Something very dangerous is brewing in the Niger Delta, for which the attention of His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is urgently required.

It appears that Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo has been deluded into believing that his first name confers certain extraordinary powers on him.

From recent actions, “Government” aka Tompolo now believes that he has a mandate to replace Nigeria’s legitimate security institution and architecture.

And he is doing so in a manner that is utterly lawless and does not augur well for ease of doing business in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.

The recent incident involving a vessel, MT PRAISEL, clearly demonstrates this.

This vessel was commissioned to lift High Pour Fuel Oil (HPFO) from from Greenmac Energy Storage/Tarus Jetty, Koko, to offshore Lagos. They had all the necessary authorization: Naval approval, and the regulator’s permit (i.e. the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority – NMDPRA) to load 1.1 million liters of HPFO from the Jetty.

The permit was valid for the period of July 26 to August 8, 2023.
In line with standard operating procedure, they were escorted by personnel of the Nigerian Navy.

It is very important to note that MT PRAISEL had all its documentation in place, and not even Tantita Security Limited is disputing this.
According to the Captain, they arrived at Taurus Jetty on the 31st of July, 2023, at about 2pm, finished loading the HPFO on August 1, concluded their documentation, and commenced departure at about 7.48am on the morning of August 2.

Barely five hours later, at 12.18pm, they were ‘intercepted’ by Tantita Security Service Limited (TSSL).

The Captain has narrated how the vessel was forcefully boarded, and how crudely the Tantita personnel behaved.

In the words of the Captain: “It is surprising that the people that are said to be fighting oil theft could not recognize between fuel oil and crude oil.

These are two different things! The documents I gave them, they said they’re not ready to look at them: NMDPRA permit, Naval approval, Bill of Lading, Cargo Manifest, Certificate of Quantity, Certificate of Origin – they said they don’t need all these documents.”

The Captain also alleged that he was physically assaulted by the Tantita Limited personnel, and his movement chart and log-book seized. Tantita Limited equally falsely alleged that the vessel carries a Togolese flag, but the vessel Captain has since debunked this in a viral video where he showed the documentation.

Overzealous and high-handed anti-business practices like these are reportedly very common with Tantita Security Services Limited. According to someone in the know, “There have been many instances, where some of these overzealous and ignorant agents of Tompolo will stop and seize trucks laden with HPFO or LPFO lifted from the refineries with full documentations and accuse them of crude or product adulteration or stealing without testing the products.

It is impossible to distinguish between crude oil and HPFO by sight alone, since they are all dark-coloured liquids.”

On the 3rd and 4th of August, 2023, product samples were collected from MT PRAISEL and subject to laboratory analysis, with all relevant agencies involved in this process, for transparency.

On the 5th of August, the results of the analysis proved beyond doubt that the product on board MT PRAISEL is HPFO.

One important question that needs to be asked and answered is this: How can Tompolo’s Tantita Security Services Limited arrogate to itself the powers to evaluate vessel contents without having any capacity to conclusively ascertain these contents to know what exactly is being transported?

In the absence of this capability, sadly, Tantita Limited resorts to the crudest and most highhanded option available – it falsely tags everything as stolen crude oil and then rushes to the press to say it has arrested crude oil thieves, in a desperate bid to prove that it is working.

This is very sad and condemnable. Many of these operators being targeted are hardworking Nigerian companies which strive to obey the laws of the land and ensure their documentation is in order.

Yes, there are unscrupulous elements who work without authorization and who are into the business of oil theft, but whoever is asked to police the waterways must have proper means of investigations, instead of acting like a bully and thinking that every vessel is guilty until proven innocent.

Another very important question to ask: Does Tantita’s remit extend to boarding ships and harassing their crew? A closer look at the security contract with NNPC Limited, makes it clear that the company’s mandate is, in the words of the CEO of NNPCL, “end-to-end pipeline surveillance.” So, how can a company contracted to “man the right of way to oil and gas pipelines” now turn around and become an illegal occupying force doing unauthorized vessel ‘clearance’ and inspections that it is in no way qualified for?

There is nowhere else in the world where this kind of practice is obtainable or acceptable. It is now time for the President, all relevant regulators and authorities, and all well-meaning Nigerians, to call Tompolo and Tantita Security Services Limited, and all their personnel and collaborators to order. They should be reminded that they are not and will never be the Nigerian military, and that their mandate does not extend to usurping the powers of law enforcement agencies.

Tompolo (and his ex-militant colleague, Asari of the Niger Delta Peoples Salvation Force (NDPSF)) should be reminded again and again that they are private citizens, who were at some time in the past deemed persona non grata by the Nigerian State.

The fact that President Yar’Adua’s Amnesty Programme successfully ended their pariah status and legitimized them does not mean that they can now arrogate to themselves the powers and authorities of the Nigerian State.
The fact that Tompolo and his company have a monitoring contract to assist the Nigerian government in securing oil infrastructure does not give them the right to harass and intimidate legitimate businesses and cause added disruptions to operations in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

It has been said that the Tantita Ltd security contract will be up for review soon, even as early as this month, and that they are desperate to secure a renewal, hence the overzealous onslaught on innocent operators and even on Government agencies.

The affected companies should as a matter of urgency approach the Courts for justice, in light of these false allegations which can easily be proven to be defamatory. The NNPC Limited, which is the government agency that has entered into the monitoring agreement with Tantita should please step in and help remind them of their clearly-outlined boundaries.

There is also a big lesson here for Nigerian news media, to be more discerning in their reporting of claims by non-State actors. Several reputable traditional media houses swallowed the unverified claims of Tantita Limited, and published these claims, without following the basic principles of ethical journalistic reporting.

It is my hope that these media houses will all strive to update the stories to reflect the latest findings from NMDPRA and from the companies concerned. And, going forward, there will be greater scrutiny applied to such claims being made by overzealous non-State actors that are desperate to justify their security contracts and secure extensions of such contracts.

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