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Arepo again: Gun battle sets off fresh pipeline fire

By The Citizen
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The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation's pipeline located at Arepo, Ogun State exploded in the early morning of Wednesday.

The explosion occurred barely two weeks after a similar incident in the area caused the death of more than 15 suspected vandals.

The Wednesday inferno was the fourth time since September last year that fire, suspected to be caused by vandals, had occurred in the area.

There was scepticism as regards the cause of Wednesday explosion, but one of our correspondents learnt that it was caused by a gun duel between some suspected vandals and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

Assistant Commandant General, NSCDC South-West zone, Mr. Oladapo Jacob, said the incident was surprising to the corps.

He said after the last incident, the corps stationed its men both day and night to check the incessant vandalism of the NNPC pipeline.

Jacob said, 'Our men have been here day and night since last December incident. Unfortunately, we were surprised this morning when we heard the people were here about 3.30am.

'About that time, our men heard a gunshot from the pipeline area. They decided to go there to know what was happening.

'By the time our men got there, the vandals engaged our men in a gun duel. They later flee into the water. The immediate result was the fire.'

Jacob said the corps had a lot of security challenges in the area, alleging that some residents were working in connivance with the vandals.

He also said the vandals had evolved a more sophisticated approach to scooping fuel in Arepo, adding that instead of jerrycans, which they usually used, they had introduced 'rubbers' to deceive security operatives.

Jacob said, 'The vandals have developed another technology to steal fuel from pipeline. Instead of using kegs, they are now using something called rubber. And the rubbers contain about three kegs. By the time you see them on top of the river, you may be thinking they are fishing; they are not.

'There are so many exit points here because it is a creek. They call this place Arepo. There are other exit points at Majidun and Ogolonto. If you chase them at Arepo, they go to the other side and jump into the river,' he said.

He said the panacea for the incessant vandalism was for the Federal Government to build a bridge so that those exit points could be fortified for better surveillance and security.

A resident of the area, Mr. Ngozi Chukwu, said the regular explosion was giving the residents cause for concern.

'The Federal Government knows what to do. It should intensify security here. In a creek area such as this, the government should create a bridge to make petrol stealing difficult.

'It is unfortunate that in the last four months, explosion had taken place in this area four times. To live here now is dangerous.'

Another resident, who identified himself simply as Keke, said, 'How will people not scoop fuel to survive? In a situation where there is unemployment, while a few people are feeding fat in Abuja, why won't you expect such a situation? For most of the vandals, they see the pipelines as a place where their national cake is.'

NNPC officials, NSCDC men clash
Officials of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and the officers and men of NSCDC on Wednesday clashed at the scene of the pipeline explosion which rocked the Arepo community.

While the fire billowed on Arepo creek, the NNPC officials, who were dispatched to the scene of the fire, engaged the NSCDC officials who wanted to join in the operation in a heated argument for over 40 minutes.

The NNPC had told NSCDC men on ground that only mobile policemen would be allowed to provide them security while they fixed the vandalised pipeline.

The decision irked the NSCDC men who insisted that it was their constitutional duty to investigate issues bearing on vandalism as well as safeguard oil pipelines.

As a result of this, many of the armed NSCDC men and the gun totting mobile policemen exchanged words and abused themselves while the ACG Jacob left the scene.

One of the NNPC officials, who declined to give his name said, 'Only mobile policemen seconded to us from the Police Force Headquarters will be allowed to conduct surveillance to check if the explosion site is safe and to provide security. This is not a jamboree; only the policemen would go in there with the boat.'

However, the Zonal Information Officer of the National Emergency Management Agency, South West, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, who led a team to the scene, brokered peace between the warring factions and three officials of NSCDC were allowed to join the boat.

Jacobs later said the scenario was  due to confusion usually associated with planning.

Farinloye, however, lamented the incessant fire explosion at the Arepo, adding that the exact spot that was fixed two weeks ago when the creeks went up in flames was still the same point that was vandalised.

He said, 'It is unfortunate that between September2012 and now, we have witnessed four fire incidents at the Arepo end of the NNPC Right of Way. We thank God there was no casualty and we only have three points of fire on the creek.

'To put an end to these incessant incidents, the community members must give us enough cooperation. The traditional rulers must mobilise against vanadalism in this area.' (Punch)