Nigerians woke up Wednesday, with news of the gruesome murder of nine operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) in Konu, Ikorodu, Lagos, Tuesday night, by pipeline vandals who were returning from Arepo creeks in trucks loaded with siphoned petroleum products belonging to the Nigerian .National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The operatives whose identities are yet to be ascertained owing to the silence of the DSS over the incident, had gone to effect the arrest of the vandals.
As they embarked on that operation, apparently hoping to actualise their aim, little did they realise that would be their last assignment as operatives of the foremost security agency. Barely had they reached Konu than they were taken unawares by hostile sporadic shots from their enemies – the vandals, who laid ambush for them.
Without doubt, they could have put up an act of bravery by trying to repel the vandals. But they were said to have been overwhelmed by the vandals who usually operate in their numbers. At the end of the shoot-out which some residents claimed to have lasted over thirty minutes, the operatives became the hunted, as the bodies of nine of them littered the place.
A version of the account had it that the bodies of the slain operatives were taken away by the vandals as well as their arms, a reason that was partially attributed to the silence on the side of the DSS till date.
The death of these gallant officers whose wives have been rendered widows and their children fatherless overnight by vandals, is one too many in recent times.
It occurred barely three weeks after four policemen were killed by vandals around Ishawo in Ikorodu. In this case, the vandals who have apparently thrown caution to the dogs, also went away with the policemen’s corpses and their weapons. There were also cases where some policemen who were on surveillance in Arepo creeks in Ogun State were ambushed by vandals, killed, with their bodies buried in shallow graves in the creeks.
From all indications, it is indubitable that vandalism has assumed a violent dimension and it appears the military has no answer to their violence. And unless drastic measures are taken quickly to checkmate this worrisome trend, it may turn out to be another issue that would be needing foreign support to tackle in future.
Impeccable sources revealed that these supposed vandals are militants who have taken over the creeks in Arepo. Some of them are alleged to be from Arogbo community in Ondo State while others are from the Ijaw extraction. At the moment, these militants are holding sway, with over 500 of them reportedly residing in the Arepo creeks. They have dared security operatives to attempt to dislodge them, claiming that they were only interested in their share of the national cake which their activities around the pipeline provide.
These activities of the vandals were undoubtedly affecting the economic well-being of Nigeria, owing to her dependency on oil. Thus, in a move to nip the pipeline vandalism in the bud, former Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohhamed Abubakar set up the IGP Anti-Pipeline Vandalism Squad in 2012 with available records showing an impressive feat by the squad. For instance, several arrests of suspected pipeline vandals, including receivers of the stolen products, some of whom were owners of petrol stations were made. The squad led by its former head, Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, also made startling recovery of over nine private jetties built around Ikorodu by the vandals. From these jetties, were underground hoses which lined another inside the creeks to Arepo, where siphoned petroleum products are channelled through.
One of such remarkable arrests was that of some vandals who confessed to have been responsible for the killings of policemen and staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) who had gone to effect repairs on a broken pipeline.
Regrettably, the police are losing power going by the unmitigated killings of security operatives by the vandals.
Although former president Goodluck Jonathan contracted the pipeline surveillance and protection in the South West region to an ethnic militia group, apparently in a bid to proffer solution to the cases of pipeline vandalism and consequent killing of security operatives, nobody dared get close to Arepo. Even attempting to use the militia group allegedly exacerbated the spate of pipeline vandalism, thereby necessitating its outright termination by the present administration which saddled the military with the responsibility of keeping surveillance over the pipelines in Ikorodu.
There are however indications that some residents of Arepo and Ikorodu, among them, commercial motorcyclists and traders, are members or accomplices of the pipeline vandals. These individuals who are stationed at strategic locations within the area, allegedly pass information to their colleagues in the creeks.
Activities of these informants have reportedly been going on for a while without the knowledge of security operatives. Their modus oparandi came to the fore following the abduction of two photo journalists who had gone to cover the explosion at Arepo on July 23, 2015, where scores of vandals lost their lives while siphoning petroleum products from a broken pipeline.
The photojournalists had reportedly mounted two motorbikes at the Arepo junction, informing the motorcyclists that they were going to the scene of the explosion. Surprisingly, they were dropped right in the vandals’ den, from where three men whom they thought were boat operators, whisked them to the heart of the creeks where about 300 vandals, some of whom were clad in military camouflage, tortured them, in spite of pleas and explanations that they were not government officials as claimed. But for providence, they would have been killed and their bodies buried among several others in shallow graves scattered around the creeks.
