By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, S-South
WARRI—IJAW elders in Delta State, yesterday, said it was impracticable for them to hand over the former General Officer Commanding, GOC, of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, to security agencies because they neither have the power to do so nor know his (Tompolo) whereabouts currently.
They also said that they do not have any information that Tompolo was involved in the three-day bombing of crude oil and gas pipelines in the state, while many see the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC’s case against him as a form of persecution.
The Federal Government, last weekend, asked Ijaw communities to hand over suspects involved in the bombing, alleged to be hiding in their areas, to security agencies, while the Joint Task Force, JTF, had earlier threatened to hold community leaders responsible for further acts of pipeline vandalism in their communities.
Chairman, Ijaw (Izon) Okosu –Otu (Ijaw Council of Elders), Delta State, Chief Bare Etolor, said, “It is unfair for the Federal Government to ask Ijaw communities to handover suspects that carried out the bombing because we do not know them. In addition, I do not see how anybody expects us to handover Tompolo to security agencies because we do not have the power to do that, except they want to humiliate us.”
Another Ijaw leader in Gbaramatu Kkingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekame, who re-echoed Etolor’s position, said it was impossible for them to handover Tompolo to the government.
Some Niger Delta and Ijaw youth groups, including the Niger Delta Security Watch Organszation of Nigeria, NWSON and Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, IPDI, threw their weight behind the elders, saying that the understanding of many Ijaw people was that the government was persecuting Tompolo because he refused to join the All Progressives Congress, APC.
However, Executive Director of Centre for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged, CENTREP, Warri, Delta State, Mr. Oghenjabor Ikimi, said there was nothing wrong in the residents of the affected areas and ex-militants giving useful information to security agencies to unmask the culprits.
We don’t know the bombers —Chief Etolor
Chief Etolor told Vanguard: “It is unfortunate that the Presidency wants to handle the matter from this angle. Which of the Northern elders did they tell to produce the Boko Haram leaders that are bombing in their areas. So, why are they telling us to handover people who bombed pipelines here?
“If they know the person that did it and ask us to help produce the person and we see him, we can assist with information if we have any. How can anybody say Ijaw leaders should handover suspects? We do not know who did it.
“It is not right. Even if they tell us the person, we do not have arms to arrest anybody. What they are doing is to make us not to have confidence in this government. What power do we have over armed militants? We can only talk to them as elders, not arrest them with guns.
“I am not supporting criminality. In fact, anybody among us, the Ijaw elders, can be a victim anytime. It is difficult for us to produce Tompolo. If they cannot see him with all their intelligence, where do they expect us to see him? I have not even seen Tompolo myself for ages.”
On his part, Chief Gbenekame said, “How can you say we should hand over Tompolo to the EFCC, are we security agents? If he had dealings with EFCC, they should arrest him. Why are they calling Gbaramatu elders?
“What I know is that Tompolo made many enemies when he worked for the Federal Government to guard the pipelines. He burnt illegal refineries, razed boats and these people are not happy. He has been a partner to the government all this while, that is why we called for a political solution to the matter.”
Meanwhile, Niger Delta Secuity Watch Organisation of Nigeria, NSWON and Ijaw People’s Development Initiative, IPDI, in a joint statement by their leaders, Dickson Bekederemo and Austin Ozobo, said: “The people of Niger Delta and the ljaw in particular are not at war with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. However, the ljaw will never sacrifice their bravest to satisfy the quest for neo-colonialism. When the moment comes, we shall stand with Tompolo.
“We believe that what the Federal Government wants to do is a repeat of what the Russians did to Poland during World War II, kill the bravest of their braves, the rest is history. We wish to inform President Buhari that in the hearts and minds of every Niger Deltan lies an embryonic Tompolo waiting to hatch.
“We call on President Buhari not to be deceived by a few pipelines surveillance contract seekers. There was Judea, yet Christ resurrected from the dead. There were traitors, yet Allah protected Prophet Mohammed in the cave with a cob web when people led his enemies to capture him.
“It may interest you to know that Tompolo is a strong member of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, even in defeat. Unlike some elements of the party from our region that are bread and butter members. Tompolo alleged that the APC- led government persuaded him to decamp to its fold. The party until date, did not refute his assertion.
“Suddenly, the EFCC froze the bank account of Global West Vessels Limited. The management of the company initiated an action against EFCC in court. The agency bluntly refused to file a defence, only for the agency to file charges against him in another Federal High Court.
“The question we will like to ask is: Is Tompolo the chief executive or the Managing Director of Global West Vessels Limited? Assuming, for the purpose of argument, that Global Vessels Limited committed financial crime, is Tompolo the alter ego of the company? The EFCC invitation and subsequent harassment and persecution of Tompolo goes beyond what meets the eye.”