Tales of greed, death in Arepo, ‘a community of vandals’
The Journalists’ Estate at the entrance of the community and Beach land Estate, which adorn the ‘village’ among other sprawling estates provide a perfect façade of a civilized neighbourhood to a first time visitor to Arepo.
But further down the road, the stark reality of the class contrast among the inhabitants stares visitors in the face, as rows of makeshift, decrepit shanties that serve as homes to the lower class are sighted.
The sheer squalor and the sight and sound of poverty in a place located amid comparative affluence exemplified by the structure and class exhibited by inhabitant of the estates provides a breeding ground for criminality, at least, as a sure way of survival.
Arepo can only live up to its literary meaning which in Yoruba language means ‘scooping from a pool of fuel’, for some daring residents and their collaborators who have found a haven for their crime- pipeline vandalism.
Oil pipelines vandalism, with its attendant devastating consequences is not new in Nigeria. Many communities in the country, among them Jesse in Delta State, Ijegun and Abule Egba in Lagos bear scars from the disastrous effects of pipeline vandalism as shown by the innumerable lives and property lost.
However, Arepo, a fast growing community in Obafemi -Owode Local Council of Ogun State stands out as one of the theatres of pipeline vandalism where the perpetrators, rather than stop or even ease their activities, have been growing unrelenting in their nefarious activities.
Security agents like the Police, whose main office lies about 500 metres away from the creeks are ineffectual and outmanned and outgunned often abide by the adage the ‘discretion is the better part of valour’
Between 2013 and 2015, pipeline vandalism in Arepo has, according to some estimates, increased fifteen fold The vandals, now almost routinely, deliberately break or rupture pipelines in the community which is host to several oil pipelines belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) .
These pipelines transport refined petroleum products from the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos to states like Oyo and Kwara . In fact, the gains from the illicit oil deals in Arepo creeks appear to be too attractive for the vandals and their accomplices, hence they are not willing to let go in a hurry.
They have now become kings of some sort, wielding enormous influence in the community, showing off their wealth, which the security personnel attached to the facilities find intimidating and attractive as well.
Security agents like the Police, whose main office lies about 500 metres away from the creeks are ineffectual and outmanned and outgunned often abide by the adage the ‘discretion is the better part of valour.’
This has fuelled unsubstantiated claims by the residents that the vandals wreak the havoc they do with the connivance of men in uniform.
That notwithstanding, security officers have also fallen in the deadly attacks the vandals mount against anybody that tries to stop them. It has thus turned out that hundreds of lives, including those of innocent citizens, security agents and those of the hoodlums, have been lost to pipelines vandalism at Arepo .
On January 11, 2014, the vandals’ onslaught in the community, which is home to mainly housing estates, including the Journalists’ Estate was most despicable for its intensity.
The vandals, as usual, had destroyed some NNPC facilities in the area, a fire broke out which led to multiple deaths. According to a resident, who pleaded anonymity, two rival groups, which were involved in the illicit oil deals had engaged in verbal arguments which deteriorated until gunfire was exchanged.
Policemen who tried to intervene were caught in the crossfire and when the dust settled, some of the policemen were declared missing.
The incident left in its trail the disappearance of some policemen after a gun duel with the hoodlums as well as unsettled the hitherto peaceful community.
It was, however, learnt that some of the oil thieves and their lieutenants were consumed in the inferno caused by the vandalism.
But the death on Wednesday April 28 of a 24-year-old pregnant woman, Damilola Fajana, who was killed in a shootout between petroleum vandals and members of the Oodua People Congress (OPC), just a few steps to the gate of Beach land Estate, Arepo, where she lived with her husband added a new twist to the notoriety of vandals in the area.
Beach land Estate is located about 100 meters from the Arepo creek where pipelines of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation are located, an area that has seen considerable violence and attacks carried out by oil thieves.
The Fajanas got married late 2014, while Damilola was six months pregnant. Before the ugly incidence, OPC was on March 2015, awarded a multi-million-naira contract for the security of pipelines in South West by the Federal Government.
However on Tuesday April 27 and Wednesday, April 28 sporadic shootings rang out in the area as news circulated in the neighbourhood that OPC men guarding the area and some oil thieves were shooting at one another. The bullet which killed Damilola came from the shooting,” it was learnt.
The killing also sparked off protest in the area as residents blocked the entrance gate of the community, chanting and singing about the need to remove OPC members from the community.
