Tompolo father has reportedly died following injuries sustained during incursions by the Nigerian military, potentially exacerbating tensions in the crisis-hit oil-producing region.
The Niger Delta has been the site of regular militant activity since earlier in 2016, as groups including the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) have blown up oil pipelines and cut the country’s oil production by more than 700,000 barrels per day (bpd).
Government Ekpemupolo—better known as Tompolo—is a leading figure in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which led an insurgency in the Niger Delta in the mid-2000s. Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency issued an arrest warrant for Tompolo in January, accusing him of corruption totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, but he denies the charges and remains in hiding.
MEND fighters Fighters of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) are pictured in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, September 17, 2008. Tompolo was a leader of MEND during an insurgency in the Niger Delta in the mid-2000s. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Tompolo’s father, Chief Thomas Ekpemupolo, 84, died at a hospital in Warri, a city in Nigeria’s southern Delta state, a spokesman for the ex-militant leader said Wednesday, Reuters reported. His death was the result of injuries incurred after the Nigerian military carried out operations in his community in May, according to the spokesman.
A civil society group representing the Ijaw ethnic group to which Tompolo belongs, the Ijaw Youth Council, said in a statement that Chief Ekpemupolo was the “victim of unlawful military invasion of people’s homes and communities of the Niger Delta region in the name of looking for militants,” Nigeria’s Punch newspaper reported.
Tompolo’s group MEND has been negotiating with the government about bringing an end to the current crisis, and Tompolo himself has disavowed any links with the NDA or other groups who have been attacking the country’s oil infrastructure in 2016. The NDA recently declared that it had “halted hostilities” against the Nigerian government and oil companies and was willing to engage with the federal government in order to resolve the current crisis.
The Nigerian military has deployed troops and aircraft to the Niger Delta, however, in a bid to contain the situation and supposedly root out militants. The military said August 27 that it had killed five militants and arrested 23 as part of its mission, known as Operation Crocodile Smile. Four soldiers also drowned following a boat accident in the operation in the southern Bayelsa state Monday, the military said.
In a statement published Wednesday, the NDA offered its condolences for the death of the soldiers but said that the military operation would “undermine any genuine disposition from your government towards restoration of tranquility in the Niger Delta.”
Tompolo had previously written an open letter to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in July concerning his father’s injuries, saying that he had had one of his limbs amputated as a result. “Is this 84-year-old man also a member of the Niger Delta Avengers that they brutalized him to the point of death?” Tompolo wrote in the letter, according to Nigeria’s Chat212 FM