Wednesday 22 May 2019

Ateke Tom: From The Creek To The Palace How Nigerian Most Dreaded Militant Became King (Photos)

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Ateke Tom has evoked strong emotions across the political and traditional spectrum since he rose to nationwide prominence as a Niger Delta militant.

Interestingly, over the past decade or more, there has been an inversion of people’s opinions regarding him. Those in the corridors of power, see him as a threat to their control of natural resources, others see him as a born leader, with the sole assignment to protect the Niger Delta people.

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Ateke Tom was born on the 2nd day of June 1964. The former militant turned billionaire philanthropist hails from Okrika, an Ijaw Ethnic group in Rivers State. He is the leader of the Niger Delta Vigilante, an ethnic Ijaw militia group in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria which champions for resource control, devaluation of powers and fiscal federalism to the state as federating unit in Nigeria.

Conflict in the Niger Delta

The current conflict in the Niger Delta first arose in the early 1990s over tensions between foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta’s minority ethnic groups who feel they are being exploited, particularly the Ogoni and the Ijaw.

Ethnic and political unrest has continued throughout the 1990s despite the conversion to democracy and the election of the Obasanjo government in 1999.

Competition for oil wealth has fueled violence between ethnic groups, causing the militarization of nearly the entire region by ethnic militia groups, the Nigerian military and police forces, notably the Nigerian Mobile Police. The violence contributed to Nigeria’s energy supply crisis during that dark period.
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Niger Delta Militancy

Ateke and other Niger Delta guerrilla fighters led the agitation against the Nigerian government and different international oil companies over the exploitation and oppression of his people as well as the devastation and degradation of their environment caused by unchecked pollution through improper oil production methods.

During that time, Ateke and other warlords began to notice the unethical sidelining of his people from the gains accrued from the production of oil which was drilled from his own community. This prompted him to form his own Niger Delta, a resistance group.

In 1999, he started his vigilance group which later became a large group that is being patronized now by the powers that be. There was an emergence of a cult group that was involved in stealing, robbery and brigandage in his hometown, Okrika Port-Harcourt. Ateke’s group started fighting them and stopping them from their obnoxious activities which attracted government attention. It was from this point, Ateke started working for politicians during elections.
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The emergence of armed groups in Niger Delta

Prior to 2003, the epicentre of regional violence was Warri. However, after the violent convergence of the largest military groups in the region, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and the Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV) led by Ateke Tom (both of which are primarily made up of Ijaws), conflict became focused on Port Harcourt and outlying towns. The two groups dwarf a plethora of smaller militias, supposedly numbering more than one hundred. The Nigerian government classifies these groups as “cults”, but many began as local university fraternities. The groups have adopted names largely based on Western culture, some of which include Icelanders, Greenlanders, KKK, and Vultures. All of the groups are constituted mostly by disaffected young men from Warri, Port Harcourt, and their suburban areas. Although the smaller groups are autonomous, they have formed alliances with and are largely controlled from above by either Asari and his NDPDF or Tom’s NDV, who provide military support and instruction.

The NDPVF was founded by Asari, a former president of the Ijaw Youth Council, in 2003 after he “retreated into the bush” to form the group with the explicit goal of acquiring control of regional petroleum resources. The NDPFV attempted to control such resources primarily through oil “bunkering”, a process in which an oil pipeline is tapped and the oil extracted onto a barge. Oil corporations and the Nigerian state point out that bunkering is illegal; militants justify bunkering, saying they are being exploited and have not received adequate profits from the profitable but ecologically destructive oil industry. Bunkered oil can be sold for profit, usually to destinations in West Africa, but also abroad. Bunkering is a fairly common practice in the Delta but in this case the militia groups are the primary perpetrators.
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The intense confrontation between the NDPVF and NDV seems to have been brought about by Asari’s political falling out with the NDPVF’s financial supporter Peter Odili, governor of Rivers State following the April 2003 local and state elections. After Asari publicly criticized the election process as fraudulent, the Odili government withdrew its financial support from the NDPVF and began to support Tom’s NDV, effectively launching a paramilitary campaign against the NDPVF.

