How Tompolo and Henry Okah fell apart
■ Faces behind MEND, RNDA
By MURPHY GANAGANA
When the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) announced through a recent statement credited to its spokesman, Gbomo Jomo, that it had secured concessions from the Federal Government and listed the names of Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo and Nnamdi Kanu as would be beneficiaries of the concessions, the two key stakeholders refuted the claims by MEND.
Since then, several questions have swamped the minds of keen observers of goings-on in the Niger Delta as more incidents occurred and other events unfolded: Does the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) truly exist presently? Was its former leader, Tompolo, consulted and his consent secured before the group announced his involvement in the Aaron Team 2 it constituted for negotiations with the Federal Government to halt the renewed hostilities in the Niger Delta? Are the ranks of the rampaging Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) actually broken and a splinter group, the Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) formed?
These are the questions agitating the minds of several trouble-shooters, particularly those alien to the Niger Delta struggle in their quest to arrest the sustained bombing of oil facilities by the Avengers and other militant groups that have drastically cut crude oil production output and brought the nation’s economy to its knees.
The scenario is becoming more complex by the day as Sunday Sun findings revealed that a whirlwind triggered by a combination of political and economic interests had blurred the vision of some key actors in the Niger Delta armed struggle, who are now dancing to different tunes in what seems to be a contest for survival of the fittest.
To be sure, things have fallen apart and the centre cannot hold, as some ex-commanders and key actors of the original MEND who were hitherto comrades-in-arm, have now drawn the line in what has turned out to be a war of the “Generals” which, sources said, might get messier and compound the crises in the Niger Delta if the Federal Government continues to misread intelligence on developments in the area.
Investigations by Sunday Sun indicated that the unfolding war began to brew in 2009 shortly after the proclamation of presidential amnesty for Niger Delta militants by the former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, when relationship between Henry Okah, now held in a South African prison on terrorism-related charges, and ex-warlord, Chief Ekpemupolo, both of whom were said to be the driving forces behind MEND while it reigned, became strained.
It was learnt that while Tompolo was in the mangrove forests in the creeks commanding the foot-soldiers in a devastating assault on oil facilities in the region, to draw the attention of the Nigerian government and the international community to the plight of the pauperized and marginalized Niger Delta people, Henry Okah took charge of providing critical logistics and information dissemination both locally and internationally, allegedly using the pseudonym, Jomo Gbomo. In addition, Okah was also said to have provided needed logistics to some other militant commanders with smaller operational bases, all of which later coalesced under MEND, with Tompolo as the supreme commander.
However, informed sources hinted Sunday Sun correspondent that Tompolo and Henry Okah parted ways after the offer of amnesty, following a power tussle over the leadership of MEND. The acrimony between both men persisted until Henry Okah, his brother, Charles, and three others were arrested and kept behind bars in South Africa and Nigeria respectively, over bombings in Abuja, the nation’s capital during an Independence Day celebration.
Aftermath of Yar’Adua’s amnesty and the Abuja bombing
Having accepted the amnesty offer and persuaded his fellow compatriots in the defunct MEND to embrace it whole-heartedly, Tompolo momentarily transformed from an outlaw to a beautiful bride sought after by all and sundry, who wanted patronage at top level government and business circles, just as his influence and power soared by the day. That was the scenario throughout the six-year reign of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, while Henry Okah, his close allies and younger brother, remained holed up in jail.
It was learnt that prior to their incarceration, the bombing of ex-president Jonathan’s home at Otueke, Bayelsa State, shortly after he became vice president in 2007, and the subsequent Independence Day bombing in Abuja, might have deepened the gully of bad blood between Tompolo and the Okah brothers, as the former reportedly perceived the latter as derailing in the collective vision and mission of the Niger Delta struggle.
As at then, the Okah brothers and their close associates including two ex-MEND commanders in Bayelsa State, who though participated in the amnesty programme and had apparently played along with Tompolo, were faced with no option than lying low awaiting an auspicious moment to move against him.
Sources conversant with happenings in the Niger Delta said Jonathan’s defeat in the 2015 presidential poll and the All Progressives Congress taking over the reins of power at the federal level afforded them the opportunity to strike, leveraging on the fact that while the good times lasted and he called the shots, Tompolo allegedly stepped on several toes and created enemies of ethnic coloration in his home state, Delta, among some powerful forces in the northern oligarchy, ex-military Generals and the oil cabal power brokers
The fact that he allegedly led dozens of ex-militants to support the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate who eventually won the recent election in Bayelsa State, was also said to have been used as a tool by some ex-MEND commanders and associates of Henry Okah, with the alleged support of a former governor and chieftain of the ruling party. Tompolo, sources said, had earlier been approached by some APC chieftains prior to the gubernatorial contest to hands-off the election so that they would help him in resolving his problems with President Muhammadu Buhari, but he declined the deal.
