21 August 2015, Lagos – Few weeks ago, the media was awash with news of a pipeline explosion at Arepo, Ogun state, where scores of vandals were reportedly burnt to death. The cause of the explosion which started the fire that was put out next day by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC was attributed to a scuffle between groups of vandals over ownership of a particular section of the NNPC owned pipeline, during which a shot fired by a member of the rival faction, hit the pipeline.
That incident was not the first of its kind in recent times at Arepo. Infact, that area has become a haven for criminal activities by vandals who seem to have thrown caution to the wind as they vandalise pipelines and siphon petroleum products, without fear of molestation by security agents.
Information at Vanguard’s disposal showed that these vandals who are drawn from different parts of the country could be militants in disguise . From all indications, they seem to have taken over the entire creeks at Arepo.
Vandals are animals – Olu of Arepo
The traditional rulers around Arepo and its environs have been accused of aiding and abetting activities of vandals in Arepo and Ikorodu . But the Olu of Arepo, Oba Atanda Oyebisi, dissociated himself from the accusation, condemning the last explosion in its entirety , lamenting that vandals have succeeded in tarnishing the image of the community.
Oba Oyebisi claimed that those he referred to as Ijaws were masterminds of the illicit business which he said had caused sleepless nights for many residents.
According to him : “I have written several letters to the government on this issue because vandalisation cannot thrive if there is no patronage. The pipeline area is on the high Sea and only professionals can access it. But it becomes worrisome to us when vandals are having a field day regularly.
The monarch who lamented that law enforcement agents are not doing enough at the creeks said
“Though law enforcement agents are on patrol 24/7 but they have compromised, the military, Police and NNPC officials are protecting the vandals rather than the pipelines.
“Their activities should extend to the high sea where the illegal business is taking place. In my 15 years on the throne, the community has never witnessed a deadly situation until now, I think the Nigerian Navy should come on board because they are professionally trained and qualified to manage the creeks.” he said
On the recent explosion which claimed the lives of vandals, he said: ‘’I don’t pity the vandals because they are animals. How can somebody in his right senses go for business transactions at the creeks. We have told them to stop the illegal business all to no avail but things like this will serve as a deterrent to others. I dissociate myself from them because I don’t pray to have vandals in my region.”
Vandals as ex-militants: Impeccable sources told Vanguard that the vandals in the Arepo creeks are ex-militants . Some of them were also said to be from Arogbo community in Ondo state, with majority alleged to be of the Ijaw extraction.
At the moment, over 300 armed vandals are reportedly residing at the Arepo creeks. They have dared security operatives to attempt to dislodge them, boasting that their activities at the creeks was part of their share of the national cake.
There are however indications that some residents of Arepo area, among who are commercial motorcyclists and traders, are members of pipeline vandals. These individuals who are stationed at strategic locations within the area, allegedly give information to their colleagues in the creeks.
Activities of these informants have reportedly been going on for a while without the knowledge of security operatives. Their modus oparandi came to the fore following the abduction of two photo journalists who had gone to cover the explosion at Arepo on July 23, 2015.
The photo journalists had reportedly mounted two motorbikes at the Arepo junction, informing the motorcyclists that they were going to the scene of the explosion. Surprisingly, they were dropped right at vandals den, from where three men whom they thought were boat operators, whisked them to the heart of the creeks where about 300 vandals some of who were clad in Military camouflage tortured them, in spite of pleas from the helpless newsmen that they were not government officials as claimed by the vandals. But for providence, they would have been killed and their bodies buried among several others in shallow graves scattered around the creeks.
These informants stationed at the entrance of Arepo reportedly play important roles for their colleagues in the creeks. For instance, if security operatives arrive the area, whether to effect arrest or carry out surveillance, the informants would reportedly hint their colleagues in the creeks to be battle ready.
Govt informant killed by vandals: Checks by Vanguard however showed that other residents close to the path that leads to the creeks are aware of the going-ons but are afraid to give information about the vandals’ activities , apparently out of fear of being maimed or even killed.
It was gathered that a man simply identified as Alhaji Ogunse, an informant to the Police and NNPC was killed by vandals sometime last year after revealing the identities of the vandals to NNPC officials and the police.