Subsequent violence occurred chiefly in riverine villages southeast and southwest of Port Harcourt, with the two groups fighting for control of bunkering routes. The conflagrations spurred violent acts against the local population, resulting in numerous deaths and widespread displacement. Daily civilian life was disrupted, forcing schools and economic activity to shut down, widespread property destruction resulted.

The state campaign against the NDPVF emboldened Asari who began publicly articulating populist, anti-government views and attempted to frame the conflict in terms of pan-Ijaw nationalism and “self-determination.” Consequently, the state government escalated the campaign against him by bringing in police, army, and navy forces that began occupying Port Harcourt in June 2004.

The government forces collaborated with the NDV during the summer and were seen protecting NDV militiamen from attacks by the NDPVF. The state forces failed to protect the civilian population from the violence and actually increased the destruction of citizens’ livelihood. The Nigerian state forces were widely reported to have used the conflict as an excuse to raid homes, claiming that innocent civilians were cahoots with the NDPVF. Government soldiers and police obtained and destroyed civilian property by force. The NDPVF also accused the military of conducting air bombing campaigns against several villages, effectively reducing them to rubble, because they were believed to be housing NDPVF soldiers. The military denies this, claiming they engaged in aerial warfare only once in a genuine effort to wipe out an NDPVF stronghold.

Innocent civilians were also killed by NDPVF forces firing indiscriminately in order to engage their opponents. At the end of August 2004 there were several particularly brutal battles over the Port Harcourt waterfront; some residential slums were completely destroyed after the NDPVF deliberately burned down buildings. By September 2004, the situation was rapidly approaching a violent climax which caught the attention of the international community.
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In August 2007 following days of gunfights between various militia groups and security forces in Port Harcourt, Ateke Tom wrote to the Governor, Celestine Omehia, requesting for amnesty in response to an offer of clemency and rehabilitation the government had offered to the militia who surrendered.

On 1 October 2009, the 49th anniversary of Nigerian independence and three days before the closing of a government amnesty program, Tom willingly surrendered to President Musa Yaradua at the Government House, Abuja.

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The presidential jet was sent to fly Tom to Abuja, and the President stated that “Today, Chief Tom Ateke you have given me my 49th independence anniversary gift and I cherish it so much.”
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From The Creek To The Palace

The widely notorious militant leader who surrendered during the amnesty period of President Yaradua in 2009 and was granted clemency, has created a new path for himself by becoming a King in his hometown of Okochiri in Okirika LGA. He was unanimously handpicked by the villagers who respect and cherish his act of philanthropy and leadership qualities to become their next king. According to the investigation, the ex-militant was allegedly reluctant taking up the position at first, but for the intervention of the town chiefs and some of his bosom friends who convinced him otherwise.

In 2007, the former Lord of the creeks was crowned Amanyanabo of Okochiri town in Wakirike, Rivers state. The coronation was marked by traditional dances, traditional rites and musical displays. Thousands of Okrika people witnessed the event. Governor Nyesom Wike was among personalities at the event held in Okochiri, Okrika Local government area.

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Ateke Net Worth

It is unclear exactly what Ateke’s net worth is, however, it is said to be in billions of naira. This can be calculated from the millions he received from the government through the amnesty program as well as his other business ventures. Having been a close friend of President Goodluck Jonathan and coming from the same area as his wife, Patience Jonathan, Ateke received several multi-million naira contracts during their tenure.

Ateke’s wealth can also be seen from his real estate investment, which runs into billions of naira.

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Chief Ateke Tom is a loving and kind-hearted Nigerian, widely known for his philanthropy beyond borders. Yearly, he doles out millions of naira paying school fees for students in various universities via his scholarship Scheme.

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