26 January 2013

Nigeria: Arepo and Pipeline Vandalism

Photo: Leadership
Pipeline vandals

Arepo, a small settlement in Ogun State has been in the news for the wrong reasons: pipeline explosions, pipeline vandalism, deaths in the community and the murder of officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Arepo, an otherwise obscure and somnolent community in Ogun State, which is only a few kilometres away from Lagos, has been in the news for the wrong reasons.

The community is important as it has a pipeline which supplies about 9 to 11 million litres of fuel from Lagos to Ibadan, Ilorin and the North.

But since September last year, the community has witnessed pipeline explosions, pipeline vandalism, death of persons in the community and the murder of officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

On September 5, a pipeline was vandalised by some scoundrels. Their purpose was to scoop fuel illegally from it, but the fire that ensued was said to have killed at least 30 persons.

Later, the NNPC sent three engineers to fix the damaged pipeline but they were killed by people who were suspected to be enjoying the proceeds of the fuel obtained illegally from the wrecked pipeline.

Four weeks after they were killed, a police special task force recovered the bodies of the three missing NNPC engineers. Their bullet-riddled bodies were buried in a shallow grave.

The head of the Anti-Pipeline Vandalism Special Task Force, Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), explained how the bodies were found.

He said: "We found, in a decomposing state, bullet-ridden bodies of the three victims. We learnt that the body of the local security guard employed by NNPC, Taye, a.k.a Dead Man, was cut into pieces and disposed off."

Ibadin continued, "Shortly after the incident, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, reconstituted the dissolved anti vandal team.

"It became important to get to the root of the incident that led to the death of these NNPC officials. And in the course of the investigation, about six suspects were arrested. We gathered from the confession of one of the suspects, Imerepamu Ijebu Joel, that he knew where the NNPC staffers were buried.

"Initially, he took our team to a spot and after several hours, the bodies were not found.

"At night, the Ijaw boy attempted to dig one spot, but the police who were on guard stopped him. And two days later, he opened up and agreed to take us to the real spot.

"It took six hours of sailing to get to the spot. We had 40 heavily armed men, and we took along a pathologist, a coroner, and the medical team from NNPC that eventually identified the bodies.

"They took us to a place where they buried non-natives. With the assistance of one John Bosco, Peter Opidi, and the suspect, Imerepamu Ijebu Joel, we were shown two shallow graves.

"It was there that we discovered the bodies and they have been deposited at a mortuary.

"I wish to commend the sector commander, DSP Onaghise Osayande, and his team who dared the dangers of the creek to recover the bodies. Meanwhile, we are carrying out further investigations to see if there was more to the killings than what we had gathered."

However, the people of Arepo absolved themselves of the pipeline vandalism that reportedly claimed not less than 30 lives in the area.

In a statement signed by the secretary of the Arepo Oba-in-council, Victor Olajide, the community claimed that none of its indigenes was involved in the vandalisation of the pipeline.

The statement which described the act as barbaric, claimed that it was Ijaws who lived in the area that perpetrated the act.

The statement said, "Not a single Arepo indigene has been arrested and police records revealed that those arrested are non-indigenes. The name Arepo is synonymous with palm oil and not petroleum products and the people are land merchants, making enough resources from their trade. We will never demean ourselves in the breaking of pipeline or siphoning of fuel, it is criminal and we will not do it.

"Most casualties or arrested youths are usually of the Ijaw extraction. The records are with the police to show those that were arrested recently for the killings of the innocent NNPC engineers are all from the Niger-Delta."

But there was no let-up in the activities of pipeline vandals in the area as another explosion occurred on January 11 this year.

The consequence of that was that five charred bodies were recovered at the scene by security operatives.

However, early in the morning of last Wednesday, an unspecified number of vandals were reportedly killed when some suspected hoodlums stormed Arepo, and again wreaked havoc on the NNPC Pipeline in the area.

This is barely two weeks that an incident of great magnitude occurred at the same place that claimed several lives.

It was gathered that the Wednesday deaths might not be unconnected with the face-off with the men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Vandals.

The image maker of the NSCDC, Kareem Olanrewaju told LEADERSHIP that the fire outbreak and the deaths were also as a result of "an exchange of fire between them and our men at Magboro area, we cannot say whether it is the same team we had encountered with that went to vandalise at Arepo".

Olanrewaju said "Officers of NSCDC were stationed to patrol the area since the last incident. We have also carried out a series of operations there successfully with the arrest of some suspected vandals and seizure of exhibit".

He explained that the NSCDC Commandant was already at the spot "as some of our men were attacked in another operation around Iperu/Ogere area. Some of them were injured and had been taken to the hospital".

It appears that vandals still have their eyes on illegally siphoning fuel from the pipeline at Arepo, and it would take the vigilance and competence of security agents to stop them.

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