Alhaji Ogunse resided in Konu area of Ikorodu, close to the river where vandals take to the creeks. He was said to have given the operational names of some key vandals as Agbala, OC, CP, Black berry Tokiye to security agents and also granted an interview to one of fthe national dailies on activities of vandals in the area.
Unfortunately, two weeks after granting that interview, vandals stormed his home which he also used to treat people with mental instability and whisked him to the creeks where he was reportedly slaughtered.
Number of casualties
Vanguard reliably gathered that since the incident of July 22, 2015, where some of the vandals were reportedly burnt beyond recognition ,no security agent has visited the scene to either inspect the level of damage or to ascertain the number of casualties.
At the moment, vanguard findings showed although the fire had been put out but that there are still leakages at several points of the pipelines . Officials of the NNPC are reportedly reluctant to visit the Arepo creeks to effect repairs on the ruptured areas.
It was also gathered that security operatives were also reluctant to escort the NNPC officials to the creeks. This is not connected to the presence of the armed vandals in the creeks.
Policemen,NNPC officials also killed: Before now, policemen attached to the Inspector-General of Police Anti Pipeline Vandalism Squad headed by its former boss, Mr Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, dared the vandals as they carried regular surveillance around the creeks.
In one of the instances, nine policemen attached to Squad were attacked last year by the vandals. The policemen who were on surveillance from their post at Arepo reportedly, went into the creeks in two boats, unknown to them that the informants stationed outside had informed their colleagues. Consequently, the armed vandals laid ambush for the unsuspecting policemen and opened fire on sighting them.
In the ensuing shoot-out the policemen reportedly put up a brave act even in the face of death by repelling the vandals. In the process, the vandals were said to have fired a shot at a broken pipeline which resulted in an explosion that sparked off fire. While four policemen managed to leave the creeks alive, the whereabouts of their five other colleagues remains unknown till date. Two years earlier, three NNPC officials were killed by vandals in the area. A team of pipeline engineers and technologists from the corporation were deplored to effect repairs on a ruptured pipeline by vandals , after it (NNPC) had successfully put out the flames by ensuring a complete cut-off of product supply to the pipeline from the Atlas-cove. While at the verge of gaining access to the damaged point , the hapless engineers were ambushed by armed pipeline vandals who snuffed life out of them with the bullets from their guns.
It is however worthy to note that ACP Ibadin- led team made some remarkable strides in the onslaught against pipeline vandalism, following the arrest of over 100 suspected vandals. One of the arrests worthy of mention was that of some suspected pipeline vandals who confessed to have killed some policemen and buried them in shallow graves within the creeks . The decomposing bodies of some of the murdered policemen were exhumed from the shallow graves,with their uniforms buried in a separate grave
Startling discoveries: During another raid of the creeks by the Ibadin- led squad , starting discoveries such as self built pipelines by vandals where petroleum products are diverted from the NNPC pipeline were uncovered. Anytime the NNPC opens its flow from Atlas cove which pumps products to Arepo pipeline for onward transfer to Mosimi, from where it is transferred to the South west states. Rather than the product flowing into NNPC pipeline at Arepo , it will be pumping into the vandals built- in pipes, on which a hose is fixed from the diverted point to trucks stationed in thick forest.
In another raid two trucks with plate numbers XQ 522 APP XQ 522 APP and XC 102 KSF were recovered and some arrests made. Reports had it that the vandals had loaded about five trucks with petroleum products from Arepo, for onward delivery to a filling station in Osun state last year.
Vanguard investigation revealed that 25 litres of this stolen product is sold between N1300 and N1500, as against N2,175 to ready buyers, who usually throng sales points with their trucks and jerricans. A 33,000 litres truck on the other hand, is sold between N1.5 million and N1.8 million as against N2million and above .
Ijegun, Satelitte Town ,Festac Town, Maza-Maza and Ejigbo axis in Lagos , as gathered are among areas where pipeline vandals are striving. But activities of vandals in Majidun , Isahawo, Agric, Kadoko Konu, Ikorodu, Papalanto and Arepo areas of Lagos and Ogun states assume violent dimension, with several security operatives and innocent persons killed.
Death of pregnant woman
An incident which introduced a tragic twist to the notoriety of pipeline vandals , was the gruesome killing of a 24-year-old pregnant woman, Damilola Fajana , during a cross fire between oil thieves and members of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC at beach land estate , Arepo, on April 28, 2015.
