When ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, the Ibe-Ebidouwei of Ijaw nation, hounded underground by security agents, in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari in September last year, raised the alarm that security agents had been looting facilities at his Waterfront and Jetty in Warri, powers-that-be at the Nigerian Navy Ship, NNS Delta, Warri, summarily dismissed the allegation.
The waterfront property, near the Chevron Clinic, Edjeba, Warri South Local Government Council, was seized by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, investigating sundry charges against Tompolo, on the orders of a Federal High Court in 2016 and handed over to NNS Delta for safekeeping.
The ex-militant leader reportedly had intention to build a world-class training institution after the Federal Government purchased his Diving Institute at Kurutie community as temporary site for the take-off of the Nigeria Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, and had moved heavy duty and earth- moving equipment, building materials, including granite, sand, iron rod of all sizes, barge and tug-boat building plates (steels), to the site before his travails with the current administration started.
His words to Buhari in September, 2017: “Let me use this medium to also inform the world that the Nigerian Navy under the behest of President Buhari administration has looted my Waterfront and Jetty facilities maliciously and unlawfully seized by the EFCC.
“ In the last taken inventory of my facility, there was over N10 billion worth of building and other materials in the jetty, but information reaching me now has it that the jetty has been stripped bare by service personnel of the Joint Task Force, JTF,
“Some of the materials presumably have been taken to northern Nigeria. How could this happen under your watch? As rightly observed by other well-meaning Nigerians, let me echo their thoughts by asking ‘where is the much touted anti-corruption crusade?” he asked.
Tompolo’s younger brother and former Chairman, Warri South-West Local Government Area, Mr. George Ekpemupolo, told NDV: “Before Tompolo’s open letter, we made frantic efforts to reach the head of the security agency, but they did not listen to us. We even took the matter to court, but they never bothered to come to court.
“When we contacted the Commander of the Navy at the time in Warri over the matter, he insisted that the materials in the Waterfront were intact and queried whether we want to teach him his work when we probed further,” he asserted.
Osinbajo also alerted
A dependable source also hinted that when the Vice- President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo visited Gbaramatu Kingdom, Delta State in August, last year, he was apprised of the theft by Navy personnel.
Cat let out of the bag 10 months after
However, about 10 months later, precisely, Sunday, July 22, 2018, a team of policemen from the ‘A’ Division in Warri, arrested a naval personnel, Lance Corporal Usman Shaibu, driver of a Mercedez Benz self loader, Okugbe Lucky and his conductor, Chime Chukwuka, while removing an electric transformer from the ex-militant leader’s jetty.
The lance corporal named his naval accomplices, a staff sergeant and sergeant, who are reportedly on the run. The Police team that carried out the operation was led by CSP Kelvin Zuokumor, which has mounted an intensive search for the fleeing naval personnel.
Shaibu allegedly revealed that he and his accomplices were going to sell the stolen transformer at N700, 000.
Suspected cover up
NDV learned that there have been several attempts by top naval officials to cover up the disgraceful act since the incident, while a source hinted: “The systematic looting of Tompolo Waterfront facilities by the security agents deployed to guard the property has been an open secret among naval personnel despite the pretences by their superiors.
“Many navy officials knew about the looting and they struggled to be posted to the place because they were looting the place. It was something they did turn by turn,” the source added.
How suspects were tracked – George Ekpemupolo
Tompolo’s brother, Mr. Ekpemupolo, told NDV: “There was a time somebody called me and said that people were using boat to load iron rods from my elder brother’s jetty and they moved them to Ugbuwangue jetty, from where they are loaded onto a truck there. He added that navy personnel are the ones selling the materials.
“Of course, they are because they are the ones in possession of the property. I rushed down to Ugbuwangue, immediately I got there, I saw a 911 truck on the Express Road just leaving the place, that was before my brother did the publication, last year.
“After that time, I was still receiving information because I have my contacts, sometimes it is that a boat entered the Chevron Yard and they were loading things from my brother’s jetty, but we could not get access to the jetty.
“On some occasions, we reached the navy, but the then commanding officer would tell t me categorically that I am not in the position to teach him his job and that as far as that place is concerned, we should steer clear. He said his men were on duty there and we should forget all that we are hear, that there are rumours etc.,” he asserted.
