The former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Government Ekpemupolo (aka Tompolo) was recently alleged to have acquired four warships. The acquisition has also raised fears among ethnicities in the Niger Delta area.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) regards this information as disturbing. Coming at the peak of electioneering excitement, a rumour like the acquisition of deadly weapons by a militant leader must be taken seriously by security conscious Nigerians.
The fear about such acquisition is heightened by earlier threats coming from Niger Delta militants to the effect that the latter would attack the rest of the country if President Jonathan fails to clinch a second term ticket. There must be apprehension if a witch cried yesterday and a child dies today.
It is however reassuring that Tompolo, through his spokesman, Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, has denied the allegation. Although the Niger Delta warlord debunked the allegation of acquisition of warships, he admitted that he actually bought boats equipped with modern surveillance devices to track oil thieves.
He also assured members of the public that the ships had been in the care of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) for the past two years. According to Tompolo, NIMASA involved the Nigerian Navy in the usage and operations of the surveillance boats.
The ball is therefore in the courts of NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy. What does NIMASA know about the boats? Is it true that they were bought with NIMASA’s assistance as claimed by Tompolo? Can the NAVY also confirm that the boats are not equipped with war arsenals? The Nigerian public needs to know.
The responses of both NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy will go a long way to douse tension throughout the country. Nigerians have been on edge since the news broke in the media. It is capable of fueling an arms race among different ethnicities, not only in the Niger Delta but nationwide. This is a dangerous dimension particularly if the weapons fall into wrong hands. It may worsen the security challenge facing the country.
MURIC reminds people of the Niger Delta of the moral support they enjoyed from civil society in particular, the press and the Nigerian public in general during its armed struggle. We assure MEND and other groups in the region of our consistency in condemning the excesses of the oil companies, the nonchalance of past regimes and the criminal deprivation of the region of economic, health and education infrastructure.
However, we advise groups from the region to eschew threats and violence and to always resort to legal and constitutional means in finding lasting solution to problems facing the Niger Delta. This is the only way groups from the region can continue to enjoy public sympathy.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)