Tompolo Alleges Blackmail Over WarShip Acquisition, as Norway Defends Sale

By Adedayo Ogunleye, Abuja

Leader of the now defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, commonly known as Tompolo, has described as malicious blackmail reports surrounding his purchase of seven warships from the Norwegian government.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Paul Bebenimibo, the former militant stated that he was at first tempted to ignore the “cheap blackmail” but the intensity of the false report required that he told his side of the story.

“I am not surprised that this blackmail is coming at this crucial time that Nigeria is facing serious security challenges even as the most decisive moment for the nation, which is the 2015 election closes in,” he said.

Tompolo explained that what he bought were boats equipped with sophisticated maritime surveillance equipment to track pirates and not warships bearing arms as had been reported.

“The truth is that these boats in question have been in the care of NIMASA for about two years now. For the avoidance of doubts, the boats are not warships or gunboats as being erroneously spread by mischief makers,” Tompolo stated.

“The boats as acquired are neither equipped with war arsenals nor are they ammunition carriers. They are simply boats equipped with modern surveillance devices to track oil thieves and in the process, increase the nation’s revenue base through NIMASA.”

He said further: ‘I am not in charge of the said boats as upon acquisition, the boats were handed over to NIMASA which in turn involved the Nigerian Navy in their usage and operations.”

Eyebrows have been raised in many quarters over how an ex-militant once declared “the most wanted man in Nigeria” in 2009 during the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and more recently fingered in the kidnap of 14 Nigerian journalists would have access to Norway’s arms.

It would be recalled that Tompolo, who now enjoys close relationship with the presidency, runs the Global West Vessel Service, a privately-owned contractor for maritime security.

In 2012, the company got a multimillion naira contract to patrol the nation’s waterways and secure it from the activities of pirates after which Tompolo received at least decommissioned Norwegian battleships.

Among them were six fast-speed Hauk-class guided missile boats, re-armed with new weapons.

The most recent acquisition is the KNM Horten, a fast-attack craft now said to be used for anti-piracy patrol in the Nigerian waters.

The report said the deal was implemented through a shell maritime security company based in the United Kingdom, CAS Global.

Indications are that CAS Global was used to evade a requirement by Norway that arms dealers obtain export license from their country’s foreign affairs ministry and CAS Global is licensed for such transactions. KNM Horten was sold to the UK company in 2012, recorded as working for a fishery firm.

The Warri Study Group, WSG, a regional think-tank, has, however, urged President Goodluck Jonathan to cancel the maritime security contract awarded to Global West Vessel Service citing its content and the company’s link to an ex-militant leader as a threat to national security.

In a statement signed by Edward Ekpoko, the chairman of the think-tank, and Tony Ede, the secretary, WSG noted that if the reports that the fast-speed Hulk-class guided missile boats had been re-armed with new weaponry, purportedly to fight piracy are accurate, then Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun powder.

In what appeared to be an indictment of the President on grounds of clannishness, the group charged:

“President Jonathan, Tompolo and the DG of NIMASA are all of Ijaw extraction. We see a script being acted out. Nigeria is the only country where an individual is awarded contract to oversee the security of the coastline of a nation with powers to import warships and sophisticated arms. “The question that begs for answer is this: What is the role of the Nigerian Navy in the security of the Nigerian coastline? Is the Ministry of Defence aware of all these arms deals?”

It further recalled that over one year after the award of the said contract, not only has illegal oil bunkering, pipeline vandalisation and sea-piracy increased, perceived threats by Tompolo and his kinsmen have equally gone up in the region.

The seven Norwegian ships which are now part of the company’s maritime fleet are allegedly involved in oil piracy while purportedly patrolling the high seas on behalf of the Nigerian government.

“Are these warships and arm deals to fight piracy and other criminal activities on our coastline or to intimidate other ethnic nationalities or cause destabilization as in the North East?” WSG queried.

“In the unfortunate event of weapons being turned against other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta, those involved will be held responsible for crime against humanity by the international community even if Nigerian government fails to act,” warned.

An Abuja-based security expert, Gbenro Adeladun, said concerning this issue that “it is not so much buying warships for the government that is wrong, but the idea of giving an ex-militant such a national security contract. The inception of the contract is where the general public should have raised eyebrows, not now when Tompolo is only trying to fulfil his part in the contract to secure the nation’s waterways.”

Stating that terrestrial security contracts are not much different from maritime security contracts, Adeladun said that if private security companies who secure government installations such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, NNPC, get to liaise with the Mobile Police and the Armed Forces to execute their contracts, we should expect nothing less from Global West Vessel Service dealing with the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA.

Adeladun noted that he was not “holding brief for Tompolo” and expressed scepticism that the necessary security checks were carried out before Global West Vessel Service was awarded a contract with such sensitive national security ramifications.






     

     

    Officials within the Norwegian State Department have defended their involvement in the sale of the warships. On behalf of the Norwegian government, the officials asserted that it should not be held responsible for the sale of the six decommissioned Norwegian warships sold to Tompolo.

    According to the Norwegian Embassy in Nigeria, the export of arms from Norway requires an export licence from the receiving country’s ministry of foreign affairs. The ships were first sold to CAS Global, a licensed British security company, and Tompolo had eventually procured the ships from the British company.

    “As far as we can see, the export of KNM Horten has followed correct procedure and terms of export to Great Britain,” Frode Anderson, who is head of communications at the Norwegian State Department told the Dagbladet, a Norwegian newspaper.

    The Dagbladet’s report that Norway sold such military hardware to an individual with a history of violent opposition to state, instigated queries from the nation’s lawmakers and the general public.

     

     

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here


    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement

    Recent

    - Advertisement