Dependable sources close to the key actors in the Niger Delta armed struggle told Sunday Sun that the two ex-MEND commanders close to the Okahs, allegedly working in league with an ex-governor and Tompolo’s two arch rivals in Delta State, on a dual plot aimed at ultimately securing freedom for the Okah brothers and their associates presently in detention, and riding on the popularity of the defunct MEND, which is said to be non-existent in reality, but strives on social media platforms with the Okah brothers and their allies allegedly maintaining the Jomo Gbomo pseudonym for the group’s credibility.
Contrary to suspicions and speculations as to whether Tompolo was contacted and his consent secured before MEND announced his name among others on the Aaron Team 2 for participation in negotiations with the Federal Government, Sunday Sun reliably gathered that the ex-agitator was not a part of the arrangement.
“It is just a strategy to give the impression to the Federal Government that they have the ears of Tompolo and that the Okah brothers could regain their freedom in the present dispensation by bringing in the name of Tompolo. We suspect that this is being done in conjunction with another top ex-agitator (name withheld) who is a very close friend and loyalist of Henry Okah, and he is believed to be acting the script with the active backing of an ex-Niger Delta governor, who might have made a proposal to the presidency to this effect.
“The same thing they claimed in the case Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader, who denied links with MEND and vehemently refused to renounce Biafra to regain his freedom. It meant that the MEND statement was not issued with his consent, just as it was the case with Tompolo; they were just flying a kite,” the source told Sunday Sun.
He added that if the first plan failed, then the Plan B proposal might also have been sold to the president. The source said: “If the plan to co-opt Tompolo failed, they would form another group to fight him with the belief that he is the brain behind the Niger Delta Avengers despite his consistent denial of any link with them, and the belief that it is Henry Okah that knew how to acquire critical logistics.
“That informed the emergence of RNDA, with a hasty declaration of resolve to join the Aaron Team 2 peace initiative and pledge to co-operate with government by exposing the identities of their “comrades” who remained recalcitrant in sustaining the attacks on oil facilities. It was not just mere co-incidence; they want to use Tompolo as a bargaining chip to negotiate freedom for Henry and Charles Okah. But the truth is that MEND no longer exists; Henry and his cohorts want to seize the initiative from the NDA to negotiate with government to their own advantage.”
The source who did not want to be named in print for obvious reasons, alleged that while one Mr. GK had adopted the pseudonym of Cynthia White on the platform of the defunct Niger Delta Revolutionary Council (NDRC), the name is allegedly being used by Charles Okah and his group at present from the confines of the Kuje prisons.
A former political office holder in the presidency who confided in Sunday Sun last week echoed the claim that though incarcerated, Charles Okah was not incapacitated on the cyberspace, where he is very active. “The guy is on top of happenings in the outside world and is very active on social media platforms. He had a very heated exchange with me on Facebook not too long ago simply because I advised them against continuing with a struggle that had seemingly lost focus, and he was very bitter with me. I called his bluff and blocked him from accessing me on social media, and the consequence did not take long to come.” said the ex-presidency aide who was listed recently by the RNDA among those sympathetic to the Niger Delta Avengers.
Evidently, the war of the creek “Generals” is raging, and no one can tell when the real battle would snap. But as the Federal Government continues to wobble with no clear road map to resolve the crises and halt the bombing of oil facilities by aggrieved militant groups in the Niger Delta, the nation’s economy bleeds progressively amid fears that it might get to a point of no remedy.
“What is happening today is that the bombing is not done by Avengers alone; the bombing is done by the Avengers and the anti-Avengers, the bombing is done by the Reformed Avengers and the Avengers because the Reformed Avengers too have people who are funding them. So when the Niger Delta Avengers say they are on break (ceasefire), the other people will say go and hit; and when they hit, they would run back to government and say ‘we told you that these people are not to be trusted,” a former special adviser to two ex-governors of Bayelsa State, Jude Tabai, who said he had participated deeply in the Niger Delta struggle and maintained a close relationship with several ex-MEND commanders, including Tompolo, told Sunday Sun last week, in Abuja.
Keen observers of the unfolding scenario in the troubled oil-rich region are, however, of the opinion that with a thick cloud of uncertainty hanging over the area occasioned by divergent political and economic interests of the ex-combatants, President Buhari should frontally tackle the underlying issues of neglect, marginalization and infrastructural development as contained in the second phase of the amnesty document, which is yet to be implemented, rather than engaging in negotiations with any group. They believe that doing this faithfully and purposefully remains the only path to achieving sustainable peace in the Niger Delta.