The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan doles out almost $40 million annually to four of Niger Delta’s top former warlords as protection fee for oil pipelines they used to attack in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
According to the report tagged “Nigeria’s Former Oil Bandits Now Collect Government Cash”, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pays the warlords a total of $39.5 million annually.
The payment includes the contract awarded to former warlord Government “Tompolo” Ekpumopolo to protect oil pipelines by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Dokubo Asari who confirmed receiving $9 million a year to pay his 4,000 “foot soldiers” to guard oil pipelines was quoted by the Journal’s reporter Drew Hinshaw as saying “I don’t see anything wrong with it” in an interview at his Abuja home recently.
Two other former warlords “Gen” Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Victor Ben and “Gen” Ateke Tom get $3.8 million each under the arrangement.
The report quoted “Boyloaf” as asking “how much money is involved in this interview?” before ending the call when contacted for comments while Ateke Tome and “Tompolo” were not forthcoming about the payments revealed by a senior official of the NNPC.
“Nigeria is shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year to maintain an uneasy calm in the oil rich delta” the report said noting that oil production which once plummeted to 500,000 barrels has now risen to 2.6 million barrels daily.
However, it also pointed out that the policy of cash-backing former warlords may have back-fired by giving young men in the Niger Delta the impression that militancy pays, luring many who can’t get the millions of dollars back to the oil-theft business which, the report quoting Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigeria unit, says is on the rise again siphoning more than 150,000 barrels from pipelines daily.
As a result, the report described the huge expenditures on containment of Niger Delta militants, which includes about 450 million dollars for the on-going amnesty programme in the 2012 budget, as a “political liability” for President Jonathan.
It observed how his administration struggles to finance even basic commitments such as power, roads and education while his aides continued defending the “high cost of peace” in the Niger Delta “by saying the treasury would face an even worse drain if a full blown militancy in the Delta flared up again” since 80% of the government revenue flows from the oil fields. Oronto Douglas, senior adviser to the president quipped “if its too huge, what are the alternatives?”
The report also captured other enticements enjoyed by the former militants thus: “Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton and through much of 2010 and 2011 spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge’s complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P Cognac priced at $51 a shot on the room service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes – gumbos, Jollof rice pilafs, goat stews – they rubbed shoulders with the country’s leading politicians and influence peddlers.”
Commenting on this in the report, Tony Uranta, a member of the government’s Niger Delta Technical Committee advisory group described it as “a natural thing” noting that the militants were young men who came out of the creeks and were given the opportunity to hang out with crème de la crème, wearing gold watches and drinking from gold-rimmed tea cups.”
The NNPC has denied the claim that it was being used to make the alleged payment.
When LEADERSHIP contacted the acting spokesman of the Corporation, Mr. Fidel Pepple, he said the Corporation has no information on the payments “there is nothing to suggest that that is true”.
Militants storm Abuja, seek inclusion in amnesty programme
Some militants from Niger Delta region yesterday morning stormed the Federal Secretariat in Abuja demanding inclusion in the Federal Government’s amnesty programme.
The militants, our sources said, travelled overnight by bus and arrived in Abuja in the early hours of yesterday.
The militants converged on the secretariat chanting anti-government slogans, and insisting that they must be included in the third phase of the amnesty programme.
The police later dispersed them but later they gathered at the nearby Bayelsa House, where they were awaiting officials of the amnesty office to address them.