TOMPOLO’S JOURNEY TO ANOTHER BORDER, BY EKANPOU ENEWARIDIDEKE

An x-ray of Tompolo’s ‘magical’ hands on the nation’s economy, maritime, petroleum sector and Niger Delta region

Tompolo

Tompolo has just fled and crossed the borders beyond engagement with President Ahmed Bola Tinubu without a thought for the Gbaramatu Kingdom, the pipeline surveillance contract, the exploited Niger Deltans and the travails of the black migrants in Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

Tompolo as an illegal immigrant in another country? Tompolo as an asylum seeker in another country? Tompolo fled the country like Wole Soyinka in the draconian days of late Sani Abacha?Couldn’t Tompolo have been dissuaded by the sufferings of the migrant blacks in the artistically created London and America in Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah where anti-migration and anti-globalisation are activated through the weaponisation of racism targeted at the blacks?

Frantically flung everywhere like Jp Clark’s poem ‘Ibadan’ – which bears contemporary resemblance to late Maika Ekanpou’s first 1962 ‘block’ house and first 1987 one-storey house in Ayakoromo in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State heavily affected by the 2010 military invasion and bombardment of Ayakoromo town on the transgressions of late John Togo – is the rumour fretfully growing around High Chief Ekpemupolo Oweizide Government, fondly named Tompolo, that he has fled and crossed borders away from his known border.

Still searching for confirmation or dismissal with a frantic zeal is the current rumour growing luxuriantly around High Chief Tompolo. The luxuriant rumour on the soil everywhere is that Tompolo has been specifically sighted crossing the borders – borders seen today ‘not only as geographical contructs but also social constructs that designate social belonging as well as influence interpersonal or inter-group relationships’ (Historicising Borders: Studies in Nigerian Novels 13), as viewed by David Newman and others. To some Tompolo has crossed the borders as an illegal immigrant, to others tompolo has crossed the borders as an asylum seeker in Carribean countries; yet others dismiss the story as a Shakespearean ‘tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (Macbeth 882). The frantic search to get clear views on Tompolo’s rumoured border-crossing still remains a prized engagement with awaiting result.

A retrospective journey into Tompolo’s life reveals  he has always lived a bordered life typified  by bordering, debordering and rebordering. Tompolo once lived a peaceful and comfortable life with people around him relying on the available resources in his environment. Then his living occupied borders were existentially linked to all borders that inhale and exhale positive thoughts and meditations. But when Tomplo saw the exploitation and oppression of Niger Deltans masterfully spearheaded by the Nigerian Federal Government and the multi-national oil companies, a division justifiably descended between the oppressive agencies and him as Tompolo ideologically aligned himself with the emancipatory struggle of his own people. The border that once existed disappeared into thin air. Tompolo became debordered as the Federal Government and the multi-national oil companies occupied the border to underdevelop and exploit the Niger Delta while Tompolo occupied the border to liberate his people from the  shackle  of oppression and exploitation. 

Rather unyieldingly like the ferocious tidal dance of the Ayakoromo River in her biased one-sided flow during the season of flood, for the Nigerian Federal Government and the multi-national oil companies, it was an underdevelopment-consolidated rebordering to suffocate Niger Deltans whereas for Tompolo it was a developmental rebordering to identify ideologically with his own people and liberate them from the looming underdevelopment enshacklement. In his publicly declared state of rebordering Tompolo was subjected to barbarous ordeals by the oppressive institutions though he remained unshakable in his resolve because he believed he was figuratively engaged in bordering which is ‘the production and the reproduction of boundaries in response to shifting relations between spaces and identities’( Historicising Borders: Studies in Nigerian Novels 14) as conceptualised by James W. Scott, Hen Van Houtum and others whose anticipated ultimate result would produce more progressive and transformational borders for Niger Deltans.

From 1996 till today Tompolo has ideologically grappled with the challenges of being debordered as an individual, as major part of his life was lived in the creeks of the Niger Delta alternated by moments of hibernation under water with water spirits. Both in his private and public engagements, this debordered state produced burning deprivations and denials for Tompolo but he soldiered on like Jesus Christ on his redemption journey on earth. 

The Nigerian Federal Government and the multi-national oil companies eventually saw justice and rightness in Tompolo’s manumission mission and vision. The isolated and hunted Tompolo was beckoned on to work with the hitherto exploitative institutions on a different platform envisioned to prioritise the development of the  Niger Delta region.This new development partnership was signalled by the birth of the  Presidential Amnesty Programme for developmental re-integration, rehabilitation and empowerment. For Tompolo and the exploitative institutions hitherto  on different borders of antagonistic confrontation, it was time for border-dismantlement and border-redefinition for accommodation of the new partnership for Niger delta development. The era of debordered existence must be developmentally  supplanted by 'bordered' existence where rebordering is enthroned as the new pair  of compass to activate the renewed developmental partnership. 

