- Set Militia Leaders Against Opposition
- I applied for the job in 2010 but received approval on March 4 – Dr Fasehun
- ‘Previous contracts didn’t halt oil theft’
“Most of the security agencies that are saddled with the responsibility to protect the pipelines have failed,” Otunba Gani Adams, the national coordinator of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), said last week Monday, in reaction to questions being raised about the propriety of Federal Government’s award of multi-million naira contracts for pipelines and waterways protection to militant groups in the South-West.
Adams, whose militant group, a faction of the OPC had, two days earlier, won the security contract was even more forceful in defence of what many Nigerians labelled as a largesse for vote. “People are dying every day. Nigeria is losing more than N3 billion everyday [to] illegal vandals,” he said, trying frantically to pin justifications to the job.
“The agitation for that contract was started by Dr Frderick Fasehun, four and a half years ago and you know the bureaucracy of the Nigerian ministry,” he said to the approval of his face-cap-wearing supporters, accompanying him on a protest to press for the removal of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega.
Coming at a time when tongues were wagging in consternation over the project, Adams’ explanation, instead of clearing the air, further choked it and elicited more questions. Why did the government suddenly realize the need to approve a contract proposal that had been left to gather dust, just two weeks to an election?
The move was largely seen as the president’s trump card to sway predicted victory in the region from his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, to his own side.
President Goodluck Jonathan, afraid of losing the presidential contest to his main challenger in the battleground South-West, had temporarily relocated from the seat of power in Abuja to Lagos, a state with over six million registered voters, the largest in the country.
While there, it was rumoured that the president had presented cash gifts to various groups, including traditional rulers, across the entire region. The security contract was interpreted as part of the last ditch struggle to save Jonathan from defeat.
The OPC, last week, under Adams, Monday staged a protest in Lagos, demanding the sack of Jega as INEC chairman, accusing him of bias. That the group had never criticized the electoral umpire’s handling of the polls prior to the approval of the contract, sparked allegations linking the Federal Government to the protest, with the main opposition All Progressives Congress (OPC) threatening to report President Jonathan to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
OPC’s founder, Fasehun, does not see any wrong getting the contract as a payback for supporting Jonathan’s political ambition “Does anybody grant favour to his or her enemy? We don’t even need to answer that. It is the law of nature,” he quipped, unapologetically.
The controversial contract
Pipelines and waterways monitoring jobs are not new to militants in the Niger Delta, where companies owned by former warlords like Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo) and Mujaheed Asari Dokubo were awarded millions of dollar contracts to ensure the safety of the oil infrastructure and waterways.
In 2012, for instance, a company Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, belonging to Tompolo, was given a security contract to the tune of $103 million. The American Wall Street Journal once reported that Tompolo is actually being paid $22.0 million for a contract to guard pipelines of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force leader, Asari-Dokubo was also mentioned as getting $9 million for a similar contract, while two others, Boyloaf and Ateko Tom are receiving $3.8 million each, also for similar contracts.
What is new, however, is the expansion of the beneficiaries of such lucrative contracts to many other ex-militant leaders in states South-South and, for the first time, OPC leaders in the South-West, about two weeks to the general elections.
Media report listed companies like Egbe Security River One in Bayelsa, Gallery Security, Mosinmi-Ore; Close Body Protection, Edo State; Adex Energy Security, Rivers and Age Global Security, Mosinmi, Ibadan as the beneficiaries of the contracts which would come into effect from March 16, 2015.
Government has always defended its policy of awarding contracts to militants with the prevalence of rampant oil theft, especially in the Niger Delta. In 2013, Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, put the amount Nigeria was losing to oil thieves at N155 billion monthly.
Earlier this month, the Chief of Naval Staff, Rera Admiral Usman Jibril, said the country was still losing N1.18 billon daily to oil theft.
Tension among ex-militant groups
Last week, ex- militants under the aegis of Ex-Freedom Fighters in the Niger Delta, staged a protest in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, over the alleged plan by the state governor, Seriake Dickson, to hijack the multi-million dollar Oil Pipeline Surveillance Contract given to the oil producing communities in the state by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
No fewer than nine persons were seriously injured in the protest which degenerated into a fierce confrontation between the ex-militants and the police.
One of the leaders of the protest, Eris Paul, popularly known as General Ogunboss, said the protest was against an alleged plot by Governor Dickson to hijack multi million dollar NNPC pipeline surveillance contracts to communities in the state.
