The most powerful of the militant delta campaigners and bête noire of the oil companies and the authorities in Abuja recently struck a deal with the Buhari government to avoid a resurgence in the vandalising of oil facilities.
The ruling went almost completely unnoticed: in mid-July the Lagos Federal High Court decided to drop some 40 charges against Global West Vessel Specialist Limited. The firm, which won a series of maritime security in the Niger delta in the 2010s, is owned by the leader of the region Government Ekpemupolo, better known by his nickname Tompolo and has led several movements such as MEND (2006-2009) and the Niger Delta Avengers (2016) whose activities resulted in huge financial loses for oil sector operators.
In 2016, the production of crude oil fell sharply after transport infrastructure for hydrocarbons was vandalised in the region. While MEND’s aim was to pressure the government into according its members pecuniary advantages, the goal of the Niger Delta Avengers was to get Buhari to drop all legal action against Tompolo. Since 2009, in the wake of MEND’s campaign, 30,000 people have been receiving a monthly income and several thousand have also been sent abroad for training to distance themselves from the violent groups operating in the region.
According to our sources, it was President Muhammadu Buhari’s advisor on the Niger delta, Ita Solomon Enang, who engineered the non-aggression pact with Tompolo. In recent weeks he has travelled in person to the remote creeks of the delta to meet with Tompolo and hammer out the borad outlines of an agreement that would afford the Nigerian government security guarantees in this oil-producing region in exchange for abandoning legal action against firms owned by the militant.
The judicial machine roused into action as soon as Buhari came to power in 2015 following an investigation launched by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which is now itself currently in crisis after its chairman Ibrahim Magu was suspended in early July. Back then, he was in charge of investigations into Tompolo and under pressure from the new administration to claim a few prominent scalps associated with the Goodluck Jonathan era (2010-2015).
A former MP and senator for the oil-producing state of Akwa Ibom, Enang is very familiar with the militants of the Niger delta and was specifically offered the key post of advisor on this region in 2019 in the hope that he could reach a deal with Tompolo and thereby restore some degree of stability in the area before the end of Buhari’s term in 2023.
An advisor to the president on parliamentary matters from 2015 to 2019, Enang took over the Niger delta dossier from Paul Boroh, an Ijaw brigadier-general who had failed to make any headway with the militants, who were wary of dealing with an ex-military man.
His replacement by Enang, who has a far more political profile and is more trusted by the president, has paid off. A former member of People’s Democratic Party(PDP), Enang switched his allegiance to Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party back in 2014. As for the minister in charge of the Niger delta Godswill Obot Akpabio, who has also served as governor of Akwa Ibom, he does not enjoy Buhari’s trust to the same degree, having only left the PDP in August 2018
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