Dr. Tosan Harriman is a Professor of Comparative Dialectics and in this interview with GBARAMATU VOICE NEWSPAPER, ventured into a topic that many people in the country today will be too scared to talk about; the issue of High Chief Government Oweizide Ekpemopolo aka Tompolo.
He wants government to ensure the take-off of the Maritime University located in the heartland of the Gbaramatu kingdom, Delta state while also calling for a political resolution of the High Chief’s issue. EXCERPTS;
Getting to meet you’
I am Tosan Harriman, a Professor of Comparative Dialectics and pro-consul of the Center for the advancement of societal and people’s rights Kano.
I came from the Niger Delta but work in the north.
My passion for the Niger Delta is more than just being from the Niger Delta alone, my passion pivots from different reflections in the sundry researches that I have undertaken at different fora of societal explanations.
My coming from the Niger Delta only added to consummate the very passion exhibited in the different discourses carried out on this subject.
As a Professor of comparative dialectics – part of my work is to determine the different dynamics that constitute into societal engagement and I consider at once that much of what is happening today in the Niger Delta falls particularly into the descriptive frameworks of my scholarship and the different researches undertaken by me in this regard may have accentuated the literal fervor that has accompanied my assessment of all the issues relating to the Niger Delta peoples.
So how do you view things happening in the Niger Delta?
The things happening in Niger Delta are just clear and patent beyond the hocus pocus of ceremonial governance which has tended to play down the tempo of acrimonious contempt against it in the Niger Delta. The core issue remains the pervasive capital deprivation of the people in the Niger Delta and this has also reflected in the minuscule place of inference it’s issues are placed on the national equation.
Today, Nigeria as a nation, far from undertaking mechanized forms of cultivation of its many arable lands in commercial agriculture and related food security, depends entirely on the Niger Delta for forex liquidity derived mainly from the natural and mineral deposits locked up within the terrain of the Niger Delta. Plausible to say that the entire gross domestic product of a Nation of over 200 people is measured in the oil metrics. This is preposterous given that other Nations of the Earth without oil have tended to grow their economy from a wide variety of sources. This is the demand that has tended to foster cooperation on a globalized term towards tooling a post oil Economy.
Given this emerging scenario and the antithesis of the equally criminal expropriation of the mineral deposits of the Niger Delta – I mean the hydrocarbon logging which we today know as crude oil and the concomitant effect on the environment, and the almost lack of Governmental plan to cushion the critical effect of the steady degradation of the right to life of a people, it will then be obvious to understand the systematic level of agitation that has resulted into the big business misplacement, misinformation of the Government in its veiled attempt to justify its actions and to extend its sequestration of lands and people and to use one people group against the others to cover up for its criminal trail.
Overtime one has noticed your passion for the person of Chief Government Ekpemopolo, [Tompolo], why this, considering that he is a wanted man by the government of the day?
Wanted for what? That he killed your father or my Father? or that he is the reason for the growing apathy against the government inability to live up to its campaign promises? These are veiled under cover sting operation to pacify the Niger Delta people through criminalizing proponents of its cause. If you have followed the statement I made in the course of this discussion, I told you that I’m a fellow with of CODESRIA DAKAR Council for the Development Social Science Research in Africa and part of our study in that Council include but not limited to undertaking specific researches on societal devolution, institutional derivation and peoples group.
I used to be very critical and indeed that have engaged the High Chief Government Ekpemupolo in my many literatures. I’m one of the few persons that believed then that the things I was heard about him were true but after a while, given the very fact of my orientation as a Professor of comparative dialectics, I thought I should not form an impression about such an iconic personality only from the rumor mill. That there was need to subject the rumor mill to verity test.
Through the Report Africa group in France I began a robust study of who this High Chief is It was in the course of trying to look at the man objectively that I found a lot of misplacement, an unrepresentative dissonance. I found that most of the opinions that I had formed about the man were completely outlandish, deceitful, plaintive literal scam and completely out of context with the standards and reality on ground.
I have not had one on one interface with him but seriously want to meet him if I have the opportunity, but I can practically see how a man who is a non-state actor can be so passionate when it has to do with the development of his people. I saw essentially a passionate drive in providing the missing link between Government and the people and in a way created the a project constabulary that appear to have stemmed down the tide of restiveness in the oil and gas rich Gbaramatu Homeland.
Much of the things you expect the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC], to do for the people of the Niger Delta is what he has personally undertaken. I saw a water membrane technology plant with the imbue capacity to turn salt water to fresh water. I saw power plants running day and night to provide electricity for the people. I saw rehabilitated health care centers and primary schools built with such architectural flair to compare with those of the city. Suddenly You begin to wonder where those opinions about this man came from.
