Court orders EFCC to seize Tompolo’s assets, Delta deputy gov denies harbouring him

A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos Friday ordered the seizure of fugitive former rebel leader Government “Tompolo” Ekpemupolo’s assets after he failed to appear in court on corruption charges.

Tompolo, an infamous armed militant in the oil-rich Niger Delta who became a government contractor, faces theft and money laundering charges to the tune of N45.9bn.

He has repeatedly refused to appear before the court and again failed to meet a Friday ultimatum to turn himself in.

His case is one of many being pursued by President Muhammadu Buhari in his quest to put a stop to endemic graft at a time when the oil-dependent state’s coffers are being drained by the plunging price of crude.

“The combined team of the Nigerian police and the military have been combing the creeks and the entire nation for the arrest of the first accused person, but he continues to abscond and conceal himself,” prosecution lawyer Festus Keyamo said.

In a bid to force Tompolo out of hiding, Justice Ibrahim Buba ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should seize his assets, including a mansion, boat, dockyard, and diving school in the oil-rich Delta State.

The judge said if Tompolo failed to appear within three months of the order, the Federal Government may proceed to auction the said assets.

Judge Buba adjourned the case until March 22, when he will rule on if the nine defendants charged alongside Ekpemupolo, including former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, should be tried independently in his absence.

Tompolo, 47, and others were accused of diverting and converting to their personal use a sum of N34bn and N11.9bn belonging to NIMASA.

The offence, according to EFCC, is contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and were liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.

Tompolo is a high-profile former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an armed group that attacked oil and gas facilities in the 2000s.

The Niger Delta unrest disrupted Nigeria’s oil exports, sending shock waves through the global oil market until a 2009 amnesty placated the rebels.

Some, including Tompolo, went on to be awarded lucrative government security contracts to protect the oil and gas facilities they once attacked.

But it is alleged such agreements were often used as a front to steal money.

Tompolo’s supporters are believed to be behind several attacks on oil pipelines in recent months, prompting fears of fresh unrest in the volatile region if he was arrested.

Meanwhile, Delta State Deputy Governor, Kingsley Otuaro, has denied reports that he was harbouring Tompolo in his house.

There have been rumours that Otuaro, who is a cousin of Tompolo, was providing a hiding place for him in his official quarters or through state machinery.

However, the deputy governor in a statement Friday in Asaba dismissed the rumours as “a figment of imagination of detractor.”

Otuaro also denied a report linking him to the fraud for which Tompolo and others are facing prosecution.