For about a decade, their voices were heard from the rooftop. This report examine the opulent lives of ex-agitators and their new roles
Though they go by different names -activists, agitators, militants and what have you – they had a common denominator in agitation, irrespective of what part of the country they came from.
They claimed their agitations were informed by the injustices and deprivations meted out to their people. These injustices ranged from pollution of their communities, farm lands, rivers and all forms of degradations as a result of oil exploration activities in their areas without commensurate level of development.
Others agitated for good governance and since the advent of civil rule in 1999, the Federal Government had to contend with the various agitators who go by different names and leaders. The agitation threw up a lot of names who made fame and fortunes.
Then militancy was a big business as oil pipelines were blown off, expatriates were kidnapped for ransom, until the Federal Government granted them amnesty through its amnesty programme. Consequently, these militants dropped their arms and were reintegrated into the society.
Over 30,000 of them were registered at the post amnesty programme, where almost all of them were trained and reintegrated into the society.
Of course most of them have seen the other side of life contrary to their life at the creeks which was devoid of any form of civilisation. Haven embraced amnesty with both hands and dropped their arms, many of them went back to school, some today are monarchs while others hold political positions besides a few others who have delved into business.
At the peak of the Niger Delta struggle, Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, the renowned ex-militant leader controlled the Niger Delta Volunteers Force (NDVF), which clashed severally with the military.
But before then, he had served as the president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) in 2001. During the implementation of the amnesty programme the Federal Government granted repentant militants,
Asari was the only militant leader that rejected the programme, arguing that he didn’t commit any offence for which he should be pardoned. Since then, he has enjoyed massive patronage, especially during the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Then, he was reportedly contacted by the Federal Government for arms purchase for the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram. Sometime in 2013, it was reported that Asari-Dokubo had soccer institutions in Abuja and in Benin Republic to provide free training to youths. He also had a private university in Benin.
In an interview, Asari-Dokubo said he decided to establish the institutions in Benin Republic because he does not only live there, but has adopted it as his country.
However, during the last general elections in Rivers State in 2019, soldiers raided his compound in Buguma in Asari Toru Local Government Area. These days, Asari occasionally airs his views on issues via video recordings that uploaded in the social media.
Lately, Asari-Dokubo has been criticising Nnamdi Kanu, the rearrested leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB) of fleecing the people. He vowed to bring Kanu down, stating pointedly: “Nnamdi Kanu, I’m not in your category but for this, I will surely bring you down.
I will destroy this evil empire that is working as a hindrance to the restoration of Biafra. Biafra is your business now; you have no other avenue for gainful income. It is a pity how Igbo people have fallen for this evil, but your time is up. I am out for you.
And I will get you.” Asari-Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Salvation Force (NDPSF), accused Kanu of turning the Biafran struggle into a business.
He tackled Kanu over a N20m gift. In a new video, he accused Kanu of diverting funds meant for the Biafran struggle. Both activists have been at loggerheads over the quest for Biafra – the very cause that unites them.
The cold war between them resulted in the formation of the Biafra Customary Government (BCG) which Dokubo announced in March, with himself as the head. In the video, he accused Kanu of failing to account for some funds donated for the quest for Biafra, adding: “They are now telling U.S. India, Russia etc. This is how they audit accounts.
This is what Biafra will look like under the criminal Nnamdi Kanu. “They claim that they brought money to Cotonou to give to me -N20 million. We are waiting for them to bring the evidence.
They came to Cotonou to meet with me and I hosted them. They did not bring a dime. Biafra is your business now; you have no other avenue for gainful income. It is a pity how Igbo people have fallen for this evil, but your time is up.”