“Most of the south southern states have signed the allocation of the surveillance contract, but Dickson is insisting that the job be awarded to a self-styled company known as Izon Ibe, a security outfit that we don’t know. Dickson should concentrate on the use of state allocation and internally generated revenue to advance the good of the state rather than hijack jobs coming to communities,” alleged.
However, in its reaction, the Bayelsa State government said the rationale behind the establishment of the state-owned Izon-Ibe Security Company was part of efforts to address the challenges of youth unemployment.
The position, which was made known in a government statement, said the security outfit was basically set up to provide special training for youths and engage them for the purposes of security services.
According to the statement, “the Izon-Ibe Security firm is a limited liability company that is a community-based security and empowerment scheme for Bayelsa youths across the communities with the active involvement of the chiefs and leaders to train youths in the surveillance of pipeline and guard duties.”
It stated that the government’s attention has been drawn to some ex-militant leaders, whose activities constitute a breach of the existing peace, noting that, hitherto, they were beneficiaries of pipeline contracts which they failed to execute.
The statement expressed displeasure that such ex-militants were being used by those it described as misguided politicians to embark on “senseless public demonstrations” within and outside the state capital.
“The position of the government is that pipeline surveillance contracts are not for ex-militant leaders alone, most of whom hail from a particular local government area. The state-owned security company is for all persons in the state and will ensure that they are made to carry out their duties effectively. There are youths from other local government areas that must benefit from these contracts and not just Bajeros, whose promoters are only from Southern Ijaw Local Government area”, the statement noted.
But reinforcing the position of the ex-militants, another group implored the governor to stop creating problems in Ijaw land. In a statement signed by the head of the group, General Aso Tambo, the ex-militants urged the governor to concentrate on the task of providing leadership to the people of Bayelsa, instead of cornering contracts they had genuinely fought for.
The group also accused the governor of conniving with the outgoing president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Udengs Eradiri, who is a director in the state-owned security company to corner 50 percent of the jobs for their private interest.
But countering their position, another militant under the aegis of the Mangrove Boys of Bayelsa (MBB), issued a warning to ex-militant leaders, particularly Victor Ebikabowei (alias Boyloaf), Eris Paul (Ogunboss) and Pastor Reuben against causing trouble in the state.
The group said it would no longer fold its hands and watch a few individuals from the Southern Ijaw Local Government area continue to hijack and selfishly enrich themselves with what they called the commonwealth of the people
“The pipeline surveillance job is not their birthright. All the militant leaders disturbing the peace of Bayelsa and trying to hijack the contract through their company, BAJERO, are just from one local government area, which is Southern Ijaw.
“They do not represent the interests of all of us in the entire state. As formidable freedom fighters, we will not allow these leaders to cheat us again because the contract is meant for our rural communities,” they contended.
The statement, signed by the secretary of the group, Mr. Victor Adere, said the group would resist further violent demonstrations in the state by ex-militants and their leaders.
Adere added that the group is fully in support of the governor, Mr. Dickson in his efforts to ensure that the state-owned Izon Ibe Security Company executes the contract for the benefit of everybody in the state.
Meanwhile, the president, Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Mr. Eradiri, has raised the alarm that some ex-militant leaders were plotting to kill him.
He claimed that the ex-militants wanted him dead because of his position on the NNPC surveillance contract.
Anti-Jega rally causes disaffection in OPC
Following last week’s rally by the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in Lagos where the Gani Adams-led faction of the body called for the resignation of INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, some members of his group have called on the National Coordinator to resign his position for joining partisan politics.
The aggrieved members of the body yesterday (Saturday) described the OPC rally against Prof. Jega as a shame, not only to the Yoruba people, but the oppressed in the country that look forward to liberation through a free and fair elections.
Speaking on the controversial rally, the National Welfare Officer of the body, Monsuru Akannde, said that the OPC factional leader had derailed from the aims and objectives of the organisation by becoming partisan and using the organisation as a political tool for President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election.
He alleged that the anti-Jega rally staged by OPC last week Monday in Lagos was organised by Gani Adams in his individual capacity and not supported by OPC as a body, to justify the recent contract worth several millions of naira awarded to him by the President Jonathan’s government.
Akande said the majority of OPC members of Gani Adams-led faction were not in support of the use of OPC for personal motives and condemned his romance with politicians. He therefore asked Adams to disassociate himself from partisan politics or resign as OPC National Coordinator.
