The Federal Government has renewed a multi-million dollar pipeline surveillance contract to a former militant leader and Commander of the defunct Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo.
It was gathered that the government and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Limited signed the deal with Tompolo to end illegal bunkering, illegal refining and other forms of oil theft in the Niger Delta.
A source close to Tompolo, who spoke to Nation newspaper in confidence, said the deal was worth over N4billion monthly.
However, the figure and details of the contract could not be immediately confirmed officially as of press time.
The source said the former MEND commander, known for his creek credibility, will monitor and oversee other surveillance contracts, contractors and their activities in the entire Niger Delta.
He said it was a similar role Tompolo played during the former administration of President Goodluck Jonathan when Diezani Alison-Madueke was the Minister of Petroleum.
“The government merely reviewed and restored his old contract.
“Before the cancellation of his contract, the arrangements he put in place tackled illegal bunkering and increased production quota to over two million barrels per day.
“But the new government cancelled the contract, declared him wanted and he was later exonerated of all wrongdoings.
“They have realised the need to bring him back because currently, the country is losing over 500,000 barrels per day to illegal bunkering”, he said.
The source said the new deal was brokered by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and some NNPC top officials including the Group Executive Director, Upstream, Adokiye Tombomelye.
He said NNPC as a new profit-making venture was determined to curb all illegal activities affecting its operations and making it run at a loss every month.
The source said Tompolo held a crucial stakeholders’ meeting in his Oporoza country home in the Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State on Wednesday.
He said a mammoth crowd of stakeholders from the Niger Delta, especially Bayelsa State, turned up for the meeting. He said the number in attendance was over 5000.
He named persons at the meeting as former presidents of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) Worldwide, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, Udengs Eradiri and Eric Omare; priests of Egbesu, Ijaw religious organisation, led by Apostle Bodmas Kemepadei; leaders of all youth groups in the Niger Delta, heads of notorious cult groups in the region among others.
He said prominent among those in attendance were former unit commanders of MEND such as Eris Paul, aka General Oguboss; Pius Wareyal, aka General Pius; Joshua Macaiver, Pastor Reuben Wilson, Young Shall Grow and all the second phase “generals”.
He said: “Tompolo brought back all his former commanders in MEND and extended invitations to youth leaders from all the warring cult groups in the states to attend the meeting. The attendance was massive.”
A former IYC President, Udengs Eradiri, confirmed attending the meeting, describing the new arrangement as a welcomed development.
Eradiri said it was heartwarming that the Federal Government has involved communities in the protection of pipelines crisscrossing their domains.
“I believe that this new deal will work because Tompolo has the network and credibility to act as a bridge between the communities and the government.
“It was the same arrangement under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan that sustained an increase in oil production up to over two million barrels per day. It will work this time,” he said.
A former IYC President and spokesman, Eric Omare, said the Federal Government reviewed a similar arrangement that existed during Jonathan’s era and expanded the scope of Tompolo.
He said the resort to a community-based approach remained the best way of curbing illegal bunkering and refining of oil in the region.
Omare said: “This is what many of us have been advocating – a community-based approach – because Tompolo cannot work with outsiders.
“He will work with community people and that was demonstrated in his consultative meetings with some of the stakeholders.
“Once there is the consciousness of stakeholders at the community levels that the illegal bunkering is not in our interest because of its environmental consequences, 50 per cent of the problem is solved. Another aspect is to address the associated economic issues.
“In Jonathan’s era, the scope was not as wide as it is given to him now. Of all the persons engaged at that time, he was the one who came out and delivered on the assignment.
“Perhaps, those in the authority have taken note of that and decided to give him a wider scope to manage.”
A Priest of Egbesu, Apostle Bodmas Kemepadei, confirmed the deal, saying already some illegal bunkering operators were holding consultations with Tompolo to surrender their illegality.
He said: “This arrangement will work. It worked before and it will surely work again. The reason why illegal bunkering has lingered for this long is that there were no credible persons that could mediate between the people and the government, people they could trust.
“But now Tompolo is filling that gap. As I speak to you those operating illegal bunkering are now coming out to surrender. They are also discussing what is in for them.
“We believe that in the coming days more persons will come out and the issue of oil theft will be tackled.
“It may not be completely eradicated, but Tompolo will achieve 95 per cent.”