Determined to crack down on the menace of pipeline vandalism, the Inspector General of Police Special Task Force on Anti Pipeline Vandalism Thursday arrested four suspected pipeline vandals in connection with the attack on pipelines belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), at Arepo in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State. Earlier, the Civil Defence Corps had arrested some 15 suspects who would be arraigned soon.
This is just as it was gathered that NNPC would soon commence the pumping of petrol through the same pipelines given that the fire has been successfully put out.
The arrested suspects were identified as Wale Onana, Owekeware Olusor Ekperemor, Ebimiru Yeyha and Truce Iroju. They along with some other suspects, now at large, had set another fire on an NNPC pipeline in the creeks before they were rounded up.
The vandals, last Wednesday, torched another pipeline, thus causing fire at the Arepo axis where the NNPC pipeline is laid. The timely intervention of the rescue team, which included the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the state fire service, prevented the fire from claiming lives.
Police sources said the vandals had set the pipelines on fire to prevent the ongoing construction of an NNPC-sponsored platform that would assist the police to mount closer and steadier surveillance of the area.
It was gathered that the building of the platform followed the explosion at one of the pipelines on January 13 which killed over 30 persons who had gone to siphon fuel from a ruptured pipeline.
In his confession, Onan admitted to having set the pipeline on fire but insisted that he and others simply obeyed the orders of one of their leaders known as Igbekorowa.
He said: "We learnt that NNPC was mounting a platform close to the creeks and that would be bad business for us. So it was agreed that we should try and stop them pending when we must have gotten enough supply that we can manage before another spot is discovered.
"On Wednesday, we sneaked in through the river at about 12am and fetched few gallons of PMS and while we were leaving, Yukun lit a cigarette and threw it at the ruptured part and the fire started again.
"On our way back, Igbekorowa asked us to move ahead of him that he and Yukun would follow us behind. Unknown to us, the police were hiding in the bush and they got us arrested."
Igbekorowa, it was gathered, is one of the notorious vandals who was among the suspected vandals that murdered some NNPC officials last year. Igbekorowa and another vandal, popularly known as Togo, have been on the wanted list of the police.
The arrested suspects disclosed that Togo who was badly burnt during the last fire incident of January 13, was smuggled to Ondo State by his girlfriend for treatment. The manhunt for his arrest as well as others now at large has begun.
Confirming the arrest, Assistant Commissioner of Police Friday Ibadin, who is in charge of the task force, said that the explosion started at about 4.30am but policemen led by Sector Commander, Lagos, DSP Onaghise Osayande, cordoned off the area shortly after, while they awaited the arrival of the fire service.
He said: "With the cordoning, they went ahead to extend the search to some routes in the area, Konu and Majidun area. The search yielded fruits as they spotted some vandals, ambushed and arrested them.
"This is a wasted effort to ensure that the platform that can assist the police to have good coverage of the area is frustrated. The fire has been quenched and NNPC would soon commence flow of PMS through that line while the construction of the platform continues."
The Arepo community has become a haven for pipeline vandals in recent times. Several cases of attack on NNPC officials as well as fire incidents have been recorded within the community. Despite the increased security surveillance, the vandals still circumvent the security network to perpetrate their nefarious acts.
It may take more than security crackdown to stop the theft of petroleum products given the practice, which seems established in the community.
Meanwhile, the Commandant General (CG) of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Dr. Ade Abolurin, has blamed foreign countries buying Nigerian stolen crude for the continuous vandalism of NNPC pipelines.
He also announced that 15 persons, suspected to be vandals, have been arrested in the last seven days in the area, stressing that they would soon be prosecuted.
Abolunrin, who disclosed this yesterday at Arepo Estate, Ogun State, while on assessment tour of the NNPC pipeline, expressed surprise at the massive damage done by the perpetrators of the explosion.
He said: "Vandals carry our stolen crude oil to other countries to sell; those countries refine the oil and resell it to us. That is economic sabotage. If nobody is buying stolen crude at the international market, vandals would have no business to do with pipelines.
"We appeal to those countries assisting the vandals to destroy our economy to stop. They should assist us to track down these economic saboteurs.
"Also, the community where this crime is being perpetrated has a role to play if they want to still live in that area. They must help to arrest the situation because they are affected also economically and otherwise."