One major security challenge for the government and security agencies in Lagos State is pipeline vandalism, which often results in the loss of lives and properties. The suspected vandals are sometimes victims of fires which occur from the damage on infrastructure.
The areas considered notorious for pipeline vandalism in Lagos State are Ikorodu, Idimu, Igando and Abule-Egba, which HumAngle investigations reveal that every year, at least one pipeline accident occurs.
HumAngle further learnt that most of the criminal activities in the sector occur with the connivance of locals who accuse the security agents of collusion with the criminals.
In Ikorodu area for example, vandals reigned supreme for some time at Isawo area linking Arepo in Ogun State. Many vandals lost their lives, while those living engaged security agents and community people in gun battles and many people were killed. Peace returned to Ikorodu after the swamps were cleared by the Federal Government in 2016, while some soldiers were deployed and stationed permanently in the area.
Abule-Egba area in Lagos has no creeks that cover the pipeline unlike Ikorodu and other areas but vandals carry out their activities in the open but residents often claim they do not know that such crime goes on in spite of the fact that fuel trucks of 33,000 litres capacity are parked in their numbers in the vicinity when there are no filling stations.
But when explosions occur with houses razed, property lost and people burnt to death in the ensuing fire, the people blame the security agents, including Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the police for allegedly giving protection to the vandals.
Although Igando has creeks, most acts of vandalism in the area occur in the open along the pipeline demarcated area where there are different artisans such as motor mechanics, bricklayers and traders selling in shops constructed on the pipeline.
In Idimu, considered most notorious for pipeline vandalism, residents get fuel by digging up the ground to construct water wells, an activity which has worried the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over time.
Some landlords who cannot explain how fuel gets into their wells are arrested for allegedly vandalising oil pipelines but the explanation they often give is that they find fuel in their wells.
The wells filled with fuel are not in one location but in many compounds, showing that the area might have been compromised. Some explosions which occurred in Idimu destroyed many buildings, including school buildings as was the case of December 5, 2019.
A resident, Bernard Okeke, said, “We knew this would happen because on a daily basis, vandals come to scoop fuel in the area. We knew we were sitting on a keg of gunpowder; now it has happened. At least two persons have been killed.
“We are appealing to the government to do something urgently. We reported to the NNPC many times, but they did not do anything.’’
Another resident, Mr ThankGod Julius, said the community had written several letters to the police at Idimu and the NNPC about the activities of vandals in the area, but they would only walk around the length of the pipe, pretending as if they were doing any meaningful repair.
“Security operatives are also neck deep in the business as they provide vandals a cover-up for their activities. Residents are now afraid to talk as they have been threatened severally by vandals; after all, nobody wants to die. So we kept quiet,’’ he said.
Some other residents said that Isheri, Idimu and Ijegun were notorious for the activities of vandals.
“They are always siphoning petroleum products from deliberately ruptured pipelines into trucks and jerry-cans, which leads to fire explosion,” residents said, adding that NNPC officials often visited the scenes of explosions and made statements of how to check futures occurrences but the destruction still continued.
The December, 2019, explosion was not the first time such accident happened in that axis but the fourth time within one year, HumAngle learnt.
Investigation revealed that in 2018, there were fire outbreaks from pipeline explosions twice in the area with the first occurring in February and the other in April. In 2019, one incident occurred in November and the other in December, according to Adetunji Adeyemi, Chief Operating Officer, Downstream, NNPC.
The NNPC official described the area as very prone to fire and vandalism but said the corporation was doing everything possible to ensure there was security and adequate maintenance in terms of pipeline integrity in the area.
“We are also appealing to the residents here, the community leaders and religious leaders to ensure that they also protect the pipelines,” Adeyemi said.
The Police Public Relations Officer in Lagos State, DSP Bala Elkana, said there were illegal structures on the NNPC pipeline right of way, adding that the structures included churches and shops.
He said that a pastor of a white garment church in the community once denied knowledge of the activities of vandals in the area but when his church premises was searched, kegs of stolen fuel were recovered.
Elkana said the pastor had claimed that “the fire started in the bush although the only building close to the scene was owned by him. .
“When you take a closer look at him you will know that he is aware of what is happening. The police interrogated him, but he denied knowledge of anything. The police decided to search the vicinity and found a lot of kegs of siphoned fuel hidden in his house.”
Ion his part, the General-Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Femi Oke-Osanyintolu, said emergency officers had been deployed to more than four pipeline areas that would have caused fire explosion in the last six months, particularly in Igando-Idumi axis.
The Lagos State Command of NSCDC which major responsibility is protection of critical infrastructure, said it had been doing its best to provide security for pipelines.
The Commandant of NSCDC in the state, Mr Ayinla Adeyinka, said personnel of the agency had done their best to protect the facilities and that in the course of the duty, some had been killed by the criminals.
He said there was no way the agency would be able to protect pipelines from the beginning to the end of Lagos but that community people giving timely information about vandals would help to check the menace.
The commandant said many vandals had been arrested and charged to court, while many trucks and petroleum products had been seized by security operatives from criminals.
He said while more manpower was required, modern equipment for surveillance were also required for security personnel to carry out their duties.
Adeyinka, however, warned pipeline vandals and others who were into the destruction of public infrastructure in Lagos to relocate from the state or face the consequences of their actions.
He urged community members to know that the pipelines were “Nigeria’s assets and we must protect them as Nigerians”.
He said security was the responsibility of everyone, “so when they see something, they should say something and not doing so has its own consequences on everybody.”
However, many attribute the rampant cases of pipeline vandalism in the state to poverty, corruption, unemployment, poor law enforcement and poor governance, which encourage illegal oil trade across Nigeria’s international borders.