What BAT’s Tompolo Visit Tells Us About Nigerian Politics

November 26, 2022

Unless you’re very new to Nigerian politics, Tompolo is a name that rings many bells. He’s been trending online since the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), visited him on November 25, 2022. 

When a frontrunner for the presidency is showing up on your doorsteps then it’s clear you wield some clout. So we need to understand who Tompolo is, and why this visit is significant.

Who’s Tompolo?

Tompolo’s birth name is Government Ekpemupolo. That’s not a typo, his name is really Government so we aren’t shocked he grew up to become a government unto himself. Tompolo was born in 1971, to a royal family in Okerenkoko, Gbaramatu Kingdom of Warri South Local Government Area in Delta state.

In 1993, Tompolo dropped out of school to join a resistance group in the Niger Delta. He was a member of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and was later invited to join fellow militant Asari Dokubo’s Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF). He rose through the ranks to become a high commander at MEND and used his influence and wealth to fund the powerful militant group. 

Tompolo led several raids against oil facilities in the Niger Delta, blew up pipelines and crippled Nigeria’s oil production in a bid to call the government’s attention to the degradation of the Niger Delta — by degrading the Niger Delta. There’s an expression for this kind of behaviour: “Cutting your nose to spite your face.” 

Naturally, he caught the attention of the federal government. After negotiations with the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009, Tompolo and other groups agreed to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty and cash. For the time, the destruction in the region ceased.

Buhari goes after Tompolo

After Yar’Adua’s death, Goodluck Jonathan took over as president and the Niger Delta was relatively stable. Jonathan’s loss in 2015 however, upset the status quo. Tompolo became a wanted man again. 

Remember that Muhammadu Buhari campaigned to fight corruption to a standstill? Tompolo became a priority on his list as he was under a lucrative contract by the previous government to secure pipelines in the Niger Delta. In 2016, the EFCC declared him wanted over the illegal diversion of ₦34 billion belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

In response to the court warrant for his arrest, Tompolo allegedly blew up more oil installations in the Niger Delta. The battle was on between Government and the federal government.

Tompolo goes into hiding

With the full force of the real government bearing down on him, Tompolo went into hiding. In 2016, the Nigerian army raided his village and arrested the traditional ruler. Tompolo cried out from hiding to deny responsibility for the attacks on oil facilities, and blamed another militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). 

In July 2020, a federal high court dismissed all charges against Tompolo. He made his first public appearance after six years in October 2020.

Why is BAT’s visit significant?

The same man who was declared wanted under the administration of the APC has now become the beautiful bride. BAT’s campaigner, Festus Keyamo, who was the prosecutor in the case against Tompolo, embraced him warmly during the visit.

The BAT also visited the traditional ruler of Gbaramatu. He bagged a chieftaincy title and promised the kingdom a deep sea port, university and industrial park.

If Tompolo’s story points to anything, it’s that there are no permanent enemies in Nigerian politics, only permanent interests. Whether this visit will translate to sizable votes for Tinubu in the South-South remains to be seen. For now, let’s just sit back and watch Nigeria’s political drama unfold.

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