With a discernible degree of certainty the Nigerian Federal Government and the multi-national oil companies have held that border-crossing for Tompolo is a must as a visible signal of the developmental new partnership.On the 25th of November 2023 at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko in Delta State, Tompolo was conferred on an honorary doctorate degree   by the university authority after a scrutiny of his developmental engagements in Nigeria right from his historically debordered period  - an honorary doctorate degree conferment that coincides with the conferral of a doctorate in Comparative Politics and Development Studies on Chief Dennis Brutu Otuaro at the University of Benin which has apparently made Gbaramatu Kingdom a kingdom of doctorate degree holders with the likes of Dr Paul Bebenimibo, immediate past Desopadec Commissioner and the current astute Media Adviser/Consultant to Tompolo with a Ph.D in Print Media from Unizik, and many others historically chronicled as trail-blazers in this journey of doctoral studies in Gbaramatu Kingdom. An honorary doctorate in Education  given to Tompolo  is a recognition for his emancipatory contributions to the betterment of Nigeria and Niger Delta in all spheres of life.

Incidentally, now that the Tompolo House in Gbaramatu Kingdom has produced three doctors – Tompolo, Dennis Otuaro and Paul Bebenimibo – with doctorates in Education, Comparative Politics and Development Studies, and Print Media, the Niger Delta would be blessed with a nuanced discourse on the Niger Delta struggle as a guide for emancipatory engagements in Nigeria and beyond , particularly with all their feet solidly on the border that bonds pragmatically viable, functional and beneficial ideas and thoughts carefully distilled through deployment of both theoretical and practical skills in research followed by communication and disemmination of the output of their critical thinking and research as the enablement for informed decisions and clear mapping in any dimension of life.

In the history of Nigeria there is only one man known for his tireless sojourn in the creeks and under the rivers when hunted and this man is called Tompolo.For a man accustomed to sojourn in creeks and inside water with positive constructive forces in furtherance of his manumission vision, his acceptance of the honorary doctorate degree signals border-crossing from the borders that antagonise underdevelopment and marginalization to borders where he shall sit down stately with the Nigerian Federal Government, the multi-national oil companies and all the dedicated institutions of development without any destabilising thought of being hunted and arrested, Tompolo has just crossed the border as a legal immigrant applauded and lionised in the history of Nigeria without a betrayal of his developmental ideals, without behaving like the character Mugo in Ngugi’s novel, A Grain of Wheat, who betrayed Kihika the Mau Mau freedom activist in Kenya and quickened Kihika’s untimely retirement from earth through being humiliatingly hanged on the tree by the invasive colonialists.

Tompolo has actually fled his hitherto known borders to another border as a legal migrant.Having crossed the borders, Tompolo has quintessentially become the paradigm of ‘developmental rebordering’ whose debordered and now rebordered engagement with the Nigerian Federal Government will yield grains of development in the Niger Delta in this era of human history of ‘border mutations’ and demise of border-fixity where borders are no longer seen as lines on maps, ‘fixed and tangible territorial boundary mapping’, where borders now enjoy extension from the legal and geographical categorization to ideological, political, economic, cultural and social categorizations – where borders have attracted to themselves the status of ephemerality and impalpability.

By contextualization of the conferment of honorary Doctor on him, Tompolo has ‘epistemologically’ crossed the border from liberation struggle to the intellectual space where he will mingle up with the intellectual class as a rebordered development master and legal immigrant heartily admitted to a new border where thoughts are often intellectualised towards problem-solving and societal growth.

The man called Tompolo has just journeyed to the intellectual border. Recognisably granted residential stately stay on the intellectual border with an honorary doctorate in Education, Tompolo is likely to walk on the intellectual insistence of Mary Jane Patrick Nwakaego Okolie of the University of Nigeria,Nsukka that we must continuously ‘explore the possibility of common humanity where borders exist only as lines of identity indications but not as limitations to crossings and meaningful existence’ (Historicising Borders: Studies in Nigerian Novels 155) and Martin Luther King Junior’s teachings and thoughts on non-violence in agitation – as Tompolo’s border-crossing is envisioned as an opportunity for meaningful engagement and meaningful integration with the relevant authorities for production of pragmatically beneficial mutual results.

Uniqueness in behaviour is the word for Tompolo in appropriate descriptive language.For a behaviourally unique and temperamentally stable creature like Tompolo who is God-fearing, selfless, resilient, dedicated, ideologically distinguishable, self-effacing, altruistic, human, sensitive, visionary and pragmatic, his being garlanded with an honorary doctorate degree at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko on the 25th of November 2023 signals graphically that the society has woken up to the desired task of giving doctoral honours to the right people whose accomplishments are known and identifiable, not to visionless individuals who are perpetually in pathological search of spaces of recognition even when they don’t deserve and merit the smallest amount of recognition in any space designed for recognition of achievers.

Deservedly therefore, hearty congratulations to Tompolo on his successful border-crossing as the rebordered honorary doctorate degree holder conferred on him at the Maritime University, Okerenkoko on 25 November 2023 as a graphologically foregrounded recognition of his developmental rebordering in Nigeria in general and Niger Delta in particular, and
coincidentally, to Chief Dennis Brutu Otuaro who has just been conferred on an academic doctor of Comparative Politics and Development Studies at the University of Benin, Benin-City, Edo State!

Ekanpou Enewaridideke, writes from Akparemogbene, Delta State