According to the protesters, the Federal Government should handover the security of its pipelines to appropriate security agencies that “would not shoot and kill residents at will.”
Damilola, it was learnt was returning from a hospital at Ogba, where her husband was admitted a day before, when a single bullet hit her a few steps to the gate of Beach land Estate, Arepo, where she lived with her husband.
The bullet said to have come from an AK-47 rifle, went through the windshield of the car driven by one of her husband’s colleagues, whom Bukayo had requested to help take his wife home after the deceased’s visit to the hospital.
It struck Damilola in the neck leaving her bleeding profusely and later resulting to her death after the first hospital of call refused to attend to her. But her husband, a staff of Cadbury Nigeria PLC, Ikeja has blamed the Federal Government for his loss, saying it was one death that he cannot wish even for his enemy.
According to him, government should not only be held accountable for the death of his wife but should get to the root of the matter by fishing out the killers, at least for posterity as well as to avoid a repeat of the ugly incident.
He said: “of course, it will not bring back my wife and our unborn baby, but for humanity sake, it could have been any body, if this is not curtailed who says a repeat of it may not happen another time.
“I believe that these people should not get away with this hellish attitude and action”, he added. Lamenting that his wife was sacrificed by the government who gave contract to untrained people, Fajana said he has not witnessed such shooting at Arepo and environs, since we parked in even though there were times, when he heard gunshots far in the creek.
He said: “There is pipeline belonging to The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that passes across Arepo, I was told that it leads to Agric area in Ikorodu. “So there are times since I have been living there that I heard distant gun shots but I have not seen where there was gunshots on the road or within the estate.
“There was a security post near the Beach land estate gate, which security operatives use as a base to monitor the pipelines. “I have seen The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mobile policemen, The Regular police men and even the Army at different times, I don’t know the logistics of who is posted to what time but I have seen different uniform officers come to the estate.
“I have not seen OPC at that area before but I was told that they resumed duty at the post on Tuesday April 28, a day before the incident having been licensed by the Federal Government to monitor pipeline in that area”, He added.
But the national leader of the OPC, Chief Gani Adams said he was not aware of the death of a resident of the area from stray bullet, adding that some oil thieves were arrested by members of the group at Arepo along with about 50 jerry cans they brought there to load oil.
Aside these huge financial losses, no fewer than 20 suspected pipeline vandals were burnt to death when a ruptured NNPC pipeline exploded into flames.
The NNPC said it also lost about N3.6billion to last year’s pipeline vandalism of its System 2B Pipeline at Arepo. The vandals were said to have gone to the area to siphon petroleum products from the ruptured pipeline, which caught fire and consumed them.
It was gathered that the explosion was sparked off by one of the vandals who released a gunshot into the air to assert his superiority over his colleagues. At a time, nine policemen attached to the Inspector-General of Police Special Anti – Vandalism squad were abducted by 150 pipeline vandals in 14 boats who engaged them in a shoot-out in Arepo/Abule Oba area.
The identities of the policemen comprising four Inspectors and five Corporals were given as Inspector Oguntihemen Kolawole, Inspector Raymond Oriere, Inspector Usman Mohammed, Inspector Tijani Jimoh, Corporal Elogbamen Timothy, Corporal Yakubu Aliyu, Corporal Usman Abdukarim and Corporal Dauda Mohammed.
The Police Public Relations Officer in the Ogun State, Muyiwa Adejobi, said after the abduction that many people were trapped in the incident.
Spokesman of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Ibrahim Farinloye complained of the difficult terrain of the area, saying it is hampering access to the place, thereby making it difficult to apprehend the notorious vandals. An unconfirmed report claimed that some security men in the area have a pact with the vandals.
The recent attacks, according to the allegation, were sequel to a breach of that pact by the security personnel who attacked the vandals. It was also gathered that the vandals resorted to the abduction of the policemen to punish them for reneging on their agreement.
Despite these allegations, the traditional ruler of the area, Oba Solomon Oyebi wants urgent steps to be taken to stem the rising occurrence of pipelines vandalism in the predominantly farming community.
He regretted that their farmlands have been destroyed and rivers contaminated by the activities of these oil thieves. He has also given the security agencies an office within the town distinct from the portion of land he had earlier given to the security men to build their security post.
But a lawyer, Emmanuel Oshin, who lives close to Arepo said tackling vandals in the community will require collective efforts of the government and residents. According to him, there are many respected people, who are benefiting from vandalism and the incoming government should fish them out with a view to stemming the tide in the fast growing community.
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