I met families who told me the only government they know is this High Chief. Where in Nigeria among the sub nationals have you heard that surgeries were undertaken for people free of charge? Which hospital in Nigeria offer free medical services for women in the maternity. I think something is wrong with the data quotient the government is using to evaluate this man. It is either outdated or brazenly not performing.
The grave men of the High Chief is his firm belief in the principle of equity. He believes that if your action is causing so much monumental damage on the health and environment of the people then you should have a commensurate plan in place to cushion the ennui. This I think is his beliefs and such a person should not be easily typified as a criminal.
What specifically are these things he has done for his people?
We have State Governors who have not done anything for their States not even their own half brothers, but here you see a man, a non-state actor, when the issue of restiveness in the Niger Delta was pervasive, he began working from the sidelines to turning fishing ports to modern cities. You see all sort of massive housing development in places that used to be fishing ports.
I am told he has used his influence in most cases to force the NDDC to put certain projects in place for the people. He reclaimed lands from the sea, and built mass housing over it This I think is to stem the tide of rural- urban migration. He believes people should be able to stay in the rural area among their kith’s and kin, while still able to show capacity in the urban centers.
He believes that government should be a viable partner in the process of development. These are the things he has done. I have not seen anywhere in my study that showed where the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the different oil prospecting companies in that area have impacted on the material concerns of the people.
Further, When we talk about the Nigerian maritime university, how did it come about?
It came out of a project he, the High Chief inspired. And what is that project? It is the Mieka Diving Institute. This institute is his personal property established on his family land. Now when the restiveness became apparent and there was need to try to see what the critical issues are and how these critical issues can be addressed, there became the urgent request for the establishment of an institution within the area that will reflect the presence of government in the Area which was perceived as a critical roadmap to peace and remediation efforts of government in the Gbaramatu kingdom.
How did they go about that? The idea of the Nigerian maritime university was muted. How will such University take off in an area where land areas need to be reclaimed to build any physical structures? The NIMASA, the undertaking Maritime Agency approached the High Chief for his Mieka Diving Facility and given that the High Chief is one sold out to the cause of development of his people, he put out the facility for sale to the Government.
The Government expectedly took advantage of this opportunity and sent its men into the field to calculate the quantities. These are qualified government quantity surveyors working out for its own purpose. A price term was reached and payment was ordered through an Executive circular of the Federal Executive Council and the Mieka Diving facility was duly conveyed to the Government as chatter campus of the Nigerian Maritime University
Having had the property conveyed to it, it was expected that the Nigerian maritime university would take-off alongside other Federal Universities of Technologies established at the same time, but till today we have not seen any such actions undertaken for the Nigerian Maritime University. If you ask me why? I would suggest you ask the government as I cannot see any reasonable why, why this University should not take off.
Do you think politics has anything to do with the non-take-off of the University?
A lot of politics has so much to do with it, I hear a serving Hon Minister said that the Nigerian Maritime University does not have facilities on ground and that what the Federal Government bought for 13billion was a tract of swamp land that has not been swept or sand filled. Such a statement to me, is unfortunate as I cannot afford to assume that the government does not have the records of what actually transpired.
Let us even assume we don’t know such records exist, the true position is that Government through its FEC and a coordinated action from NIMASA bought the MIEKA DIVING INSTITUTE previously owned by Tompolo, and now the property of the Federal Government of Nigeria and that the original purpose of the acquisition of the property was to use it as a take-off campus for the Nigerian Maritime University.
Different study groups, many people including the Vice President of Nigeria who is now the Acting President have undertaken visits to Kurutie where you have the take off campus and then to Okerenkoko the permanent Campus. They have seen that the information of that Hon. Minister was frivolous and misleading and has nothing to do with the facts on ground.
Why won’t I say there is a political undertone to these issues, what we are saying to government is this; we have a Nigerian maritime university that had gone through all the processes of vetting and qualified by the Nigerian University Commission.
The University has a governing council in place It has met every criteria for startment- the onus is on this Government to summon the will and make this university operational like it did for other Universities of Technologies that were established at the same time.
Now to the personality of Tompolo, He is presently wanted on matters bothering on fraud?
Which fraud? I thought you have been listening to me. From my concise deposition relating to the varying actions resulting in the acquiesce of the Mieka Diving Institute where do you see fraud. There is no fraud. The only fraud in this instance is the government which appear to have denied the Gbaramatu people the urgent startment of their University.
Now! Come to think of it. Are you saying Tompolo has no right to sell his property? Even if there were other owners of Mieka- Where were they when Tompolo built it all. By the law if the federation of Nigeria one can be estoppelled for standing by. Besides, how do you claim that a people with over a thousand year history are tenants in a land. Does the laws of Nigeria not give inheritance to one in a place he has inhabited for 99 years? In the course of our different assessments, we invited one of Nigeria’s construction giants to ascertain the true cost of the property at Kurutie and to represent that property in another location at Ogharefe Delta State.