“We are not in support of Gani Adams using OPC as political tools to campaign for any political party or politician. We advice him to put a stop to this or leave OPC and go into partisan politics. We abhor his romance with any political party, he should not kill the dreams of millions of OPC members. He should save us from being labelled Jonathan’s bulldog,” he said.
Akande argued that his group’s stand against Gani Adams rally against Jega was not to create another faction of OPC saying, “All what we are saying is that he should separate OPC from politics. For organising a political rally in support of a political party or a candidate in a political election has shown the entire world that he is interested in politics. He shouldn’t continue to fool Yoruba that he is keeping their culture alive through OPC activities only for him to purse political agenda. It’s obvious he cannot protect the interest of OPC again,” Akande said.
However, in a swift reaction to Akande’s group demand, APC National Publicity Secretary, Hakeem Ologunro described the new group as ‘the hawks’ that are beginning to display their desperation as the general elections draws nearer.
He recalled that Akande has been suspended as the Welfare Chairman of the OPC since 2007 for shaddy deals. “As far as we’re are concern, the likes of Akande are not a reliable individual. He was expelled from the Congress for anti – party activities since 2007.
Oil theft persists
What is, however, worrisome to stakeholders is that even with the security contract in the hands of the ex-militant leaders, vandals are still breaking the pipelines and stealing crude oil in the communities, most especially in Southern Ijaw local government area.
This development apparently led to the establishment of the Southern Ijaw Oil and Gas Task Force by the local government chairman, Chief Remember Ogbe. The task force is made up of community members and security agents, who patrol the area to check activities of pipeline vandals and oil thieves.
Even so, security sources in the state say the worst cases of illegal crude oil refining and oil theft are recorded in Gbaramatoru in Southern Ijaw.
Again, with the frequent arrests of suspected oil thieves and pipeline vandals by the Joint Task Force Operation Pulo Shield, the Central Naval Command and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the state, observers say the ex-militants are only pocketing millions of dollars on pipeline security without achieving any result.
How to protect pipelines better
The issue of contracting ex-militants to protect oil pipelines cannot be entirely dismissed as an unholy practice because of their knowledge of the terrain and the difficulty in deploying government forces to effectively perform the task, a security expert, Col Aminu Isa Kontagora, has argued.
The retired military officer explained that neither the police nor the Navy can singlehandedly guarantee security to the networks of hundreds of kilometers of pipelines that run the entire length and breadth of the Niger Delta creeks.
“Imagine even Delta State alone. How many pipes criss-cross the state? The same as places like Rivers, Akwa -Ibom and Bayelsa states. There are so many of them. I don’t think the police can protect every inch of those pipes and that was why it has been extremely difficult. Even the Navy cannot. How many creeks are in the Niger Delta region? Many of the oil theft are done with wooden canoe barges. There are limitations to some of the Naval ships getting into the creeks,” he said.
According to him, the need to protect the assets, more than ever before, was underscored by people’s exposure to easy money that oil stealing can provide. “The issue of oil theft will keep coming up because once they have seen that it is lucrative and with little efforts to protect the pipelines, those engaging in pipe breaking will always want to continue with it,” he said.
If Tompolo, for instance, would be patriotic and honest in guaranteeing sustained oil flow in the creeks, it would be to Nigeria’s advantage to hire him, he said, pointing, however, that internal competition among the ex-militants may cripple such an arrangement in the long run. “He (Tompolo) must have participated in the vandalization at one time or the other. He cannot deny that. He knows the tactics, he knows his boys in the illegal business and if he can pay them well, maybe the pipelines will be safe. But I know that with the criminality in the oil industry, at one stage his boys will betray him and continue with the stealing of the crude,” he added.
“In the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia where pipes are in the deserts, there are observation posts manned with cameras and satellite facilities to monitor the pipelines. Here, ours are in the creeks, in the mangroves and you know they grow very fast, so we have to clear the ways and this is another task. That is why our pipelines are more vulnerable to vandals’ activities and theft than most of the countries. But I know that there is nowhere in the world where this problem does not exist,” he said.
The retired colonel advocated three strategies that could permanently address the challenges of oil pipeline management in the Niger Delta.
“Who owns the pipes? Can we sell the pipelines to Tompolo, instead of telling him to man them, so that he gets royalty from anybody that pumps in oil? This will reduce the theft because he will now take it as his own personal business. But if they are seen as government property, because of our mentality, the theft will continue. Secondly, government can employ the locals along the routes to protect the pipelines. Thirdly, the business of the theft of crude can be made unattractive. That means we must destroy the barges that are used for stealing crude and impound the vessels that are found with stolen crude. We must as well destroy illegal refineries so that we can reduce the incentives to steal the crude. Crude oil is wanted all over the world, as such the criminality in the oil industry is so high that we can only reduce it; we can hardly eliminate it,” Kontagora said.