King Ateke Tom
The story of the Niger Delta struggle is incomplete without mentioning Ateke Tom, who led the Niger Delta Vigilante, an ethnic Ijaw militia for many years. Ateke Tom is now a traditional ruler and the first Amanyanabo of Okochiri Kingdom, in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State
He was crowned king on November 25, 2017. Ateke Tom came into limelight during the first tenure of former governor Rotimi Amaechi, after soldiers raided his home. He advanced deep into the Okochiri forest and control the axis using his men. For a long time, he felt that Amaechi was obsessed with arresting him for reasons he failed to give.
Years later, he said he has forgiven Amaechi, who he described as a man that bears grudges and hardly forgives. During the crisis in the Niger Delta, some of the actions taken by Ateke’s men were credited with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the invincible group which only sent email signed by Jomo Gbomo.
When Ateke Tom accepted the Federal Government amnesty, he surrendered heavy weapons to the amnesty officials and the Nigeria Army, and vowed never to return to the creek. More than 10 years after, he has kept his promise. During the 2019 general elections, soldiers raided his home in Okirika and destroyed some valuables, forcing him to cry out that he was not a politician and was not participating in the election.
Now stupendously rich and hardly hides this fact through his acquisition of ultra-modern property in Port Harcourt, Ateke is a major beneficiary of the amnesty programme.
He is a benefactor to some top Nollywood actors who he hosts occasionally at his mansion in Okochiri. These days, the “Area Father,” as Ateke is fondly called by his admirers, hardly speaks in public on issues. He once said that his concern now is how to better the lives of his subjects.
Sobomabo Jackrich (Egberipapa)
Jackrich was relatively unknown until security operatives arrested him at a king’s palace. Jackrich, unlike Asari and Tom, did not have a group that could be easily used to track his activities during the Niger Delta crisis.
But he had a well-organised and compact group that drew the attention of MEND that claimed him as one of their commanders Egberipapa, like Asari Dokubo, hails from Buguma Community, Asari Toru Local Government Area.
He was among the last batch of ex-militant leaders to be considered for amnesty because after his arrest, he remained in detention until calls for his release became stringent.
When he was eventually released he accepted amnesty and vowed never to return to the creeks for armed struggle. Since then, Jackrich has set up an NGO apart from being the founder and leader of Kengema Unity Forum (KUF) and Network for Defence of Democratic and Good Governance (NDDGG).
During the first term of Governor Nyesom Wike, Jackrich was appointed the Caretaker Committee Chairman of Asari Toru Local Government Area. In 2020, the Acting Managing Director of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, appointed Jackrich as the Chairman of its COVID-19 Palliative Committee.
He is politically active. Once an ally of Wike, he has fallen out with the governor. Now 43 years old, during his 42nd birthday reception, he berated political leaders in the state for keeping quiet in the face of the ongoing ‘abnormalities’ in the governance of Rivers State.
He is the first politician to declare interest in succeeding Wike as the governor of Rivers State. Jackrich declared his intention to contest for the governorship of Rivers at the first 2021 national stakeholders’ meeting of KUF convened in the three Kalabari areas of Asari-Toru, Akuku-Toru and Degema local governments.
Henry Okah and all
Among the militants from Bayelsa State are Henry Okah who is currently serving his prison term in South Africa, Ebikabowei Victor Ben (aka Boyloaf) who is a former commander in MEND but dropped his arms during amnesty.
Others are Selky Torghedi (aka Young shall grow) who accepted amnesty and since then has been living in Abuja. Paul Eris (aka Ogunboss) immediately after embracing amnesty dropped his arms and went back to school.
Today he has a very big rice farm in Peremabiri, his community in Southern Ijaw. Africanus Ukparasia also embraced amnesty and dropped his arms. He was the leader of Bayelsa State Security Task Force.
He also embraced western education and modern life, and he has been reintegrated into the society. Joshua Machiver was one of the gubernatorial aspirants in the 2019 election. He embraced higher education and got his Bachelor of Arts in Linguistic Communication in 2013.
He is the president, Iniebi Group, a dredging company and managing director of BAJEROS Nigeria Limited. Most of them have mansions and are living luxurious life with government support.
