The reported acquisition of seven decommissioned Norwegian battleships by a company with close ties to former Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo, is causing disquiet among members of other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta, as a pan-Itsekiri organisation, the Warri Study Group, WSG, has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to revoke the security contract granted Mr. Ekpemupolo’s company and place him under watch.
In a statement signed by the group’s Chairman and Secretary, Edward Ekpoko and Tony Ede respectively, the WSG warned that if Mr. Ekpemupolo also known as Tompolo, turned the weapon against the Itsekiri or other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta, President Jonathan would have to be held liable by the international community for failing to act.
Tompolo, who is well known in the corridors of power as an ally of Mr. Jonathan, won a contract said to be worth several billions of naira under the present administration to secure oil pipelines and other installations.
And while it may be argued that his security company, Global West Vessel Service’s acquisition of the battleships, including six fast-speed Hauk-class guided missile boats, now re-armed with new weapons, is to help it successfully accomplish its mandate, which also reportedly includes anti-piracy patrol in Nigeria’s waterways, the procurement appears to violate Nigeria’s law.
Part II Section 17 of the Private Guard Companies Act forbids private security establishments from procuring or bearing lethal weapons.
“No person approved under the provisions of this act shall bear or possess any firearm or ammunition in the course of his duties”, the act states.
However, the WSG says it fears that Mr Ekpemupolo, who hails from the Ijaw ethnic group as Mr. Jonathan, may use the weapon against the Itsekiris, who have a long standing history of ethnic rivalry with the Ijaws.
“President Jonathan, Tompolo and the DG of NIMASA are all of Ijaw extraction and we therefore see a script being acted out. Nigeria is the only country in the world where individuals – a rehabilitated militant for that matter – is awarded a contract to oversee the security of the coastline of a nation and with powers to import warships and sophisticated arms”, it said in the statement.
The group also said it noted that since Mr Ekpemupolo’s company was awarded the contract to protect pipelines in the region, oil theft and bunkering have been on the increase rather than abate. It, therefore, suggested that the battleships may be meant for intimidating other ethnic nationalities in the region rather than for the purpose it was ostensibly procured for.