The company took time and were able to put together specific team to go and do an initial findings and quantity analysis. The company took about two months in developing the feasibility and gave us a bill of N54.8 billion to do the same thing we saw at Kurutie at Ogharefe. Ogharefe’ topography is by far different from those of Kurutie. Ogharefe is a table land. Kurutie is in the center of sea. The difference is the difference you make between bamboozlement and surprise.
We quickly used it to show that if a construction company that evaluated it is offering to represent the same project at N54.8 billion, what is the government’s case in saying that government paying 13 billion to a man buying his property is a fraud. They should come and validate how it became a fraud.
There is an institution in Nigeria that manages quantity analysis, determines procurement. Government has all of these agencies at its reach. Let it put them in the field to lead its findings especially in this case where it is disputing its own report.
Was he a government contractor?
He is a phenomenon. You can’t come to the Niger Delta and not recognise this phenomenon, The different oil prospecting companies operating in the area pay homage to him as they do in other parts of the Niger Delta. I think this engagement with the different oil prospecting concerns in the area must have provided the access to the sort of funds he has. For example, Chevron cannot come to Gbaramatu to do oil exploration without coming to see him, because he is the critical stakeholder on ground in the place. He has never held any government position before.
He has never gone abroad once. He doesn’t have an international passport. He does not own a private jet. He has only one wife. I am told he does not drink and does not brehware. His best leisure spot is his house. His wife is his social joy spot. How many people in. Nigeria has this sort of credentials including me and you?
Is this because he controls the militants in the region?
These are not militants. They are agitators. Tompolo himself from my studies has nothing to do with the Niger Delta Avengers but I believe he has the enormous ability to rein them in. He has ensured that expropriation activities in the area are undertaken on a quid pro basis. He has not held any government position but he has influenced political developments of the Niger Delta peoples.
There was this rumour that Tompolo bought a war Ship, is this true?
He does not have a warship, Is he a Navy? The man will even prefer to come by road from Warri to Abuja than to fly by air. The reason he flies, this is from my own study, is just to meet up with his Abuja appointments. His best car is the Hillux truck which he travels with all the time. So people have very wrong impression about him. Before his father died, I met Him, I mean the Father, who was then the Tunteriwei of Gbaramatu kingdom. I needed to also hear from the father since I could not see him. The father said – My son part of the reason people are fighting us is because of jealousy and envy. They can’t understand how we got to where we are today.
If there is any issue relating to fraud, the persons that should be investigated for fraud is the government. The government does not have any case. Government is wasting time looking at a matter where it has no no valid substance to support effective prosecution.
Only recently, it was in the news that the Federal government has decided to start re-funding the Maritme University, has it been documented and has this funding started in earnest?
We have not seen any sign of it. We are saying that other universities that were vetted alongside the maritime university have taken off. There is a university in Dutse-ma, in Northern Nigeria, a Federal university, it has taken off. Why is the Nigerian maritime University not taken off. These are the issues.
The other universities that have taken off depends on the Niger Delta to meet its fiscal obligations.I hear another person say we have a Nigerian Maritime Academy in Oron. That is a crazy talk. What does having a Maritime Academy in Oron got to do with a Maritime University in Okerekoko. We need a University in Okerekoko and if the Nigerian Maritime University is one way of assuring the people that government is concerned with the development of the area then let government embark on that project and make sure the university operates there.
What is your Last take Prof?
My last take is to advise the government; one, resolve the issues of the establishment of the Nigerian maritime university.
The other issue is the political resolution of the Tompolo’s travails. The man has not committed any offence, Some walking free in Nigeria today are more sinners than the man you call Tompolo. You have seen what has happened to the dollar and the naira parity recently. It’s all about the efforts Tompolo is putting together to ensuring that the level of militancy that has directly impacted on government’s capacity to expropriate product is contained.
How many military men can enter the Niger Delta and stop the so called Avengers? How has our military fared prosecuting the insurgency by itself? All the mobilisation couldn’t stop them. This same man, I was told, sent an open message to the Avengers to calm down and not to draw him into the crisis and you can see there is a reasonable calm everywhere. You can hear the minister of Petroleum telling us the other day that production level has upped to about two million barrels per day. This has meant more Dollars in Government coffers and a further sliding down of the Dollar. This is simple Economics. The final issue is for the Government to directly engage direct with the people of the Niger Delta in terms of providing basic and enduring infrastructures that people can see. Those are things I’m asking for.