Nigeria: Ex-Militant Leaders Fight Over N48bn Pipeline Contract Renewal

Another round of tension has gripped the oil industry in the Niger Delta over the renewal of the N48billion oil pipeline surveillance contract awarded to the former leader of the dreaded Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, alias Tompolo.

Already, the renewal of the contract had pitched Tompolo against his colleagues involved in the struggle in the region, particularly the leader of the defunct Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Mujahideen Asari-Dokubo; HRM Ateke Tom; Ebikabowei Victor Ben, alias Boyloaf; Chief Bibopere Ajube, alias Shoot-at-Sight, and an ex-warlord in Imo State axis of the region, Commander Nigeria, among others, across the states of the oil-rich belt.

The multi-billion naira security job awarded to Tantita Security Services, owned by Tompolo in August 2022, is due for renewal by the end of this month, a development which has triggered intense intrigues and maneuvering by some ex-warlords to wrestle it from the former MEND commander.

LEADERSHIP gathered that the ex-militant commanders are strongly opposed to the renewal of the contract as exclusively packaged for Tompolo in 2022.

LEADERSHIP recalls that the contract covers surveillance and protection of oil pipelines, which criss-crossed various oil producing communities in Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States.

The award of the job to Tompolo was facilitated by former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, former Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mr Mele Kyari, in August 2022.

One year later, as Tompolo prepared to approach the management of NNPCL for the renewal of the job, his ex-colleagues were up in arms against him.

The protesting ex-militant commanders are agitating for the splitting of the contract to accommodate divergent interests. There are mounting pressures on the Presidency and NNPCL not to re-award the contract solely to Tompolo and his outfit in its present component.

They vehemently opposed an omnibus contract to be awarded to Tompolo, which would cover places outside his areas of influence in Gbaramatu axis of Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.

They insisted that his ambience of operation should be limited to his communities in Delta State, while they are allowed to also operate in their areas.

They rejected the template offered by the embattled warlord to sublet parts of the job to them in their different enclaves, insisting that the package being offered by Tompolo was at variance with his earnings from NNPCL, for the job.

Instead, LEADERSHIP learnt that they were unanimous that the contract be splitted, with its components awarded separately to individual ex-commanders to man their areas of influence.

Already, the aggrieved warlords have protested to the presidency, especially the National Security Adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and Kyari, apparently to halt the moves to award the contract in bulk to their kinsman.

LEADERSHIP learnt that Kyari reportedly advised the protesters to remain calm pending the inauguration of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who is expected to prepare a memo on the festering issue for the attention of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

It was gathered that Tompolo was also having a running battle with his kinsmen and some close associates of Tinubu, who were bent on punishing him for allegedly not supporting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 polls.

They accused the ex-militant commander of having supported and heavily funded the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) within and outside Delta State, in the just concluded elections.

Those opposing Tompolo said he didn’t reciprocate the visit of Tinubu, in company with Kyari and other top party stalwarts to his enclave on Friday November 25, 2022 and the visit of another team raised by the President and headed by Kyari, with Wale and Seyi Tinubu as members of the team, on the eve of the governorship and houses of assembly election on March 17, 2023, to garner votes and support for the governing

However, to starve off any untoward development, Tompolo’s men and foot soldiers were reported to have relocated to Abuja to intensify lobby to retain the status quo in the award of the job.

LEADERSHIP gathered that they have approached Ribadu, Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila and other influential members of the inner circles of Tinubu, including members of the president’s immediate family, for help.

But despite stiff opposition, investigation by this paper revealed that Tompolo’s bid to renew the job still enjoyed the backing and support of Sylva, who is apparently relying on the former MEND leader for support in the November 2023 gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State, Omo-Agege, who was said to have forgiven Tompolo for not supporting his gubernatorial ambition in the 2023 election and the chief executive of NNPCL.

They were reportedly touching base with powerful links within and outside the Presidency to ensure that Tompolo triumph, taunting and flaunting widely reported ex-militant and his company’s impressive records in the war against crude oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the region, as satisfactory credentials to renew the job.

One of our sources disclosed that the trio in their alibi in favour of Tompolo expressed conviction that renewal of Tantita’s contract would help in consolidating the gains so far recorded in the war against illicit deals associated with crude oil, in the region.

The source said, “The management of NNPCL has been having difficulties in renewing the pipeline surveillance contract given to Chief Tompolo to oversee the security and protection of crude oil pipelines in the Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, Ondo and part of Rivers State in 2022 because his colleagues in the Niger Delta struggle are up in arms against him. They are opposed to an omnibus award of the same contract to him. They are saying that Tompolo cannot protect the pipelines in their areas.

Efforts by our correspondent to get reactions from Tompolo and the management of Tantita Security Services, were futile.

Tantita’s managing director, Chief Keston Pondi and the company’s head, Operations/Intelligence, Captain Warredi Enisuoh, ignored persistent calls and messages to their cell phones, for one week, to secure their reactions to the report.

But a source in Tantita Security Services, who pleaded with this newspaper not to mention his name because he was not competent to speak neither on behalf of Tompolo nor the company, said Tompolo and his lieutenants were not leaving any stone unturned to put issues in proper perspectives.

He said, “Tompolo’s men are in Abuja already to put paid to some lies being peddled against their boss, especially as concerned about his roles in the 2023 elections. Most of what is being said about him are tissues of lies. They are making frivolous allegations about him with a view to ensuring that the contract is not renewed. Come to think of it, what does the outcome of the elections have to do with the award and discharge of a legitimate business? This is purely a business and not politics. As Mr. President said recently, the time for politics is over. It’s now time for governance.

“Tantita has performed excellently in the assignment handed over to it to the admiration of all and sundry. The records of the increase in crude oil production are there in NNPCL and the oil multinationals and we must warn that it would not be in the interest of our economy to sacrifice excellence in favour of mundane arguments.

“We are not losing any sleep in Tantita and even our principal, High Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, alias Tompolo, is not bothered about the so-called gang-up. We have done our best in Tantita in taming the hoodlums draining our economy through illicit crude oil deals and our performance chat is there for everyone to check. We have received accolades from within and outside the country for our efforts in salvaging the nation’s economy. The President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that we know very well will not succumb to undue pressures of blackmailers and enemies of Nigeria.

“We have no doubt that the management of NNPCL will take the right steps by renewing the contract to enable us to strengthen and consolidate our efforts in the national interests. Those opposed to us are the oil thieves and their collaborators, whom we have blocked the sources of their ill-gotten wealth,” the Tantita source added.

The group general manager, Public Affairs, NNPCL, Mr. Garba Deen Muhammad, also declined to comment on the report. Muhammad shunned calls and messages sent to him on the subject matter.

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