The award of a N48 billion-a-year contract to protect pipelines bearing petroleum products to a former Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a. Tompolo) may be convenient for the Federal Government; but it adds no value to the esteem of an administration that had promised not to reward criminals with medals. Beyond that fact, the pipeline protection contract award to Tompolo raises deep concern about the capacity of the state to secure lives and properties. What the Muhammadu Buhari government has done in effect is to abdicate government’s constitutional responsibility to mercenaries, even against its avowed policy not to engage mercenaries in fighting terrorism. Effectively, government has turned around to award pipeline surveillance contracts to ‘ex-militants’ under the guise of seeking peace.
Without doubt, and for the first time since discovery of crude oil, Nigeria has been in a situation whereby when oil prices go up significantly, globally, it does not translate into improved earnings for the country, but a deteriorating fiscal situation. The country, this year alone, appears to have lost track of the number of pipeline sabotage incidents as it has become the norm; and Nigeria is currently a source of numerous jokes internationally. Sadly, the best the government can do is to reward some of those responsible for inflicting pains on the nation with contracts. Nigeria is presently not just being plundered but also rewarding criminals, bandits and any entity that takes up arms against it. The award of a pipeline surveillance contract to Ekpemupolo is nothing but promotion of criminality.
Curiously, this is what the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) did recently in awarding a pipeline protection contract worth N48 billion yearly (N4 billion per month) to Tompolo. The award had elicited criticism, but Mele Kyari, Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of NNPCL, had said the Federal Government made “the right decision.” Events over the years have shown that the decision is rather a convenient one considering how the government has been handling issues of oil theft and vandalism. One thing is clear; surrendering the security of the economic valves and nerves of the country to Tompolo is not in any way different from hiring mercenaries. If the Armed Forces have come to the sad conclusion that they cannot secure the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large, then there is a problem for the country, especially when one considers the huge amount of money spent yearly on an unending amnesty programme.
Having set a dangerous precedence, the country is presently struggling to deal with numerous groups agitating for a share of the contract. After all, what is sauce for the goose of Tompolo is sauce for the gander of other agitators. Already, some ex-militants from Akwa Ibom State have threatened to shut down oil production in the state if the Federal Government refuses to revoke the N48 billion annual pipeline surveillance contract awarded to Tompolo. The group said it was wrong for the Federal Government to award a contract for the surveillance of oil pipelines passing through Akwa Ibom State without engaging youths from the state whose communities had suffered environmental degradation over the years as a result of oil exploration and exploitation activities. In no time, other groups may emerge to press home their demands on why they are equally marginalised. The question is: how many of such groups will the Federal Government have to negotiate with or award contracts to?
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) raised some valid questions when it asked: “What is the value of the investments and allocations made from the national treasury to the numerous security paraphernalia in Nigeria if an ex-militant is seen to be more competent to deliver on security issues than the entire armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Who oversees the procurement process of this award? Were there bids, and what process led to his emergence on this award? Or is our bureau of public procurement also an incompetent institution that couldn’t deliver on a free and equitable process? On the other, doesn’t the law have clear stipulations on contract awards in Nigeria?”
President Buhari won the 2015 election by hinging his campaign on ending insecurity and tackling corruption in the country. The present reality tells a different tale of both indices. The catalogue of security failures shows the extent to which the Buhari government has failed to address the country’s security challenges. Apart from the unrest in the North-Eastern and North-Central regions of the country, agitation for secession in the South-East and South West regions has also been rife. Violent protests resulting in fierce crackdown by the military and police have added to the security challenges faced by the country.
Groups such as Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra and Indigenous People of Biafra have led several protests which have threatened the peace and security of the region. The government has also not been able to find a permanent solution to the unrest in the Niger Delta. Thousands of youths are on the government amnesty payroll and any disruption in the payments has the potential to destabilise the nation. A delay in monthly stipends in 2016 led to a renewal of hostilities and the formation of new groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers, Red Scorpions and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Movement.
Additionally, it seems like every day, new organisations pop up calling for enrollment in the amnesty programme. This leads to what can be called a vicious cycle of forced forgiveness, in which groups of young men use violence on occasion in order to be accepted into the amnesty programme. We have seen this happen several times with ‘repentant bandits/terrorists,’ who are often welcomed and rehabilitated, whereas the displaced and victims of violence are yet to find a home.
What should governments do if they refuse to negotiate with non-state actors threatening the state? While offering contracts to the likes of Tompolo may seem to be the affordable opportunity cost, since N4 billion monthly cannot outweigh millions of dollars lost on a daily basis, Nigeria will only be legitimising such actors and their actions as well as encouraging more groups to emerge. Nigeria is in a fragile state and cannot continue to afford to finance the activities of those willing to take up arms against it. In all of these, the silence of the Commander-in-Chief and Minister of Petroleum remains loud. Even though he has said he cannot wait to leave, he must ensure that he leaves the country in peace!