The incident sparked off protests by residents who insisted that the OPC which was awarded a multimillion naira contract for the security of pipeline in the south west region by the Goodluck Jonathan -led government last year, should leave. That call yielded the desired result, as the contract was revoked by the present administration. But from all indication, it is obvious that the Arepo creeks have been taken over by vandals. Though at the Agric, Ikorodu end, the Military have been able to curtail their excesses.
Nine illegal Jetties uncovered in Ikorodu: Before the Military assumed dominance in Ikorodu, men of the IGP task force on Anti-Vandalism Squad led by its former head, Ibadin, had uncovered nine jetties used by pipeline vandals to transport siphoned petroleum products from Arepo in Ogun State. This feat was achieved after an eight-hour shoot-out with the vandals , in 2013, with the arrest of four suspected members of the gang.
Also recovered were over 2000 liters of petroleum products stored in forty 50 liters jerrycans with over 5000 corks of jerrycans stocked in six bags. Surprisingly, one of the suspects was discovered to be an informant to the Task force.The suspects, all residents of Kadoko Konu area of Ikorodu, were discovered to have built their houses very close to the creeks from where they created routes from the creeks to the jetties.
When this reporter visited the dreaded area, it was discovered that each of the buildings had it’s own jetty which links Arepo . A total of seven canoes reportedly used to convey stolen petroleum products were berthed at the jetties.
There was also a shrine behind the buildings, where the vandals said they performed some sacrifice before embarking on any mission. Assorted Charms, brooms, candles of different colours and threads were found in the shrine.
The vandals as gathered were arrested while at the verge of going to open a valve at Elepete in Arepo.
Acting on information, Vanguard was informed that the policemen blocked the entire area, making it impossible for them to penetrate.
“When they discovered the area was blocked , they moved to Ijedodo but unfortunately for them, we were also able to tackle that. Next day, we learnt that about 80 of them were firing at Kadoko Konu area of Ikorodu. We stormed there at midnight and exchanged fire with them. But considering government property and in order to prevent any fire outage, we stopped shooting at about 8am. disclosed by one of the vandals who was arrested sometime last year. During investigation the suspect alleged that some NNPC officials usually informed them of when product are being pumped from the Atlas cove through the Arepo pipelines. The suspect alleged that such act was usually done at midnight or at the wee hours of the morning. He stated that vandals who are usually stationed in the creeks would divert the product from a broken NNPC pipeline to their , using a hose , through which the product is pumped to their collection base located 7 kilometre from the NNPC pipeline location, from where the product would be discharged into trucks and jerricans. After each successful ‘deal’ the suspect alleged that an undisclosed amount was usually given to their contact at the NNPC. But the NNPC had described this claim as false
Checks by vanguard also revealed that some security agents aid these vandals . Sometimes, these security agents reportedly inform vandals of when the coast is clear and at the end of each successful siphon of product, they allegedly part with some money or petroleum products to the security agents.
Information at vanguard’s disposal has it that ‘sharing formula’ was allegedly one of the major cause of the fracas between the Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps,NSCDC recorded in years 2013 and 2014, during which some NSCDC officials were killed.
Vandals on the increase
But the question on the lips of every concerned Nigerians, particularly those living in Ikorodu, Lagos state and Arepo in Ogun state is the sudden rise in vandals activities and the violent dimension it has assumed. Unknown to many, Vanguard’s checks revealed that while scores of vandals were reported to have lost their lives in the pipeline explosion at Arepo , Ogun state, two weeks ago, same incident happened same day at Ogere, also in Ogun state. Vanguard reliably gathered that vandals broke the pipeline which supplies petroleum product to Ibadan, Oyo state and Ilorin , Kwara state. After the successful operation, the vandals reportedly fired a shot at
the broken pipeline ,thereby igniting fire.
From all indication, it is suspected that the vandals who are currently holding sway at Arepo creeks were responsible for the vandalisation of NNPC pipeline at Ogere.
However , the new sector commander of the Anti Pipeline Vandalism Squad, Mr Valentine Olumese, when contacted, assured that the police would not fold their hands and watch vandals hold sway in the creeks. He stated that measures were been taken to evacuate the vandals from the creeks.
*Evelyn Usman & Bose Adelaja _ Vanguard