It may become necessary for the Nigerian authorities to clear the air on pipeline surveillance contract awarded to a consortium of private companies that includes Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, given that Tompolo has now started trying to posture as the main person ‘securing’ Nigeria’s pipelines.
This could not be farther from the truth. The surveillance contract is a ‘If you see something, say something’ assignment, where Tompolo and his men are supposed to take advantage of their familiarity with Nigeria’s vast creeks, and provide intelligence to the military as needed. Tompolo’s case is like that of a low-level support staff trying to take credit for the achievements of a company’s CEO or Board. Not only trying to take credit, but even also shamelessly downplay or diminish the efforts of the people doing the heavy lifting.
He has his usefulness of course, no doubt, and the intelligence they provide is very valuable, but Tompolo and his men do not carry out any prosecution, or destruction of seized assets – all of these powers belong to and remain with the Nigerian Government, and these responsibilities are being discharged with the seriousness required.
The recent news of the arrest and destruction of a vessel was on account of intelligence provided by the pipeline surveillance teams, intelligence that the Nigerian military promptly and swiftly acted upon, deploying personnel and platforms to ensure arrests were made, and the criminal ship destroyed. This is in line with the new directives to that effect – arrest the criminals, and destroy their working tools to serve as a strong deterrent.
Military sources say that the vastness of the size of the Niger Delta’s creeks make it impossible for it to be covered alone by the military, from an intelligence-gathering viewpoint.
Many of the pipelines in the region run through very remote villages and communities, which are mostly swampland and marshes, and nobody knows these areas better than the people in the community themselves. Hence the decision to involve them in providing surveillance, like a form of community policing.
But the actual work of arresting, seizing the equipment being used, and destroying the illegal connections and refineries, remains the work of the Nigerian military, a task which is being actively carried out.
There is Operation Delta Safe, a Joint Task Force bringing together all the various law enforcement agencies – Navy, Army, Air Force, Police, DSS, Civil Defence and others, while there are also the existing Naval Bases in the area, across the Western, Eastern and Central Naval Commands.
Commendably, the Defence Headquarters has started doing more to show the successes being achieved in the fight against oil theft, but more needs to be done, also to educate Nigerians on what is being done by the government, and to prevent opportunists like Tompolo from trying to take credit that they have no business taking.
Ehis Uchemba is a security consultant based in Bayelsa.