Opening remarks by Amb (Dr.) Godknows B. Igali, OON at the 48th birthday celebration and 3rd edition of High Chief Government Ekpemupolo Symposium, held in Warri on Friday 12th April, 2019.
This ancient city of Warri had seen many similar lectures, public presentations and discussions over the issues which are considered topical to the people of our region. However, our gathering today has an additional impetus and significance due to the fact that we are here to thank God for the life of our son, one of Niger Delta’s greatest ever, High Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemupolo who is better known as Tompolo.
It is a time to express our collective goodwill and offer prayers for the yielded life of Tompolo or GOC as some others would still want to call him.
Let me thank GbaramatuVoice and other members of the organising team for the foresight.
Leading the vanguard alongside other young men, Tompolo has left a footprint in the dialogue and conversation over the situation in the Niger Delta. That story centres around the realism of the plight of the 70,000sqr kilometers of swampland producing the crude oil and gas in which our nation Nigeria survives as the main source of government revenue. At the centre of it is tge fact that 60 years of environmental catastrophe, and even more, 60 years of abject poverty in the midst of plenty.
Therefore someone had to speak out, someone had to put out peaceful protest, and someone had to show a bit of resistance and a resort to oldtime revolutionary tactics.
That person turned out to be our hero of today’s celebration, Tompolo.
Many here may not know my curious but very deep relationship with Tompolo. We first met in January 2006 after my return from Cameroun where I had served as Nigeria Consul General, and on assumption of duty as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Bayelsa state. At the time, there was palpable tension in Niger Delta for three main reasons:
1. The Governor-General and Alamieyeseigha had just been impeached, arrested and detained.
2. Leading Niger Delta activist Asari Dokubo had been arrested in October 2005 and also put away.
3. The area became heavily militarized.
This led to a new wave of taking of the expatriate workers from oil facilities startibh with the EA field. EA field lies at the border between Delta and Bayelsa states. The taking over of EA field on 10th January was accompanied by the taking of expatriate workers who were mostly British and American citizens.
After protracted negotiations, our efforts to resolve the problem became abortive and Nigeria came under severe pressure from international community to secure the release of the workers. This gave birth to the movement that became later known as MEND.
From then onwards, Tompolo played the leading role in assisting to resolve various incidents of hostage taking and seizure of oil infrastructure in the creeks of Niger Delta. He subsequently became a stabilizing factor in the search for peace not only in the Niger Delta but in all of Nigeria.
I interacted with Tompolo initially at three levels, first as the SSG of Bayelsa State, and by token a critical stake holder to peace bringing in the region The next was the position President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed me to. That is Honourary Special Adviser on Niger Delta and Liaison person with the Militants of Niger Delta.
While these brought me close to Tompolo, the more profound was what became elder brother and younger brother kinship which evolved. In that respecy, the dreaded Camp 5, i hope will one day become a musuem, became my regular place of visit. I recall that between the years 2005-2007, there were moments were nobody from the political elite could access Camp 5 except myself.
What attracted me to Tompolo at that time and till date is his self discipline and total commitment to the things which he believes in. Next is his great level of spirituality. Beyond that is his great intelligence and great presence of mind. Tompolo is a great strategist and applies native intelligence and a spiritual gift of discernment to understand very deep things. He is a man who understands the times. Like George Washington, who led the American in rebellion against the English but in 1783 also brought them to the negotiation table at the Treaty of Paris. That was how Tompolo led the family of Niger Delta agitators to dialoguing with the Federal Government; and eventually the Proclamation of Amnesty in November 2009.
Let me conclude by saying that, most times Tompolo’s thoughts were ahead of every other person. This is despite his limited exposure to formal western education. He was to some extent a clairvoyant and a mystic.
But one of his personal forte is his humility and simplicity. Like the Prophet Moses, whom the Holy Bible describe in Numbers 12:3 as “the most humble of all men”, Tompolo” is a Servant Leader and the most polished of all men.
I was a regular visitor to Camp 5 for at least five times within a period of three months before the real Tompolo introduced himself to me. Tompolo was so unassuming, fortunately he is a man of very few words but deep down, he is a great warrior, courageous and fearless and always focused on the mission.
In the position in which I served President Obasanjo I dealt with every single one of the main militant leaders, Tompolo towered above all in this legacy of truly earning the accolation of being the Niger Delta warrior of the 21st Century. He combined in various ways, the attributes for which we remember King Jaja of Opobo, King Koko of Bonny, Isaac Boro, Pa Dabba Biriye and of course the gigantic Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha.
Several Niger Delta leaders under the umbrella of our father have been in the forefront of this struggle and peacemaking. Whether it was the time of Warris Crisis, MOSEND, MEND, AVENGERS, GOC has always been at the centre of peacemaking, peacebuilding and peace-enforcing. The Niger Delta still remains on tge precipice. But we need sustainable peace. There is no way, and i repeat, no way this can be achieved without Tompolo.