Lagos (AFP) - A Nigerian court on Thursday ordered the arrest of former Niger Delta militant leader Government Ekpemupolo on theft and money laundering charges totalling more than $175 million.
"A warrant of arrest has been issued forthwith to compel his attendance in court," judge Ibrahim Buba, sitting at the Federal High Court in Lagos, said in response to a prosecution request.
Ekpemupolo, popularly known as "Tompolo", is one of the most high-profile former militant leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
He commanded thousands of rebels who attacked oil and gas facilities in the oil-rich south, and kidnapped workers, in the 2000s until a government amnesty was introduced in 2009.
"Tompolo" was then awarded lucrative contracts to "provide certain services" to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), prosecutor Festus Keyamo told AFP.
It is known that many former militants were awarded government security contracts for oil and gas facilities, as well as pipelines.
Keyamo declined to give exact details of the contracts with NIMASA, whose mandate includes maritime security, arguing to do so would be prejudicial to the case.
But he alleged: "The agreement was used as a front to steal money."
"Tompolo" is facing 14 counts of theft and money laundering between 2012 and last year totalling just over $175 million (161 million euros).
He is one of 10 defendants, including a former head of NIMASA, in a 40-count case brought by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is spearheading President Muhammadu Buhari's anti-corruption drive.
Keyamo told the court earlier "Tompolo" avoided being summonsed several times but he was eventually served by proxy on Wednesday at his known address in the southern city of Warri.
Judge Buba adjourned the case until February 8.
The Niger Delta unrest from 2006 to 2009, wreaked havoc with oil production in Africa's number one producer, forcing down output from some 2.6 million barrels a day to a low of about one million.
About 30,000 former rebels fighting for a fairer share of oil revenue, were enrolled in the amnesty programme, exchanging their weapons for regular stipends to fund training and education.
The programme is gradually being wound down.