Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the vandalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline in Iju area of Lagos State recently has raised serious adverse health concern in communities with oil pipelines running through them
Mr. Christopher Orji, one of the residents of Iju, a densely populated Lagos suburb, woke up one morning to see his entire family in pains. He closely examined them. On a closer examination, they were discovered to be suffering from the same ailments; stomach ache, dizziness, and headache amongst others.
At first, without medical examination he blamed the ailment on food poisoning. Soon, he heard about others in the community and he decided to find out what the problem was.
"I was surprised to find out that my neighbour and his family was going through the same thing. They were sick with headache, stomach ache and couldn't see well," he said.
Following the eruption of an oil pipeline at Iju in Lagos recently, the residents of the four communities which include Oluwole Bisiriyu, Ilori Coker, Kayode Williams Estate and and Akute-Odo areas complained of serious stomach upset, nausea and coughing as a result of the pollution.
After the initial panicking, they took the next step to report to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Lagos who advised them to seek medical treatment.
NEMA's findings revealed that the epidemic stemmed from the NNPC pipeline in the area which was ruptured by vandals who siphoned the products and left the pipeline open with its contents left to spill into the Ogun River.
THISDAY gathered that content of the ruptured pipelines was spilled on the land and its constant inhalation caused a serious upset to the people living within the area. It was also gathered that the activities of the oil thieves affected the water in the area as oil flowed ceaselessly into the river after the vandalisation occurred. The use of the water by the residents according to investigation also exacerbated the ailments suffered by the residents.
Analysts say though Nigeria is an oil producing nation which has led to immense wealth creation for the nation at large, but at a huge expense as organised oil theft, bunkering and pipeline vandalism has become the order of the day.
Reports say about 80 per cent of the nation's revenue comes from the millions of barrels of oil sold,but this figure could be reversed as millions of litres of oil may not get to its end users because of pipeline vandalism and other criminalities.
According to statistics, in 2000 alone, over 200,000 to 300,000 barrels of crude were stolen per day. This statistics were further backed by a study from the International Centre of Reconciliation which puts the total value of stolen crude oil and disrupted oil production between 2003 and 2008 at approximately N14 trillion.
This figure seems to be on the increase despite checks put in place, especially now with the Inspector General of Police Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism Unit, Force Headquarters Annex, Lagos.
In 2011, Nigeria recorded about $7billion loss to crude oil theft, a clear but whooping difference from the value of crude oil lost between 2003 and 2008.
For the past two months, the media has been awash with several reported incidents of pipeline vandalism which had claimed several lives, left many others with varying degrees of injuries and destroyed properties worth millions of naira.
In the past more attention has been given to the economic loss but the Iju incident has brought to the fore the health concern over each ruptured pipeline and its adverse impact on the health of the citizens.
Following the destruction of the pipeline and its attendant effects, the residents of four communities sent distress calls to the appropriate authorities.
Sources said the content of the ruptured pipeline which was left unattended to until days later when it was fixed by a team of engineers from NNPC.
Confirming the incident to THISDAY, the Information Officer, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), South-west Zone, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said residents have been urged to abstain from drinking the water for the time being.
He said, "NEMA has strongly advised Nigerians who live around the areas affected by the spilling of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) against inhaling the product as a result of the indiscriminate activities of vandals who vandalised the pipelines, leaving the product to spill all around the area."
He said the warning became necessary as a result of distress calls from the residents of all the affected areas who complained of severe stomach upset, nausea and coughing.
He said they swung into action upon getting the alert but they first informed the safety personnel of NNPC on the development who mobilised their engineers to fixthe ruptured pipeline to stop the leakage.
According to him, "the vandals cut through the pipeline, scooped the fuel and left the pipeline opened t until the content spilled into the Ogun River. To contain the situation, the safety personnel blanketed (a technical term for using chemicals to clean up such polluted water) the affected water, to neutralise the power of the oil spill.
"By blanketing the area, we have prevented chances of a fire outbreak because when you pour chemical, it weakens the product."
However, he maintained that despite the blanketing, residents of the affected areas were strongly enjoined to avoid consumption and usage of the water in the next three years. He also advised the residents to seek further medical tests, advice and treatments as part of long-term measures against future complications.
He said, "We plead with communities and residents of any disaster-risk areas to join hands in reduction management as the immediate and long term effects of disasters are mostly inflicting negative impacts on the poor and less privileged."
A medical expert, Dr. Chidozie Mogbo said, respiratory ailments come with oil spillage. "Our leaders should be focused on finding safe, sustainable energy that would also help stem the increase in environmental pollution. Our health depends on it, "he said.
He maintained that the concern for pipeline vandalism should not be limited to the loss of the product, but its adverse impact on the health of the neglected poor.
Pointing to cholera (a water-borne disease) as one of the effects of last year's flooding that affected about 22 States and displaced a huge number of people with recorded deaths, Mogbo disclosed that according to the recent United Nations report, the disease ravaged the country, killing about 1, 500 and infecting nearly 40,000 people.
This , he said defeated the Millennium Development Goal of optimum health as corroborated by the report which went on to describe it as the country's worst outbreak in nearly two decades.
He lamented that in a country where the daily sales of crude oil amounts to billions of naira, it is shameful that the government is doing a little to protect its citizens.
He said that the government should as a matter of necessity put in place adequate security for the pipelines to prevent the menace from re-occurring, adding that sensitisation campaigns should be carried out to enlighten the residents on how to safeguard their communities from activities of vandals.
As part of efforts to curb the untoward acts of vandalism, the task force set up by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar recently arrested a medical doctor Salifu Odiba and 24 other pipeline vandals in different parts of Lagos and Ogun who were part of the syndicate vadalising oil pipelines.
The Task Force Commander, Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, said that some of the suspects were arrested in Ikorodu, Takwa Bay, Altlas Cove, Iju and Owode in Lagos State, as well as Ibafo, Igbesa, Iperu, Sagamu and Fidewo in Ogun State respectively.
The suspects were identified as; Onadipe Abdul lateef, Samuel Oyewunmi, Samuel Okunuga, Kayode Akinsanya, Alaba Ademola, Hehinde Alagboye, Muritala Karim, Akeem Ahmed, Musiliu Azeez, Jelilat Olalekan and Elizabeth Folusho.
Others are: Ibrahim Musa, Jimoh Sesan, Afeez Azeez, Musa Adebayo, Dauda Adesina, Kareem Sani, Segun Adetayo, Seyi Olojo, Dauda Mashika, Kamilu Adedeji, Abeni Olayemi, Abia Joseph and Joseph Adekunle.
To reduce the incidence of pipeline vandalism to the barest minimum, Ibadin said the task force had to extra surveillance work in such target areas,
He however called on members of the public who live around such target spots like Iju, Arepo, FESTAC Town and other areas to assist the operatives by providing useful information that would help arrest the vandals.
Also speaking to THISDAY, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 2, Mamman Tsafe, said it would take the collaborative effort of the security agencies and members of the public to stem the tide.
He said such devious act portends a great danger for the nation in terms of the huge economic loss as well as health hazards.
He however expressed optimism that the newly inaugurated task force which is directly under the IG would clean up the sector. He said, "because of the allegation of police connivance with the vandals, the IG personally set up a task force under the leadership of a man I do not doubt his integrity.
"The task force leader was charged with the responsibility of restoring sanity and from all indications change has come. Some of the vandals have been arrested, taken to court and charged."