The Nigerian navy has denied that militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo recently acquired warships, claiming that the vessels in question belong to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Austin Oyagha, a rear admiral and navy’s chief of training and operations, disclosed this to reporters in Abuja on Wednesday.
“No individual has acquired gunboats in this country; the gunboats in question actually belong to NIMASA and these boats are currently being manned by personnel of the Nigerian Navy,” he said.
“And as you are all aware, the navy has collaboration with NIMASA, which dates back to more than three years and it is ongoing.
“We have a maritime component attached to the organisation in support to their statutory responsibilities in ensuring the safety of our habours and approaches to our anchorages.”
Oyagha explained that the collaboration was such that they could acquire boats and not weapons, adding that when NIMASA acquired the boats, they presented them to the navy to arm the boat. He said the weapons on board those boats belonged to the navy.
“NIMASA has a role of safety of the ports, habours and approaches, which is outside the purview of the navy that is essentially a policing role.
“For them to carry out that role, they need to carry boats that are equipped. Since they cannot carry arms, they have to collaborate with organisations such as the navy, which has statutory responsibility to carry arms.
“I don’t want to believe that there is any gunboat or any vessel with the name Tompolo written on it that is operating in our waters. If there is such a boat, I will like you to prove it.”
Similarly, Patrick Akpobolokemi, director-general of NIMASA, buttressed the position of the navy, describing the report of Tompolo’s acquisition as the handiwork of pirates who operate illegally on Nigeria’s waterways.
Akpobolokemi said the vessels were decommissioned vessels procured by NIMASA through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement being used by the navy.
“It is the Navy that has fitted their guns on the vessels to aid their policing of the maritime domain,” he said.
“As an arm of the government responsible for maritime safety, security and regulations amongst others, we work in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy and other relevant security agencies to use their men and arms to patrol and provide safety of the country’s water ways, as mandated by the global body, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).”