Interview

Chairman, Niger Delta Nationalities Forum, a conglomerate of 25 Niger Delta tribes and sub-tribes, Seigha Manager, has cautioned the federal government against seizing property belonging to Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, otherwise known as Tompolo, because it could be counter-productive. In this interview with reporters, he looked at the current face-off between Tompolo and the federal government, the amnesty programme, and the state of the economy. Zacheaus Somorin presents the excerpts:

There has been a renewed increase in the spate of pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta region. What is your take on that?

First, it is condemnable. It is not necessary. However, the new government should get the right advice and do the right things. The right thing does not necessarily mean pushing in military intervention but getting the right people to talk with. That will douse the tension. That, I think is the most important thing to do.

Former Niger Delta militant leader, Tompolo seems to have refused to appear before the court to answer charges of corruption against him. Consequently, the EFCC has decided to seize all his assets. What is your thought on that? Should Tompolo come out to face the charges?

Well, if Tompolo comes out to face the allegation, there is nothing wrong with that. If he thinks that he is not too comfortable with the approach to the matter and therefore decides to take to his heels, I also think there is wisdom in it too because it is clear that the manner and way the EFCC is going about the anti-corruption war has had some criticism in the society. So, in his own wisdom, he might think that he will not be treated fairly considering the way Patrick Akpobolokemi, former Director-General, Nigeria Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA), was thrown into a moving vehicle while he has just been granted bail by the court. He could have his own fears.

Having said that, I think the idea of freezing his accounts or seizing his property should be properly looked into, because I am aware that Tompolo never held any political office. He was not an appointee of government. As long as he was neither a government official nor an appointee of government and he is also enjoying amnesty granted to him by the late President Yar’Adua, I think the federal government should take a second look at the issue and see how the matter can be handled out of court. I think the court is not the best place to handle his matter because he wasn’t a government official.

As the leader of an umbrella organisation of the Niger Deltans, what is your assessment of the amnesty operations since the new government came on board in May last year?

We now have an opportunity to make some comparisons between Honourable Kingsley Kuku and Rtd Brigadier Paul Boro. I am not an apologist of either of them because I never benefitted from either of them and I don’t have anything to do with either of them but I am a stakeholder. I have brothers and sisters from that region, who are part of the amnesty. From a very close observation, I will say that Boro is doing well, at least, in two areas.

One, he has come to sanitise the system because at some points, Kuku, though not a bad person, was overwhelmed by some insider activities. Certain things were not properly done. Some people who had been captured were not benefitting. Few other people, who were not directly involved in the amnesty programme became the beneficiaries. At some points, it became a case of those whom he knew and those that he wanted to empower.

The amnesty programme was losing focus at some point but the coming of Boro has streamlined the activities of the amnesty programme. He has gone back to the data and identified about 12000 of such people, who were initially captured but were not taken along. With the pedigree of a former military officer, some of the ex-agitators have also taken caution in dealing with him unlike Kuku’s time, when some would even go to the office and threaten to fight.

The other area where he has also done well is that unlike Kuku, who was directly in charge of everything and was reporting directly to the president as it were, Boro works directly under the National Security Adviser (NSA). The difference is that while Kuku could spend any amount of money to do whatever he wanted because he was directly in charge, the present coordinator cannot do so.

Whatever he does in the amnesty office today must have recourse to the NSA. That, in itself, has opened up the system much more than before. The allegation that he came and spent N48 billion in less than five months is completely untrue. I do go there and I have brothers that are working there. I was one of the media aides to the Media Coordinator, Dr Koripamo Agary, to the Presidential Amnesty Panel between 2009 and 2010.

We were the pioneer members in that place, so, I am a stakeholder and I know what is going on there. Remember that when Kuku left, there was an interregnum of about five months before Boro came in, so, there was a pile-up of school fees as well as stipends that had not been paid. So, he had to clear the whole of those debts in those five months and it took a lot of money – about N17 billion in the first batch and then N10 billion in another batch. All those monies were paid to ex-agitators in South Africa, Britain, US and other countries and some of those who were feeding fat and enjoying themselves were also told to go.

Such people are not very happy with the new coordinator having come to streamline activities in the place. They could be instrumental to that publication that he has wasted N48 billion in five months. He reports directly to the NSA and gets approval before he spends any kobo, so, he could not have even mismanaged N10. There is no such room. So, the allegation was merely to smear his name.

Another very important thing he has done is that right from 2009, when the programme took off up to the time that Kuku left is that there is no exit point for the beneficiaries of the programme. Out of about 30, 000 that were captured none had exited, but with Boro’s coming, he has adopted a strategy whereby 3,232 will be exiting sometime this year. And from my close facts in the office, government will get back over N2 billion from the 3,232 that will be exiting.

I hear that he will do the same thing next year. So, that is a huge fund that he has been able to save back for the government. So, for being able to come up with an exit strategy, he has done objectively well and better and I encourage him to continue to do that. But, let me also advise that while he has that good programme, he must not fail to ensure that those that will be exiting the programme must be counselled on how they can integrate properly into the civil society because they are now going to be on their own.

I recommend that they be given a two or three day counseling programme, so that they know what they will face when they go to civil society, where they will not be waking up to earn N65,000 monthly stipend, rather what they will be getting will depend on their own entrepreneurial skills. Therefore, I call on the NSA, Boro’s boss, to insist that the over 3000 that will be exiting must be given an extensive counseling programme on how to return to the civil society; relate with the community and use the entrepreneurial skills they have acquired to help themselves. This exit counselling cannot be over emphasised; it is very important, so that they don’t turn around to go back to their old ways. If they don’t do that, they would have done the right thing in a wrong manner.

Won’t the exit counselling cost extra money for the government?

No, it will cost government almost nothing, considering the effect of what they will constitute in society. After all, government will be making over N2billion from their exit.

Many Nigerians think the economy is in a mess as naira keeps plummeting against the dollar in the international market. What is your assessment of the situation?

I don’t want to join the fray of those who are accusing the government of not doing the right thing. I think what is happening to the economy is just speculation. There are uncertain things surrounding the activities of government that are bringing about the dwindling of the naira. Economists will tell you that we are a mono-economy relying only on oil and since oil is dwindling and we don’t have anything else in the international market, our currency is likely to be affected.

Our craze for foreign made goods is largely responsible for what is happening. Rather than blaming the government for what is happening, we should resolve that 80 per cent of our demands should be gotten within Nigeria. Let all of us begin to buy Ankara materials; let us begin to buy only made in Nigeria goods. We still have a lot of things that are locally made. Let us struggle within the next six months to live with the Nigerian-made goods and I think it will stem the tide of the fall of naira.

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I think the idea of freezing his accounts or seizing his property should be properly looked into, because I am aware that Tompolo never held any political office. He was not an appointee of government. As long as he was neither a government official nor an appointee of government and he is also enjoying amnesty granted to him by the late President Yar’Adua, I think the federal government should take a second look at the issue and see how the matter can be handled out of court