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Tompolo: On the run?

NIMASA and Tompolo: A marriage made for money

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, told the Senate Committee on Marine Transport yesterday: “The responsibility of NIMASA [Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency] is to protect Nigeria’s waterways but it has out-sourced its responsibility to a private firm, Global West, which Tompolo has interest in. We need to first address the contract of Global West with NIMASA. I was extremely disappointed NIMASA made 63 billion naira annually and this money is not remitted to the government coffers. At the moment, 53 billion naira is at Treasury Single Account (TSA) of NIMASA.”

So what was the nature of the relationship between Tompolo and NIMASA?

“Tompolo” is Government Ekpemupolo, a former Niger Delta militant and one of the leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that accepted an “amnesty programme” with the federal government in 2009, allegedly in exchange for lucrative government contracts.

Tompolo’s connections with NIMASA can be traced to his days as a MEND guerrilla leader. One of the commanders of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) that was meant to suppress the MEND insurgency, Lt-Colonel Agbu Kefas, was alleged to have been compromised with huge sums of money from Tompolo, the leader of the guerrillas he was meant to be fighting.

After the insurgents laid down their arms and Tompolo became hugely influential in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, helping the latter win the 2011 presidential (s)election, the MEND leader was allowed to handpick the Chairman and Director-General of NIMASA. He chose the now retired Kefas and Patrick Akpobolokemi for those positions.

One of NIMASA’s core functions is to “provide maritime security”. But the agency had no boats to carry out this function and no powers to bear arms, and instead their Maritime Guard Command had a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the Nigerian Navy. But the navy had very limited capacity, so were no use to NIMASA.

NIMASA HQ in Apapa, Lagos
NIMASA HQ in Apapa, Lagos

As a result, Akpobolokemi entered into a Private Public Partnership (PPP) agreement with Global West, owned by Tompolo, to provide attack vessels to police Nigeria’s waterways. It is not quite clear whether any vessels were provided. However, the deal was that Global West would be entitled to a percentage of NIMASA’s total earnings each year. The percentage was not fixed. NIMASA also agreed to meet the operational costs of running the Global West vessels. This was a no-lose situation for Tompolo and Global West.

Contrary to the lurid headlines, Tompolo was not running NIMASA, but as a source told, the former MEND commander’s “boys” were in charge.

Amaechi has now suggested that the agency may be scrapped: “So it is either NIMASA sits up and carries out its own responsibility or we come to the National Assembly to repeal the Act setting it up and allow the department of marine security in the Ministry of Transportation to discharge the responsibility currently being discharged by NIMASA.”

A NIMASA source responded: “As top generals in the Nigerian military have been exposed for stealing funds meant for fighting Boko Haram, does that mean we should scrap the military?”

Former NIMASA DG Akpobolokemi arrives at the Federal High Court
Former NIMASA DG Akpobolokemi arrives at the Federal High Court

Tompolo has refused to respond to an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) invitation in relation to fraud at NIMASA, and is reportedly hiding in the Niger Delta creeks. His “boy” the former Director-General is currently being tried with six others at the Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly looting 2.6bn naira ($13m) from the agency.

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