Tompolo was on February 11, 2016, declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his failure to appear in court to defend himself of corruption charges, allegedly running into several billions of Naira.
Since his disappearance, not much has been heard about his whereabouts except for his earlier hunt by soldiers and the mentioning of his matter in courtrooms. One of such occasions was the recent Lagos Appeal Court judgment that sanctioned the bench warrant issued against him by a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Tompolo had appealed the ruling of the Lagos Federal High Court presided over by Justice Ibrahim Buba which ordered a bench warrant against him and subsequently led EFCC to declare him wanted. The dismissal of Tompolo’s prayers to set aside the warrant of arrest placed on him, means the former warlord remains a fugitive and the country’s number one enemy.
He once ruled the creeks of the Niger Delta. Feared and dreaded, his name struck terror and sent chill down the spines of both friends and foes. Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, a former militant leader is on the run. Today, nearly 18 months after, he is Nigeria’s most wanted fugitive.
The fortunes of the former warlord may not have swung badly had power not changed hand in 2015 with the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari who proclaimed a war on corruption.
Tompolo was first declared wanted in May 2009 by Brigadier-General Sarkin Yaki Bello, commander of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Niger Delta.
The administration of Umaru Yar’ Adua had accused him and his group of militants in the Gbaramutu creeks of the oil region of killing 11 soldiers, one officer and 10 others. That alleged murder was just one among several other atrocities such as illegitimate bunkering, operation of illegal refineries, bombardment of oil pipelines, kidnapping and piracy, which Tompolo was said to have committed then. He remained underground and elusive until the granting of amnesty to militants by late President Yar’Adua.
However, by 2011, under President Goodluck Jonathan, the former fugitive had become a notable billionaire and one of the most celebrated Nigerians, not minding his violent past and little or no education.
To cement its relationship with the former militant leader, the Peoples Democratic Party-led Federal Government awarded a contract worth $103.4 million (over N15 billion) to Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVSL), a firm supposedly owned by Tompolo.
The firm was asked to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. The contract had a 10-year concession agreement and meant to be renewed for two terms of five years each.
The table, however, turned after then incumbent President Jonathan was defeated by current President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC).
The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) provided the greatest haven for Tompolo’s empowerment, with clear and tacit support by the Jonathan administration.
As the EFCC discovered, a N13 billion land deal Tompolo consummated with the then Jonathan government was cover for a major loot of NIMASA assets.
The commission’s further probe into NIMASA’s activities threw up more indicting cases against Tompolo. Contracts awarded to him and his alleged firm were said to have been done illegally.
The EFCC subsequently accused him of conspiracy, illegal diversion of the sum of N34 billion and another N11.9 billion belonging to NIMASA, along with the agency’s former director general, Ziadeke Akpobolokemi. Based on his refusal to honour EFCC’s summon as well as court summons, Tompolo was declared wanted a second time, the first being under the administration of late Yar’Adua.
But Tompolo chose the courts for cover. In his response on the allegation that he refused to honour court summon he had said, “On the 24th of November 2015, I was informed at about 4pm that a letter of invitation had been dropped at my home in Warri, inviting me to EFCC’s office in Lagos by 10am on the 25th of November 2015.
“I responded by a letter from my solicitors, Messrs Jakpa, Edoge & Co. The letter dated 25th of November 2015 was received by one Uduak Ouot, a staff of EFCC on the 3rd of December 2015, after several attempts to deliver. I have proof of delivery from the courier company.
“I was therefore not a little surprised that the EFCC – an otherwise reputable institution – would stoop so low as to lie to Nigerians.
“As my solicitor’s letter indicated I am already in court with the EFCC in Suit No: FHC/W/CS/152/2015. EFCC had been served with the court processes since 20th of October 2015 but they refused to attend court on several occasions, or to file any court papers, only to appear for the first time on 30th November 2015 without filing any court papers. They even asked for the matter to be adjourned to 17th December 2015, the date they are now inviting me to appear before them.
“In fact, EFCC only invited me two months after I sued them. In my solicitor’s letter I informed them that as soon as the court decides one way or another, I would honour their invitation.
“So the attempt to harass me by their reminder of 9th December 2015, which was leaked to the media on the 10th of December 2015, the same day as it was delivered to my house in Warri is an unnecessary and face saving effort at brinksmanship.”
Tompolo took to his heels soon after Justice Buba on January 14, 2016, issued a bench warrant against him. He was formerly declared wanted by the EFCC on February 11, 2016.
In an advertorial signed by its Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, which carried a photograph of Tompolo, he was described as a 47-year – old, dark – complexioned man from Okerenkoko, Gbaramotu Kingdom in the Warri South – West Local Government Area of Delta State, the EFCC said:
“The general public is hereby notified that Government Ekpemupolo (a. k .a. Tompolo), whose photograph appears above , is wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in relation to the offence of conspiracy , illegal diversion of the sum of N34 ,000 ,000 ,000 .00 and N11 ,900 ,000 ,000 .00 belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. ”
Resurgence in the activities of Niger Delta militants apparently took a dangerous dimension soon after Tompolo was declared wanted.
He was later accused by the Nigeria security forces to be the leader of one of the most dreaded militant groups, the Niger Delta Avengers.
Though Tompolo severally denied leadership of the group and went as far as criticizing its activities, he was not believed by the soldiers who began to hunt for him.
The Nigerian Army subsequently launched Operation Crocodile Smile and deployed them to the creeks of the oil region in hunt of Tompolo and other militants.
During the search, the people of Gbaramatu Kingdom, home of the militant leader, alleged that their town was besieged, ransacked and that the kingdom’s “golden sword”, which is its symbol of authority was removed from Egbesu Shrine during soldiers invasion of Oporoza, headquarters of Gbaramatu Kingdom, in Warri South-West of Delta State.
There were such other allegations of women being raped as well as youths of the kingdom manhandled by the soldiers. Tompolo’s aged father was also reportedly shot and was said to have later died of the gun injury he sustained during the army search for his son.
Yet, Tompolo, like was in the case of 1999, when he was first declared wanted, was nowhere to be found and has remained elusive.
However, in the midst of all these, questions agitating the minds of many is where really is Tompolo? Are there genuine efforts to have him arrested and will he ever be caught?