In a country often ranked as the most corrupt in the world, the Niger Delta is the most corrupt region.
 

Oil wealth

 

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The Niger Delta accounts for all of the oil production in the world's eighth biggest oil producer which has an estimated income from oil of $20bn a year.

 

It is estimated that 70 per cent or $14bn of that is stolen or goes missing.

 

With the presidential elections due on Saturday, the Nigerian security forces say they will arrest the gang leader in their own time.

 

Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's Africa bureau chief, travelled through the maze of waterways that form the delta to meet Tom, and to find out what motivates large numbers of Nigerian men to take the law into their own hands.

 

Election rigging

 

Tom, also known as the "Chairman", told Simmons that he and his men helped "rig" Nigeria's last elections in 2003.

 

He said: "I checked everything, I watch people, I beat people I do so many things. Everybody they are afraid of me, they are scared of me."

 

Tom said he has since been ostracised by politicians and attacked by the military, who have killed about "sixty-eight of my boys".

 

"And the masses, the Ijaw people - they did not do anything for them. All what they promised to do, they did not do," he added.

 

"That was my annoyance and I told them that there would be no election and that's why I attacked them that night."

 

Tom claimed to be neither a criminal, nor a militant, but instead said: "I'm a Niger Delta freedom fighter".

 

He said the Nigerian government did not fulfil its promises to the people of the Niger Delta, to build hospitals and to "give us freedom", and for that, he said his men would continue to fight "to the end of our lives".

 

"I will use my last blood to fight them," he said.

 

Delta 'dilemma'

 

The state governor's office declined requests for an interview but a Major Sagir Musa, a military spokesman, said security forces can and will arrest Tom and his men sooner or later.

 

Residents of the Niger Delta live in destitution,
without proper education or medical care

"I'm telling you the security agencies are up to the responsibility [but] we, the security agencies, are constitutionally empowered to protect and defend them," Musa said.

 

"We cannot therefore, wage a full-fledged war on the people we are constitutionally empowered to defend - and that is the dilemma of the Niger Delta crisis." 

 

A former fighter now working as a peace mediator in Port Harcourt told Simmons that the government completely neglects the youth.

 

He said: "You can look at this youth: they are not being attended to. No good school, no good medical care, you can see, [and] no good feeding.

 

"So when you see them growing wilder every day, so that is that."

 

For many Niger Delta youth, Simmons said it is a journey from destitution to a "violent life on the run".

 

"Criminals, militants, kidnappers call them what you will," he said. "There is no doubt that whoever becomes president this weekend needs to seriously review how the [Niger Delta] crisis is handled."