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Abule-Egba pipeline explosion: Self inflicted hell

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In the wee hours of Wednesday, December 19, 2018, residents of Abule-Egba and environs were jolted out of their beds by a raging fire which engulfed the area. Residents scampered for safety as they ran for dear lives. The fire outbreak was said to have been caused by suspected pipeline vandals who were trying to steal fuel from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines dotting parts of the community.

Reports have it that the blaze occurred when a spillage from a fuel tanker stationed at Arowolo area used in siphoning fuel from a vandalized pipeline spewed the product that meandered through drainage channels to the Abattoir area of Abule-Egba. No life was lost in the ensuing inferno, but 100 houses and shops, and about 50 cars were said to have been destroyed, leaving the residents in sorrow and tears.

It will be recalled that on December 26, 2006, there was a pipeline explosion that rocked this same area causing many fatalities as hundreds of people were killed and properties destroyed in the blast. Sometime in 2016, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, said Nigeria recorded 1,600 cases of pipeline vandalism between January and August of the same year. Pulling the records backwards, the Minister also revealed that the country recorded over 3,000 pipeline vandalism cases from 2010 to 2015. These staggering figures apparently show how highly under-secured our pipelines are, and the extent of havoc wreaked on these pipelines.

On December 27, 2017 we read in the news that the Lagos State Police Command had arrested four suspects in connection to the Abule-Egba pipeline fire incident. The Police Public Relations officer said during interrogation, the suspects gave a vivid account of how the fire emanated from a vandalized petroleum pipeline which engulfed a section of Abule-Egba community and escalated to parts of Agege area, destroying properties worth millions of Naira. The ring leader of the suspected vandals who had allegedly gone into hiding was declared wanted by the Police Command. This is cheering, although the arrest would not bring back the destroyed properties and other valuables, but it will serve as deterrent to others who intend doing such too. Until all the perpetrators of these dastardly acts are brought to book, there might never be an end in sight to pipeline criminality in Nigeria.

Residents of pipeline host communities would be doing themselves a great deal of good by promptly reporting suspected acts of vandalism and antisocial tendencies of a few bad eggs living among them to appropriate authorities. The people around pipeline areas are the first and primary line of defense for these pipelines, so they are expected to report any strange or unauthorised tampering with the facilities to security agents around them.

Beyond the regular surveillance and the physical presence of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) operatives at various pipeline designated control centres, we advise that intelligence-based security checks be employed by the government as part of measures to curb the illicit activities of these oil thieves. The other day, the NSCDC deployed drones to halt the incessant cases of pipeline vandalism in the creeks of Niger Delta. The drones are to be used to access remote locations.

If the drones have been effective enough in the creeks, then we urge the government to deploy this same technology in other major pipeline communities in the country. As these drones detect any attempt by saboteurs to vandalise pipeline, an immediate intervention system must be put in place to arrest and prosecute anyone caught. These drones can only monitor and detect any infiltration; they can’t intervene by arresting the vandals.

NNPC is also duty-bound to regularly carry out routine maintenance checks on its pipelines all over the country to easily identify faulty, corrosive or leaky pipelines. It is also important that the quality standards and integrity of all pipelines – crude oil, finished products or gas, must not be compromised by this corporation. Apart from the huge economic losses incurred by the government through shortage and scarcity of petroleum products, pipeline vandalism leads to environmental pollution and fire outbreak which results in loss of lives and properties.There is arguably no end to what fire can destroy. So it is safer and easier to prevent fire outbreak than to start fighting it when it is unleashed.

It is time this wanton willful destruction of lives and properties occasioned by acts of vandalism, carelessness and lack of value for human lives by these unscrupulous elements in the society is nipped in the bud. The Abule-Egba fire outbreak-triggered vandalism was not the first in Nigeria and certainly may not be the last if strict appropriate measures are not taken by the government to curb the nefarious acts of pipeline vandals.
• Ojewale wrote from Idimu, Lagos


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