These informants who are stationed at the entrance of Arepo and Ikorodu in particular, reportedly play important roles for their colleagues in the creeks. For instance, if security operatives arrive in the area, whether to arrest or carry out surveillance, the informants would hint their colleagues in the creeks to be battle ready.
Checks however showed that other residents close to the path that leads to the creeks are also aware of the goings-on but are afraid to pass information about vandals’ activities, apparently out of fear of being maimed or even killed, without police protection.
It was gathered that a man simply identified as Alhaji Ogunse, an informant to the Police and NNPC, was killed by vandals sometime last year after revealing the identities of vandals to NNPC officials and the police.
Alhaji Ogunse resided in Konu, close to the river where vandals take into the creeks. He was said to have given the operational names of some key vandals as Agbala, OC, CP, Blackberry and Tokiye, to security agents and also granted an interview to one of the national dailies on activities of vandals in the area. Unfortunately, two weeks after granting that interview, vandals stormed his home which he also used to treat people with mental instability and whisked him to the creeks where he was reportedly slaughtered.
In one of the raids of the creeks by the Ibadin-led police squad, bodies of some policemen, with those of other security agencies buried in shallow graves were recovered in their decomposing states. A separate grave was also dug where uniforms of the murdered operatives were kept. Some of these uniforms gathered were usually worn by the vandals while on operation.
Security agents’ connection
However, before the stage was turned against security operatives, the relationship between them and the vandals was cordial, following alleged compromise on the side of the operatives. It was said that sometimes, operatives posted to man pipelines areas, usually informed vandals of when the coast was clear and that at the end of each successful siphoning of petroleum product, they allegedly gave some money or petroleum products to the operatives, too
Information revealed that things began to fall apart between the hunter and the hunted over ‘sharing formula’ . The first sign of trouble ahead was a dispute among the different security agencies, particularly the Police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), over claim of authority to monitor some pipeline areas. This resulted in fracas recorded in 2013 and 2014, during which some NSCDC officials were killed. Thus, when stiffer measures were introduced to the surveillance of pipelines, the hunted (vandals ), turned against the hunters (security operatives) in a bid to continue with their nefarious activities.
Officials of NNPC were also fingered as aiding and abetting the vandals. In an encounter with a suspected pipeline vandal sometime last year, he alleged that some NNPC officials usually informed them of when products are being pumped from the Atlas Cove through the Arepo pipelines. The suspect further alleged that such act was usually done at midnight or in the wee hours of the morning. He stated that vandals who were usually stationed in the creeks would divert the product from a broken NNPC pipeline to theirs using a hose, through which the product was pumped to their collection base located 7 kilometre from the NNPC pipeline location, from where the product would be discharged into trucks and jerrycans. After each successful ‘deal’ the suspect alleged that an undisclosed amount was usually given to their contact at NNPC. But the NNPC had described this claim as false.
Further investigation showed that 25 litres of this stolen product is sold between N1,200 and N1,300, as against N2,175 to ready buyers, who usually throng sales points with their trucks and jerrycans. A 33,000 litres truck on the other hand, is reportedly sold between N1.2 million and N1.5 million as against N2 million and above .
Ijegun, Satelitte Town, Festac Town, Maza-Maza and Ejigbo axis in Lagos, are among areas where pipeline vandals are thriving. But activities of vandals in Majidun, Isahawo, Agric, Kadoko Konu, Ikorodu, Papalanto and Arepo areas of Lagos and Ogun states assume violent dimensions, with several security operatives and innocent persons killed. One of such cases was the killing of a 24-year-old pregnant woman, Damilola Fajana, during a crossfire between oil thieves and members of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) at Beachland Estate, Arepo, on April 28, 2015.
At the moment, residents of Ikorodu are living in fear. This is because the axis serves as exit point for vandals. Konu, Ishawo and Majidun in particular, are exit routes. While the pipelines are located in Arepo, from where petroleum products are siphoned, they are brought to ready buyers in these areas and beyond through Ikorodu. More worrisome is the plight of these residents, owing to the reckless killings of security operatives who are supposed to protect them against intruders. Many are of the view that the security operatives are not well-equipped and trained to check these vandals, particularly with the recent killings of the nine DSS operatives.