The Ijaws in Niger Delta deserve a special freedom, a freedom to enjoy the God’s natural endowments deposited in their soil which came in form of oil and Gas whose proceeds provide over 85% main economy of the nation’s budgets over 50 years.
Ironically, the Ijaws apart from few privileged politicians and businessmen/women, majority of the communities and the people live in wretched lives or squalor, soaked in polluted environment amidst harsh and abject poverty looking stark in the face with poverty that never existed in any where in the world-suffering in the midst of abundance.
Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo, a former MEND leader recruited some of the poor boys in the creek and took up arms against the federal might just like late Major Isaac Adaka Boro for years to better the lot of the Ijaw people. The Tompolo’s armed struggle drew the attention of the international community of the stark economic reality of the Ijaws in Niger Delta whose domain the crude oil is extracted and left in abject poverty.
Tompolo was not the only one, Asari Dokubo, Mr. Ben Ebikabowei, aka Gen Boyloaf, Ateke Tom, late General John Togo and others formed the Niger Delta rag tag army that gave the Nigerian military hell as casualties recorded on both parties with the nations economy brought to its knees with persistent bombing of oil facilities in Niger Delta .
But for the wisdom of late President Yar’Adua in 2009, he brought the olive branch and sent the dove of peace with a strange term amnesty granted to the agitators in Niger Delta for peace in Niger Delta. Chief Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo also accepted and keyed into the amnesty programme, making the nation’s economy bounce back again.
While then, many Niger Delta analysts believed that even though the amnesty was not a real solution to the Niger Delta problem. But remained mute for the fact that it will bring in the needed peace in the region where Ijaw communities were used as a sacrificial lambs by being bombarded with military aerial bombers from time to time without number. Nigerian military air force used the Ijaw villages to rehearse or test run their newly acquired heavy military wares, bombing innocent communities in the name of fighting militancy.
In most cases, even though the military knew that the militant camps were far away in kilometers from the residential civil ancient communities, they preferred bombing these innocent villages where children, women and men with legitimate businesses were killed in dozens and nothing happens. The innocent and harmless Ijaw towns were attacked and bombed as one of the Chinese military strategies of attacking the weak points of their opponents to weaken them. That was a clear case of the Ijaws in the hands of Nigerian military offensives.
The Ijaws after Yar’Adua’s amnesty barely ten years, they still need infrastructural freedom, a freedom to enjoy her natural resources found in her domain. The Niger Delta, a swamp full of dollars is being enjoyed by people from distant places.
In 2015, shortly after the presidential election which former President Goodluck Jonathan who conceded defeat with ‘‘ a phone call’’ that brought in President Muhammadu Buhari , the Economic and financial crime Commission (EFCC) much appeared like acting on a written script by enemies of the region, beamed their searchlight on innocent man, a man of peace, Chief Government Ekpemuplo aka Tompolo by started raising all false or frame-up politically motivated allegations of over invoiced contracts or arbitrary sales of Ijaw people land (Okerenkoko) a land sold to the federal government for the citing of the Maritime University Campus which sparked off heated controversy.
A land formally purchased by a legitimate government under former President Goodluck Jonatha became a source of augment and the seller being haunted by declaring him on wanted list for his refusal to honour EFCC invitation to answer questions. The EFCC invitation on Tompolo was grave and ominous. That too is not the main issue here. That was an history now. The main issue is a plea to President Muhammadu Buhari to grant him a presidential pardon to rejoin with his family as friends.
There were allegations and counter allegations from the EFCC and few moles, locales who were used as instrument to nail the young and energetic ex-freedom fighter only to hang him with a bad name. Tompolo’s present situation is not better than the Shiites leader Ibrahim El-Zazaki. One although, not in prison while the other is in prison. But for a family leader to continue to live in hideout for fear of being arrested over politically motivated charges , disconnecting from his family and friends for over four years is almost the same thing as a prisoner. The freedom or presidential pardon of Tompolo is paramount not only to his immediate family, but to the Ijaw nation or Niger Delta region.
Something became so obvious that if the embattled Tompolo had surrendered to the hawks, he might have been gnashing his teeth in DSS dungeon like the Dasuku and El-Zazakys who since 2015 fell victims to EFCC and DSS satanic trap. Tompolo’s EFCC invitation in all sense now became so clear as a one way ticket. But that is history and not the main issue. The main issue here, President Muhammadu Buhari should give a soft landing to Tompolo in his second tenure and write his name in gold.
As it stands, about ten years after the late Yar’Adua Musa amnesty in Niger Delta, the region did not have any meaningful development as it remained the same. But that is not to say the youths should return to arms agitation. Enough of armed struggle as it is counter productive. The Niger Delta region will use the intellectual non-violent approach to agitate for a better deal. An approach that will better attract genuine development to the region.
The Ijaw leaders and Tompolo’s family in Gbaramatu have pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to grant a pardon on Tompolo, in their deeper conscience freedom of Tompolo as much to them as they believed in him so that his participation in the nation’s political process will attract real development to the people of Niger Delta as a freed man. They urged President Muhammadu Buhari to write his name on gold by giving a soft landing to Tompolo just as he did to members of Boko Haram leaders and their boys who were on wanted list by the federal government. The Ijaw national leader, Chief EK Clark believed that Tompolo is a man of peace and never appears as a national security to the nation.
The Ijaws also believed that President Muhammadu Buhari is a national leader and by extension the father of the entire nation. Therefore, they appeal to him to free Tompolo and free the Ijaws from the shackles of oppression, poverty and infrastructural deficit by building criss-cross road net works, bridges, sea ports to attract development to the oil rich, but poor Niger Delta oil community. The Ijaws believed that the unity of Nigeria with equal opportunities for all will boost peace and national integrity and make Nigeria great before the international community,rather than being divided in religion and ethnic divides.
Opukeme, writes from Warri. He is a Niger Delta activist.