The acquisition of seven decommissioned Norwegian battleships by a company believed to be owned by an ex-militant, Government Ekpemupolo, is threatening to fan the embers of ethnic hostility in the Niger Delta, as a pan-Itsekiri organisation, the Warri Study Group, WSG, has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to revoke the security contract granted Mr. Ekpemupolo’s company and place him under watch.
In a statement signed by the group’s Chairman, Edward Ekpoko, and Secretary, Tony Ede, the WSG warned that if Mr. Ekpemupolo, popularly called Tompolo, turned the weapon against the Itsekiri or other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta, the international community should hold Mr. Jonathan accountable for failing to act.
On Saturday, PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr. Ekpemupolo’s security company, Global West Vessel Service, which was awarded a multi-billion-naira contract by the Federal government to secure pipelines in the Niger Delta, procured seven decommissioned Hulk class battleships from Norway. According to the report, the battleships with capability to carry missiles have been re-armed.
The procurement appears to violate Nigeria’s law. Part II Section 17 of the Private Guard Companies Act forbids private security companies from procuring or carrying deadly weapons.
“No person approved under the provisions of this act shall bear or possess any firearm or ammunition in the course of his duties,” the act stipulates.
WSG says it fears that Mr Ekpemupolo, who is from the Ijaw ethnic group, as Mr. Jonathan, may use the weapon against the Istekiris who have a long history of ethnic rivalry with the Ijaws.
“President Jonathan, Tompolo and the DG of NIMASA are all of Ijaw extraction and we therefore see a script being acted out. Nigeria is the only country in the world where individuals – a rehabilitated militant for that matter – is awarded a contract to oversee the security of the coastline of a nation and with powers to import warships and sophisticated arms,” it said in the statement.
The group said it observed that since Mr Ekpemupolo’s company was awarded the contract to protect pipelines in the region, oil theft and bunkering have been on the increase. It, therefore, suggested that the battleships may be meant for intimidating other ethnic nationalities in the region rather than for what it was ostensibly procured for.