According to him: “After that one, there were series of cases, even there was a day somebody called me to say they want to sell AGO to me and I asked them where they got it from and that I do not buy AGO anyhow because of the nature of my equipment. They said it is clean AGO taken from Tompolo’s tank in the jetty.”
Close watch on jetty entrance
“We tried to liaise with other security agents to catch the people red-handed, but all efforts proved abortive. What we then did was to place surveillance at the entrance of the jetty. The operation in which these people were caught was not the first time; it was in the third operation that we got hold of them.
“In the first one, the truck was already out of the jetty before we got there; the second one, we waited and waited, the truck was inside, but we had no authority to go inside. But when we tried to contact the Navy, they did not answer me. In fact, they warned me not to call them as far as the matter is concerned,” the former local government chair disclosed.
Day of reckoning
His words: “This last operation in which we caught some of them; it was the same contacts that called me, saying that they saw a self-loader truck entering Tompolo’s jetty. I rushed down to the Police, I did not even bother to call the Navy, and we went there to wait for them. Less than 20 minutes after we came, they were coming out with the transformer.
“That was the point at which the police arrested the truck, the Navy officer, who pleaded that we should leave the truck, that he would give us money and all the nonsense he was promising. When he got to the police station, the Navy people wanted to release him that same day, insisting that they are the ones that will treat the matter and will revert to the police later.
“And that evening, it was like the Commissioner of Police insisted that the man should remain in Police custody until the following day. The following day, around 10.00 am, the Navy came with their bus, you understand, it’s like the police gave them the Navy man that was arrested and up till August 3, we did not hear anything from the Navy.
“So I was putting pressure on the Police because I wanted to know the present situation of things on the matter. They said I should not bother because they had sent a letter to the Navy that they would want to go to the jetty to inspect the scene of the incident. I learnt that they said they wanted the complainant, the Police and the Navy to go there and look at the place.
Navy denied us access to jetty
“But on that fateful day, that early morning, when we got to Tompolo’s jetty, the Navy denied us access to the place. This was on August 3, the Navy official that went with the police maintained that as far as he was concerned, the property is government property, so they can only allow the Police to enter to check whatever they want to check, but not those of us from Tompolo’s side,” he said.
Ekpemupolo, who spoke to NDV on phone, asserted: “That day, August 3, was the last time we heard from the Police on the matter. From that day till date, we have not heard anything from the Police and Navy. But a senior police officer that I called said they were still waiting for the Navy, that whenever they were done, they will refer the case back to the Police.”
Navy keeps mum
Efforts by NDV to speak to the Commanding Officer of the NNS Delta, Commodore Ibrahim Dewu, were abortive, as one of our reporters and go-between from another news media were told bluntly that the Navy did not want to make any comment on the matter.
However, Commodore Dewu was not in-charge when the looting started, but the guards continued under his watch until one of them was disgraced in the market square.
Police awaiting Navy admin procedure to take over suspect – CP
Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mr. Muhammad Mustafa, who spoke to NDV on the episode, said: “Crime has been committed, the suspect is in our custody but we have given him to the Nigerian Navy, they told us that they needed to carry out their own part of investigation because he is a security agent and you do not take a serving member to court. They will finish their own part before they hand over to us.”
He maintained that the Navy did not obstruct the police in any manner in the course of their investigation, saying: “The Navy has already reduced the officer in his rank; probably he is a habitual person, so there is no complication at all.
“Even the military (Army) has just transferred one to us, who was said to have killed a policeman somewhere around Jesse during a burial ceremony. They left to duty post, went to where people were scampering for food and in the end, the policeman was killed. They finished their in-house thing, handed over to us, we have arraigned him.”
“The same thing with the navy, they were in our custody, “A” Division in Warri arrested them, did investigation, everything, handed over to them to finish their administrative part of it, of course, they will bring him back for prosecution.
“Investigation has been done, so when he comes back, they finish it. Police do not take serving personnel to court that way; we have to write their organization, they finish some vital aspects before handing over to us,” the commissioner disclosed.