Barely two weeks after some suspected pipeline vandals struck at Arepo, Ogun State, another pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), yesterday exploded in the same area leaving many with varying degrees of injury.
Speaking to THISDAY, the South-west Zonal Public Relations Officer of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, confirmed the latest explosion, although he could not ascertain the casualty rate.
The incident occurred about two weeks after about 30 persons were burnt to death at Arepo village in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, when a ruptured NNPC pipeline exploded, destroying another section of the pipeline network within the vicinity.
The vandals were said to have gone to the area to siphon petroleum products from the ruptured NNPC pipeline when it exploded.
According to Farinloye, immediately the information filtered in, the agency mobilised resources to move to the swampy area to first contain and then put out the fire.
The Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), the pipeline and marketing subsidiary of NNPC, also confirmed the vandalism of the System 2B Pipeline at Arepo, adding that measures were being taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
An official of PPMC, who did not want to be named, said the latest explosion which occurred in the wee hours of yesterday, might have been caused by vandals who tried to illegally siphon some of the products.
He said: "The service manager of the pipeline has just confirmed to us that another round of vandalism has been observed at Arepo along System 2B in the early hours of Wednesday (yesterday).
"All concerned officials have been mobilised to the area as well as the necessary resources to put off the fire, but the number of casualties could not be ascertained."
However, operatives of the Inspector General of Police's Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism have arrested two Indians and three other suspects for pipeline vandalism.
It was gathered that the task force arrested the suspects in Osogbo, Osun State, shortly after the Indians took delivery of two truckloads of suspected stolen fuel products from the ruptured pipeline.
The Indian suspects were identified as the Managing Director, Prism Steel Mill Limited, Mr. Ashok Agarwal, and the Chief Security Officer of the company, Mr. Kamal Shema.
Others are Fatai Afolabi, Emmanuel Igbokwe and Tukur Mohammed, who were alleged to be the suppliers of the stolen products.
Asides the two truckloads of suspected stolen petroleum products, the police also impounded two trucks with registration numbers XQ522APP and XV102KSF.
Confirming the arrests, the officer in charge of the task force, Assistant Commissioner of Police Friday Ibadin, said the arrests were made based on intelligence reports, which revealed that some vandals were transporting stolen products to their buyer in Osun State.
He said: "We got a tip-off that vandals had resumed their activities along Okene in Ondo State from the NNPC pipeline.
"Policemen led by the Ore Sector Commander, DSP Xpress Omoigui, were sent to the area on regular patrol. It was during one of the patrol sessions that they trailed some trucks to Prism Steel Company based in Osun State.
"As soon as we confirmed that the products were actually sold to the company, our detectives stormed the company and arrested the Director, Engineer Agarwal and his accomplice, Kamal Shema. They would soon be charged to court at the end of our investigation."
On the allegation that some petrol stations and big companies patronise these vandals with impunity, Ibadin said the task force is taking concrete steps to curb this.
One of the suspects, 66-year-old Agarwal, said he was forced to patronise the pipeline vandals and oil thieves because NNPC was unable to meet their demand requirements for their business.
He said: "We established this business to help the country to have enough steel for its use. In the production of steel, we make use of fuel oil, which we all know as black oil.
"We are one of the major suppliers of this steel in Nigeria and if we stop production for want of raw material, there might be scarcity. We had no other choice but to patronise these ones.
"My only mistake was that we never took time to confirm if it was stolen. We are big employers of labour and would beg government to forgive us."