Will Buhari Liquidate Tompolo’s Navy?


Muhammad Al-Ghazali



One of the most astonishing revelations from President Goodluck Jonathan's School of leadership so far was his controversial decision to outsource the surveillance of the nation's coastal waters, and oil pipelines, to companies owned by non-state actors with criminal pasts.

Frequent readers of this column will recall the piece I wrote soon after the scandal regarding Government Ekpemupolo's -more famously referred to as Tompolo-procurement of refurbished gunboats from the Norwegian government through a British third party for the expressed purpose of patrolling our coastal waters, first broke. Interestingly, the scandal has continued to reverberate and generate heated discussions even outside the shores of Nigeria where there has hardly been a whimper from official circles on the serious irregularities of the deal.   

 By contrast, as reported by the online news medium Premium Times last week, the Norwegian Defence Chief, Haakon Bruun-Hansen, an admiral, has apologised to the country’s lawmakers for the sale of a fleet of six decommissioned naval battleships and combat boats to Tompolo through CAS Global - a British based security company to evade a requirement by Norway that arms dealers obtain export license from their country’s foreign affairs ministry.

At the same hearing, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Břrge Brende, lamented that the entire deal was shrouded in secrecy. He however assured the perplexed lawmakers that state prosecutors were briefed to seek possible criminal violations in the consummation of the deal. While Norwegian laws permits the sale of the decommissioned war ships to Britain, it required proper due diligence before same could be sold on to third parties. Certainly, what the Norwegian government never apparently envisaged on the basis of detailed revelations by the Daglabet newspaper, was that the battle ships would be passed on to Tompolo's Global West Vessel Service which only had a postal address at the time of the transaction!

Global West Vessel Service, owned by Tompolo, is the actual name of the company illegally commissioned by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA to perform functions which, ordinarily, should be the exclusive responsibility of the Nigerian Navy and the Marine police. Courtesy of the sordid deal, Tompolo's illegal naval fleet now has in its possession six fast-speed Hauk-class guided missile boats, now re-armed with new weapons. The most recent of the boats is the KNM Horten, a fast-attack craft allegedly in operation for anti-piracy patrol in the Nigerian waters according to the same report carried by the Premium Times.

Sadly, as a direct consequence, and regardless of the nonsense credited to the Director-General of NIMASA on the matter, we can also conclude, without any fear of contradiction, that these deadly weapons are operated by non-state personnel whose primary allegiance is to Tompolo their employer. For as long as they continue to draw their pay from Global West Services Ltd, they are not necessarily sworn to any formal allegiance to the nation nor should we expect them to behave differently in the event of any possible conflict with the Nigerian Navy on operational matters.

When the scandal was exposed last December, the Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi, was reported to have claimed that the vessels were purchased as part of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy. He also claimed that it was the Navy which subsequently rearmed the vessels to enable it effectively carry out its anti-piracy patrols. But that assertion, in my opinion, further compounds the mystery on the sordid deal.

Why on earth should the Navy be interested in re-arming the vessels procured by a private concern when it is more convenient to have the same warships formally procured for its operations? How did Tompolo come about the massive resources it took to acquire the battleships? What was the exact role of NIMASA in the entire mess? Was the entire transaction done in accordance with the laws of the land?

These, certainly, are questions which should be of serious concern to the in-coming government of the retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. The new administration cannot afford to treat the matter with levity. Tompolo of course, has already publicly congratulated Buhari for his victory, but this matter is beyond him and the General. It concerns a deliberate national security breech perpetrated under the nose of a president who hasn't the faintest clue of what it takes to lead a diverse nation like ours in the modern age.

The possession or operation of private armies is an aberration and a recipe for disaster especially for developing nations such as Nigeria for obvious reasons. It is tantamount to a retreat to Thomas Hobbes "State of Nature" and consequently an open invitation to anarchy. It also, absolutely, diminishes the authority and capacity of the state to fulfil its social contract to the generality of Nigerians. And while this piece has mentioned only Tompolo, the same also applies to the pipeline surveillance contracts awarded to the other warlords like Frederick Fasheun and Ganiyu Adams both factional leaders of the Odua People's Congress (OPC) in the prelude to the doomed re-election campaign of President Jonathan.  

That aside, I am also aware that the decision on what to do with these private armies will not come easy for Buhari and the new administration. Tremendous tact and statesmanship will be an asset in dealing with the obvious threat they pose to the nation. One of the most telling legacies of the administration of the late President Umar Musa Yar'Adua was the amnesty program he initiated for the former deviants from the Niger Delta. But while the late President made useful concessions to ensure the militants embraced peace, it is doubtful if the deal involved the possession of a private navy by Tompolo.

While it is obvious that Buhari has few options beyond cancelling Tompolo's deal with NIMASA it must be done in a manner that strengthens and not weaken the amnesty program. He must be careful not to alienate the people of the Niger Delta. I really do not envy him in whatever decision he eventually takes. Buhari must strike a delicate balance between the overall interests of the Nigerian state in its totality and also act in a manner that demonstrates that he cares for the continued well-being and prosperity of the restive youths from the Niger Delta. It won't be an easy decision, but the President must act with courage and wisdom. The nation expects nothing less from him.

One way to go about it could be to integrate Tompolo's navy and the other militia's into the formal structures of the Navy and the Army in a manner that ensures that the militants retain their means of livelihood. But I am not exactly an expert on such matters. Of one thing though, I am certain: the nation cannot afford to retain the status-quo.    

More deadly than the male...

Where exactly is our dear First Lady Dame Patience Jonathan? The First Lady was unusually absent during the President's last prayer meeting broadcast live on national TV. She was also conspicuously missing during the burial of the late presidential aide Oronto Douglas. Her 'disappearance' from public view has inevitably set the grapevine alive with several theories as a result.

There are those who swore the lady is still in great shock over her husband's defeat at the polls and has lapsed into a bout of depression. Another view is that she has relocated to Dubai to cool off for a while. Some even say she could be in London. Still, others believe she temporarily relocated to Port Harcourt to personally supervise the ''election'' of Nyesom Wike her protégé who ran on the platform of the PDP to teach a certain Rotimi Amaechi a big lesson for his ''treachery'' and role in her husband's defeat. The hilarious group of the lot claim the lady is sulking and insisting that all is not over for her husband until INEC conducts the election of the First Ladies.

Finally, there are those who regard her as the leader of the hawks who believed Jonathan should never had conceded defeat. Those who cling to this theory, insist she still believes her husband should have used his incumbency powers to perpetuate himself in power by any means necessary and damned the consequences. And for that reason they have labelled her as being 'more deadly than the male' (Jonathan), if you have read James Hardley Chase's novel bearing the same title, that is. Time will definitely tell.