Last Wednesday, a massive inferno engulfed the sleepy community of Arepo in Ogun State, killing over 100 people. The fire outbreak resulted from a ruptured oil pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a situation created by vandals. Eyewitness reports indicate that most of the victims were scooping fuel from the pipeline in the early hours of the morning when it suddenly exploded, spewing flames all over the area.
This latest incident adds to the growing number of pipeline explosions across the country, due to the activities of oil thieves and other miscreants. Incidentally, the Arepo inferno has led to the shutdown of pipes bringing petroleum into Lagos, thereby causing artificial scarcity and price hike at filling stations.
It is worth restating that Nigerians have grown weary of the nefarious acts of pipeline vandals and want the authorities to take drastic and decisive action to curb their activities. The constant sabotage of pipelines conveying fuel to different parts of Nigeria is not only harming the economy, there is an attendant loss of revenue that is largely diverted into the pockets of vandals and their collaborators. For instance, the country loses about 150,000barrels of crude oil per day to these criminal elements. In addition, many oil companies are being forced to shut down operations due to the incessant vandalism of the pipelines.
Unfortunately, Arepo has long been an area of interest for vandals siphoning petroleum products from pipelines, even as the police and other law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to apprehend the cabals responsible for these unwholesome and wanton acts. It is a known fact that oil pipeline vandalism has over the years been run by organised cartels, such that every NNPC pipeline in Lagos and its environs is an operational base for specific gangs. A visit to Arepo reveals that all the riverside communities in Ikorodu are connected to this illegal oil trade.
Moreover, oil thieves at Majidun, Ogijo, Odogunyan, Ishawo and Igbolomo get their supplies of petroleum products from the pipeline at Arepo. Pipelines at Epe are said to be under the control of vandals at Lamgbasa, while that of Tarkwa Bay is controlled by miscreants who come in from CMS. As for those at Liverpool, Apapa – they are said to be regularly vandalised by criminals at Ajegunle and Ijora – even as the vandals link all the host communities of the pipelines by water and leave the same way.
The dense swamp provides a cover for canoes used in ferrying the products. Even more alarming is the fact that the vessels and those operating them are usually armed with sophisticated military rifles, ready to attack anyone that tries to stop them along the waterways. The question is: who are those behind this booming, illicit oil trade? This poser has become pertinent given the brazen activities of the oil thieves, even in full view of people living in the pipelines host communities. These communities suffer widespread destruction and a huge toll in casualties when disaster strikes. Over the years, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives in the bid to illegally scoop oil from ruptured pipelines. No doubt, incessant vandalism remains a threat to the country’s socio-economic development.
Aside posing immediate threats to lives and property, pipeline explosions and attendant oil spills are known to cause long-lasting damage to the environment where they occur, as well as health problems among the inhabitants.
Against this backdrop, we call on the government to strengthen its security apparatus in order to checkmate the growing menace. We also welcome plans by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) to deploy over 500 drones and aircraft for proper surveillance of oil infrastructures, and look forward to their full implementation.