On Thursday, February 11, 2016, the EFCC declared militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, wanted. The very next day, I sat in the studios at Smooth 98.1 FM, Lagos, and on air, during the morning newspaper review, #FreshlyPressed981, and argued with Ireti and Ugodre that the wanted declaration was a bad idea. Both were of the opinion that Nigeria needed to show Tompolo who is boss.
While I agreed with that sentiment, I kept telling them that the time to show Tompolo who is boss has not yet come. I’d said the same thing a few weeks before, on the same show, when the idea of arresting Tompolo came up. Heck, I even told same to a few of my friends in the government. Eventually the man needs to be arrested, but the time is not right yet. You will only end up making the government look stupid. Same message was passed across in WhatsApp groups, on Facebook, on Twitter. But no, Nigerians, or at least a section of Nigerians, wanted blood, and were happy if the government went ahead to arrest Tompolo.
Today, one year, two months, and a day later, Tompolo will be celebrating his 46th birthday in the freedom of his state. A colloquium will be held in his honour, and the state governor, deputy governor, and other dignitaries, will be there.
Is there a better middle-finger to the Nigerian state?
Tompolo dropped out of Warri Comprehensive College in 1993 to pursue a life of militancy. He dropped out when an opportunity arose to supply diesel to Chevron in the Warri area, and made a lot of money doing that over the next four years. Then in 1997, war broke out between the Ijaw and Itsekiri, and that was where he made his name. His group, the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities waged war against the Itsekiri Deadly Underdogs, and won. By the time the war was over in 2002, Tompolo was the disputed leader of the Ijaw in Delta state. A year later, Asari Dokubo and his NDPVF came to prominence, something Obasanjo would not abide. So Asari was removed from the scene. Into the void created by Asari’s incarceration stepped Tompolo. He was one of the original five commanders of MEND, and his FNDIC took over Camp Five. Of course the amnesty programme did them a world of good, but while most of the others took advantage of the riches offered by the amnesty, Tompolo showed that he had learned a thing or two from Machiavelli.
“He who becomes a Prince through the favour of the people should always keep on good terms with them.”
Following the amnesty, Asari, Boyloaf, and others from the Niger Delta, swapped their region for the shiny lights of Abuja. Tompolo stayed. And built his strength. Scholarships to local kids, but just as important, getting his people into the Delta State hierarchy ensured that when the government of Goodluck Jonathan eventually fell, the people of the region knew where their loyalties lay.
This brings us to the current Nigerian government.
As happened in the case of Nnamdi Kanu, Ibrahim Zakzaky, the Nigerian state has created a hero out of someone who needed not have been made one. The difference between Kanu and Zakzaky on the one hand, and Tompolo on the other, is that Tompolo has not seen the inside of a cell. His continued defiance of government organs, and more recently, his flaunting of that defiance, shows two things — the Nigerian state no longer has a monopoly of violence within its borders, and as a result, can no longer enforce its will within those borders.
We may not like it, but the man, especially in the year 2016 when our economy came close to collapse, has shown that the days of the Nigerian state as it is currently constituted, are numbered. And to be honest, that is a good thing.
Cheta Nwanze is journalist and information technology professional. He is a political activist and social affairs commentator. He tweets from @Chxta.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.