Many now control companies which have made them to retire to their shells and mind- ing their businesses. Most of them are into their private businesses now and have been empowered by the state and federal governments. Some have been granted surveillance contracts running into billions of naira.
This has made people to lose trust in them because they have enriched themselves from contracts from NDDC and the Amnesty Programme and are enjoying their money quietly. Many of them are said to be on the payroll of both state and federal governments.
High Chief Government Ekpemupolo, (a.k.a Tompolo), headed the Egbesu and operated mainly in the Creeks in Delta State before late President Musa Yar’Adua granted the militants amnesty. He is currently in his palace as a chieftain of Gbaramatu kingdom where he hails from and wields power.
Not long ago, he held the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio at the jugular when he issued ultimatum for the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to be inaugurated.
He threatened to resume hostility if the Federal Government takes him for granted. The Minister had to lead a high power delegation to him to calm his nerves. Before now, former President Jonathan had awarded contracts to him, taking charge of the surveillance of the waterways in the region.
It was a very lucrative contract, which placed him far above his kinsmen. He became a factor to reckon with in the politics of the state and Nigeria at large because he has money and belongs to the ruling class.
This status kept him busy for several years until Jonathan left office. He soon fell out with the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and was declared wanted when he refused to show up for the charges preferred against him over contracts awards.
And for many years, he kept a low profile until recently that he regained his voice. At the twilight of the administration former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, he played a major role in the politics which produced incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
He allegedly supported Senator James Manager, representing Delta South, to broker the peace-deal which determined the choice of Okowa, against all odds, through his alleged connection to a former president.
Hence, he was said to have produced the incumbent Deputy Governor of the state, Barr Kingsley Otuaro and he is still relevant in the buildup to 2023 governorship race in Delta as Ijaw axis of the state.
His militancy business seems not to be fashionable again and his boys have scattered all over the place, majority has been empowered through the amnesty programme. Sources said that some of his foot soldiers have lost confidence in him.
Comrade Joseph Evah
He is the coordinator of the Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), and speaks truth to power. His position is that ‘Niger Delta-born politicians are oppressing the people of the region and not the Federal Government as erroneously speculated in some quarters.
An agitator for good governance, Evah is not a militant leader or an ex-militant but he is from the militant axis of Delta State.
For him, the Niger Delta region is in economic and infrastructural quagmire till date because governors of the zone behave like cowards. He is still vocal because his business is not strictly for money-making.
Recent, he said unless the Federal Government takes drastic step against high rate of insecurity, there may not be elections in 2023. Also, he condemned the incessant communal war in Isoko ethnic nationality of Delta State and heaped the blame on the Okowa-led administration for being irresponsive, even as he called for 24-hour military presence to quell the killings in Emede and Igbide communities].
Leader and founder of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, holds court in Owerri, Imo State from where he controls the struggle and his other business interests.
He is still in the struggle for the actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra but has become a lot more temperate and not as fierce as he used to be it. He superintends over the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM). Perhaps he seems to have moved to the background with the entrance of some younger and radical pro-secession activists.
He is becoming a lot more circumspect in the level of risk he allows his members to take in the course of the struggle A trained lawyer, Uwazuruike is not known to have practised since he commenced the Biafran struggle.
He is however, known to have some interests in estate development and loves posh cars. It is only fair to say that Uwazuruike has seen almost all sides of the struggle for self- determination. He has lost men, had very close shaves with death, yet he has sustained his non-violent approach to the struggle. With the energies and radicalism of the rapidly emerging young activists,
Uwazuruike may have opted for a lower profile to avoid his men unwittingly getting carried away with the frenzy of the time. While many see Uwazuruike as a freedom fighter that has paid his dues, others perceive him as a wheeler-dealer who may have benefited from the struggle.
Another section of the people has their doubts about him, but believes his usefulness to the Igbo nation far outweighs their doubts about him. This is why he is still accorded some level of relevance in the contemporary society.