A maritime consultant, Rear Admiral Godwill Ortom (rtd), also toed the line of applying force to discourage oil thieves. “To reduce pipeline vandalism, you have to blow up any ship involved in this sabotage and no other ship will come near Nigeria to buy stolen and cheap oil. Whenever oil is stolen, a mother ship is positioned on the high-sea to ferry the oil, so if you blow it up no ship would come to still your oil again,” he pointed.
‘It’s wrong to reward rebellion’
However, the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, has a different opinion with regards to the propriety of awarding security contracts to ex-militants, saying the practice was wrong.
Coomassie, a former police Inspector General, said it was inappropriate for government to award security contracts to people who rebelled against the country or people suspected of illegal behavior. “It is very wrong. How can you give a rebel – someone who took up arms against his country – “security contract?”
He said there were qualified government agencies to handle maritime security matters, not individuals with questionable integrity.
The former police boss advised the government to review the contracts in the interest of the nation, adding that such matters must be approved by the National Assembly.
Also reacting, a civil society activist and executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CSLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, faulted the contract on the grounds of its capacity to destroy public institutions.
The legislative and anti-corruption campaigner further observed that the awards had not met basic due process requirements.
“Unfortunately, it is Nigeria and Nigerians that are losing, because if he (Jonathan) bastardizes this institution by dashing out public money to militant leaders, it means he is encouraging them to do whatever they like and this is inviting violence to the country,” he said.
Rafsanjani held that struggle for power and political gains must not promote illegality.
“If Boko Haram is ready to support the president, does it mean it can also be given the money and the space to do what it is doing? If you look at what the sect is doing and what the militias are doing, there is little difference in them because it is about killing, disrupting public peace and terrorizing the people,” he asserted.
He said the Nigerian security agencies had been undermined by Jonathan’s administration to the point that they were not being allowed to carry out their constitutional duties. “How can a government hire or award contracts to militias to protect its waterways and pipelines when the security agents are there? Despite this, the oil theft has not stopped, in fact, it is on the increase. The contract will only perpetuate the leakages, vandalization and theft in the oil industry,” he noted.
He added that Nigeria records the highest rate of oil theft in the world despite the contracts awarded to the militia warlords to provide security for the oil installations. “These people do not have any track records to show that they are capable of providing the required security for our waterways and oil pipes. We have the naval personnel that are well trained, but were sidelined and replaced with militants in the name of politics. This is very unfortunate for the country because we will be encouraging militias to thrive in Nigeria. This is not a good approach to involve them in politics; it’s a way of encouraging them to carry arms against our country,” Rafsanjani cautioned.
‘Contracts will provide jobs’
However, both Fasehun and Adams, have defended the job, arguing that it would create a platform that can provide thousands of job opportunities to youths in the South-West.
“This is a contract coming from a government agency, the NNPC, coming to a Nigerian company that will be making use of Nigerian people to do the job. And the company which has the award will also be making use of about 30,000 to 40,000 Nigerians, who will be executing the contract. If you consider the dent on the unemployment statistics in Nigeria, you will agree with me that the approval is worthwhile. Again if you consider the ripple effect, the number of ancillary people attached to these beneficiaries, many of whom have fathers, mothers, uncles, brothers, sisters and wives, you will agree it is worthwhile,” said Fasehun.
When asked if the award was politically motivated, Fasehun retorted: “All that should concern Nigerians is that the contract was awarded, that unemployment will be reduced by over 40,000 people. It is not Dr Fasehun that will execute the contract. It is the youths of this country, many of whom are unemployed. So, if anyone is going to make a comment, it should be a positive comment…. And even if Jonathan was the one who thought of awarding the contract, God bless him. What was the cry of the Nigerian youth against him? Was it not that unemployment was going higher and higher?”
Similarly, Adams said the contract would give him the opportunity to empower 15,000 youths.
“We are not part of the amnesty the Niger Delta (militants) have been enjoying which runs into billions of naira. No dime was given to the OPC and we have paid our price and suffered casualties, more than the Niger Delta (militants) did. Why should it benefit only the Niger Delta and not the South-West too…. It will end hooliganism and empower youths,” he added.