court judgment that sanctioned the bench warrant issued against him by a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Tompolo had appealed the ruling of the Lagos Federal High Court presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba which ordered a bench warrant against him and subsequently led EFCC to declare him wanted. The dismissal of Tompolo’s prayers to set aside the warrant of arrest placed on him, means the former warlord remains a fugitive and the country’s number one enemy.
However, in the midst of all these, questions agitating the minds of many is where really is Tompolo? Are there genuine efforts to have him arrested and will he ever be caught?
The fortunes of the former warlord may not have swung badly had power not changed hand in 2015 with the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari who proclaimed a war on corruption.
Tompolo was first declared wanted in May 2009 by Brigadier-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, commander of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Niger Delta.
The administration of Umaru Yar’ Adua had accused him and his group of militants in the Gbaramutu creeks of the oil region of killing 11 soldiers, one officer and 10 others. That alleged murder was just one among several other atrocities such as illegitimate bunkering, operation of illegal refineries, bombardment of oil pipelines, kidnapping and piracy, which Tompolo was said to have committed then. He remained underground and elusive until the granting of amnesty to militants by late President Yar’Adua.
However, by 2011, under President Goodluck Jonathan, the former fugitive had become a notable billionaire and one of the most celebrated Nigerians, not minding his violent past and little or no education.
To cement its relationship with the former militant leader, the Peoples Democratic Party-led Federal Government awarded a contract worth $103.4 million (over N15 billion) to Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL), a firm supposedly owned by Tompolo.
The firm was asked to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. The contract had a 10-year concession agreement and meant to be renewed for two terms of five years each.
The table, however, turned after then incumbent President Jonathan was defeated by current President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC).