The militant groups had engaged in oil bunkering, kidnappings, bombings and attacks on Nigerian security forces and oil installations. At the height of their activities, oil production dropped to as low as 500,000 barrels a day from over 2 million, causing a spike in the price of oil in the international market.
Recent reports say former Niger Delta warlords are now enjoying the "fruits of their labor" in the form of government patronage that includes payments of cash and award of contracts worth millions of dollars.
The Wall Street Journal
reports that last year, Nigeria's state oil company began paying Dokubo-Asari's account $9 million a year for his former 4,000 foot soldiers. The payments were made by the state to safeguard Nigeria's oil pipelines from attack.
The Nigerian state touts the "peace" in the Niger Delta, that it buys with millions of dollars, to the world as a success story, The WSJ
notes. But it is a very fragile peace that can be sustained indefinitely only with more payments to the "warlords." According to The WSJ
, this year alone, Nigeria will spend half-a-billion-dollars on the federal government's amnesty program for former Niger Delta militants.
Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari
reports that when Asari was asked about the payments he is receiving from the federal government, he shrugged non-nonchalantly, saying: "I don't see anything wrong with it." The website gives a background on the man who now lives in the country's federal capital like a king, receiving tribute from the state:
"[he studied] guerrilla warfare in the Libya led by Col. Moammar Gadhafi. He says he was given $100,000 to stir up trouble back in Nigeria, an oil competitor to Libya.
"Fomenting conflict proved easy in the restive Niger Delta he returned to in the early 1990s. From a local governor, Mr. Dokubo-Asari says, he procured weapons and money to build a militia that ultimately was several thousand strong. For years, as he tells it, they broke open pipelines, filling canisters with crude oil and refining some of it through timeworn techniques used by locals to boil palm-tree sap into wine......
"Mr. Dokubo-Asari responded to one amnesty offer that he considered meager by announcing a death threat against petroleum workers. Shell evacuated hundreds of expatriates and oil derricks briefly slowed to a stop. The next day, oil prices hit $50 a barrel for the first time.
"Nigeria's government offered Mr. Dokubo-Asari a truce and $1,000 apiece, he says, for his AK-47 rifles, numbering 3,182. He says he took the deal and used the profits to purchase more weapons and return to the swamp."
He finally fled to Cotonou after assassination threats, but others moved in to fill the vacuum. A new crop of "warlords" emerged who,
"Marauding under noms de guerre like Gen. Shoot-at-Sight, Gen. Africa and Gen. Young Shall Grow... formed a loose confederation of gunmen calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, and crippled enough oil infrastructure to bring Nigeria's production on some days to a near-halt."
Government Ekpemupolo, a.k.a. Tompolo
The career of another prominent Niger Delta warlord, Government Ekpemupolo, a.k.a "Tompolo," follows the same pattern of militancy rags to riches story. Today, Tompolo, as he is popularly known, is a multi-millionaire government contractor. NigeriansSavingNigerians.org
"To cement the romance [with Tompolo], government has invested the Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, GWVSL, a firm widely believed to be owned by Tompolo, with a contract worth $103.4 million (over N15 billion) to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways.
"According to [Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA Ziadeke Akpobolokemi], GWVSL 'will provide platforms for effective policing of Nigeria’s maritime domain and ensure compliance with international maritime conventions on vessels and ships voyaging the country’s waters.'"
Tompolo, according to NigeriansSavingNigerians.org
, began his career after the death of General Sanni Abacha, leading attacks against Shell and forming a protection racket, with Shell making payments to him. After the transition from military to civil rule, he enjoyed patronage of state governors who financed his group's arms acquisition drive. NigeriaSavingNigerians.org
"In 2003, Tompolo led the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities, FNDIC, in an uprising that shut down about 40 per cent of Nigeria’s oil production, targeting mostly Chevron’s installations. Gradually, Tompolo’s fame as a vicious war general but a principled and magnanimous leader to his forces spread through the creeks... And gradually, the money began to flow in – from the various rackets of political and corporate protection, to illegal bunkering. He was effectively leader of the Delta State end of the Niger Delta militants’ battle against oppression... Tompolo’s profile and stature soared in 2006 when he gathered his fellow group leaders from across the Niger Delta at Camp 5 to accord their struggle a definite name and platform... So it was at Camp 5, Tompolo’s headquarters, that the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, was formed. MEND was, however, not formed as an umbrella organisation of all the militant groups but as an organ to issue unified, rather than discordant, statements for them. So if any of the groups attacked any oil installation or kidnapped any figure, it was MEND that would admit responsibility for the act. So when in June 2009, the President Yar’Adua administration embarked on implementing its Amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants, it could not but court Tompolo as the arrowhead of the programme."
Ebele and the 'boys'
And today, Tompolo is one of Nigeria's most influential government contractors with access to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. NigeriansSavingNigerians.org
comments on the irony:
"Only three years ago, he was a fugitive. In May 2009, [he was] declared... the most wanted man in Nigeria... his band of militants in the Gbaramutu creeks of the Niger Delta [were accused] of executing... 11 soldiers – one officer and 10 junior men... illegitimate bunkering, operating illegal refineries, vandalising oil pipelines, engaging in kidnapping and.... piracy..[Nigerian troops] stormed the Okerenkoko operations headquarters of Tompolo where they found were numerous rifles, machine guns, Uzzi guns, Army mistin carriers, dynamite and gun boats. In the Niger Delta, Government Ekpemupolo, ruthless, invincible and taciturn, was and is indeed, a government all of his own."
Jonathan's sweetheart relationship with the former Niger Delta warlords comes with the risk of accusation of nepotism because he is also a native of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Several northern leaders have accused him of pursuing an ethnic agenda. He has been accused of redeploying a former Minister of Transport Yusuf Suleiman (a northerner), to the Ministry of Sports for querying a top aide about an issue involving Tompolo.
'The Boko Haram boys are watching'
When in 2009, the government of the late Alhaji Umar Musa Yar' Adua announced its amnesty program, Nigerians were treated to the spectacle of young men on TV handing over rifles, machine guns, rockect launchers, anti-aircraft guns and gunboats in exchange for lavish financial rewards. Under the amnesty arrangement, the government pays living allowances to former militants and sponsors them for vocational training. The Nigerian state oil company allegedly pays $31.8 million a year to two former rebel leaders, General Ebikabowei "Boyloaf" Victor Ben and Gen. Ateke Tom. "General" Tompolo continues to enjoy his $22.9 million-a -year contract.
paints a vivid picture of the life of opulence former warlords enjoyed after the amnesty:
"Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja's Hilton and through much of 2010 and early 2011 spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge's complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P. cognac, priced at $51 a shot on the room-service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes—gumbos, Jollof rice pilafs, goat stews—they rubbed shoulders with the country's leading politicians and influence peddlers, who often live in the floor's $700-a-night art-deco rooms."
reports that top Nigerian officials spoken to do not think the lavish expenses are a liability in spite of inability of the state to maintain basic infrastructures such as roads, power plants and water supply. Oronto Douglas, a senior adviser to Jonathan, asked: "If it's too huge, what are the alternatives?
Mutiu Sunmonu, manging director of Shell's Nigerian unit, said, "For you to address the whole issue of poverty and development, you need some kind of peace. That is what I think the amnesty program has offered."
The incidence of "oil-theft business" dropped immediately after the "settlement," but recently it is on the rise again. A Shell official said: "It's quite an escalation. If nothing is done, it will continue to increase because more and more people will just come to feel that this is a gold field. We're not going to give up on this and run away from it. We believe it can be stopped."
According to The WSJ
, Royal Dutch Shell PLC reports that more than 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen from Nigeria's pipeline every day. A government mediator commented: "Everybody seems to believe…that the Niger Delta problem is over. It's just on pause. The challenge is to move from pause to stop."
The rise in oil-theft activities come at a time the country is also facing challenges from the radical Islamic group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. The group is waging a bloody guerrilla campaign against the state. Recently, some legislators suggested that the government should extend the treatment of peace by "financial settlement" to Boko Haram also.
The message seems clear, militancy has its rewards in Nigeria. The Boko Haram boys are watching.