Residents of villages located in the Atlas Cove area of Lagos State recently heaved a sigh of relief following the eviction of some persons suspected to be pipeline vandals from the area by the military.
Over 300 spot of vandalized pipeline were discovered in the long stretch between Atlas Cove and Ilashe village, which according to officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), could be equated to travelling from Marina to Badagry.
The pipelines, it was learnt, were built in the ‘80s to transport fuel from Atlas Cove to Mosimi in Ogun State and even up to Ibadan in a bid to enable easy distribution of fuel.
According to the villagers, who spoke under condition of anonymity, the vandals, who are suspected to be foreigners had swooped on the villages some years back, took over the community as “they settled here and within years, they have established themselves as lords and we members of the community are now afraid within our own community.
“We now live within our community like strangers, like conquered people, because we had no right to now do what we liked without their permission.
“Whatever we want to do we need to let them know and they monitor our movements in and out of the Island.”
Investigations by Sunday Sun revealed that most of these vandals were not Nigerians, as they are alleged to have come from Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, apparently having heard about the oil in Nigeria and the ill-policed pipelines.
Our source said that the vandals have carried out several nefarious activities, particularly digging the soil to reach the NNPC pipelines, thereafter perforate the pipes and build a make shift well around the perforated pipe, so that when the NNPC officials at Atlas Cove commenced pumping of fuel, they can easily scoop from the well to fill their jerry cans.
It was learnt that after filling their jerry cans, most of them of 25 litres capacity, the stolen fuel are now transported to neighbouring Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana by sea, using wooden boats, where they have their buyers waiting to pay for the consignments.
Sunday Sun gathered that it takes the suspected oil thieves few hours to get a consignment ready for shipment and that what they started as a one-man business has grown to involve many other residents of the island who are now busy digging wells and perforating pipes.
The original residents of the community told Sunday Sun that they were sidelined by the invading vandals, who in their vicious act, threatened them with death if they talked about what was happening on the island.
A resident identified as Isaac Adebayo said: “Even these coconuts you see here, we are not allowed to touch them without permission, and anybody caught plucking the coconut is always subjected to serious punishment.”
He said that they were at home with the actions of the security agencies to rid the communities within the Island of vandals, especially as it would enable them take back their communities and henceforth live their lives peacefully.
Sunday Sun was told of how the vandals buried three persons alive in a grave on the Island on the allegation that they opened their mouth louder than they were expected to do and challenged the vandals in their act.
“They did that to put fear in other members of the community who will dare to challenge them, so we just sit down and watch them as it became a case of ‘if you cannot beat them, you join them and if the kitchen is too hot you relocate,” Adebayo said.
He said that because of these vandals, most members of the communities within the Island have relocated to other places where their lives are not threatened and their families safe.
Also Kareem Tunde said that the period the vandals existed on the Island had been a period of hell, saying “we could not exercise our freedom because the vandals were always suspicious that the residents will blow their lid.”
Even the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) who, it was learnt, was holding the land in trust for the Federal Government, was not bold enough to confront the vandals who have been living illegally on the island.
The General Manager, Land and Assets Administration of NPA, Mr Yusuf Ahmed, said that the demolition of illegal structures along the NNPC’s pipelines was an interesting development, which has given them access to their property.
He said that before now they had found it difficult to ease out the illegal occupants in Atlas Cove and Tarkwa Bay as he expressed appreciation to the military for the demolition exercise.
“I will say it is an interesting development for me because these people have been on NPA’s property without its permission, they have been squatters and we are interested in seeing them off.
“So, it’s a right development. For us, it has been difficult to send them out, now that they are out, we are happy. They have been there, but we have been unable to evict them.
“And since they have been engaging in illegal activities, including oil bunkering, carrying and removing fuel, it has become necessary for the security agencies to come and eject them. And we are happy about it,” he said.
It was discovered during a visit to the island that most of the vegetation in the area where the pipelines were punctured have dried up due to spills, which have permeated the soil and destroyed the source of livelihood for the plants.
For instance, in the area known as Okun Glass, nearly 50 coconut trees, which died due to spill caused by the vandals were seen and also all the green vegetation in the area have dried up because of lack of water.
Though surrounded by water, the vegetation in the area are not getting adequate water or water at all as they were getting only fuel, which has permeated the soil and destroyed the plants from the root.
Experts say oil has penetrated the plants as it travels in the intercellular spaces and possibly also in the vascular system. “Cell membranes are damaged by penetration of hydrocarbon molecules, leading to leakage of cell contents, and oil may enter the cells,” they said.
An agriculturist, Raymond Ike told Sunday Sun that oil reduces transpiration rate, probably by blocking the stomata and intercellular spaces.
This may also be the reason for the reduction of photosynthesis, which occurs, though there are other possible explanations of this – such as disruption of chloroplast membranes and inhibition caused by accumulation of end-products.
At will these foreign oil thieves milk the resources of the country by taking over the island and subduing the residents, as well as digging wells where fuel from broken pipelines settle and they scoop into jerry cans for onward transportation to their waiting markets in Port Novo and Cotonou.
At the Atlas Cove, wells dug by vandals litter the area and the Navy confirmed that the wells were abandoned by the vandals as they sighted the military men.
Apart from wells, yellow colour 25-litre jerry cans littered the whole area, with a large number discovered inside bushes, inside sand and in make-shift houses on the island.
The yellow jerry cans are the major containers used by the vandals to load their stolen fuel to the market.
In 2019, the NNPC said that vandalism of pipelines used to convey petroleum products increased by 77 per cent in June.
The NNPC also said that 1.76 billion litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol was supplied in June.
The corporation disclosed this in its Monthly Financial and Operation Report (MFOR) for the month of June released in Abuja last year, explaining that the quantity of petrol supplied translated to 58.65 million litres/day effectively distributed.
According to the report, 106 pipeline points were breached, representing an increase from the 60 points vandalized in May 2019.
It further explained that the Aba-Enugu axis in the system 2E pipeline corridor accounted for 25 per cent of the total pulverized points, while the Lagos Atlas Cove -Mosimi axis of the system 2B had 23 per cent of the compromised pipeline points.
It noted that the Ibadan-Ilorin leg of the System 2B pipeline accounted for 18 per cent of affected lines, followed by the PHC-Aba section of the system 2E, which was responsible for 13 per cent of the affected pipeline.
Wells dug by vandals is everywhere in Atlas Cove, with the pipeline spanning 72 kilometers from Atlas Cove to Mosimi Depot in Ogun State.
It was learnt that the taskforce in one night operation seized 30,000 25-litre jerry cans of fuel, which at pump price of N145 was pegged at N N108,750,000 for the entire 3,625 litres.
During the operation at Atlas Cove, the taskforce also destroyed 129 illegal structures on the pipeline’s right of way that were constructed by the vandals to enable them easily access the manholes.
Although 200 structures were earmarked for destruction at that time, those that have been carried out already during the operation included 12 structures in old Akinbo, five in Aditu, 17 in phase two, 22 in Ikate, five in Upstairs, three in Virgin Land, three in White House, and over 62 in Akaraba. Since that operation, the JTF has carried out more raids, discovered more illegal holes and destroyed more shanties.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji said that it was because of the these losses that the force under Operation Kurombe and Operation Awatse swooped on the communities around the pipelines.
He said: “I want to say never again will we allow them to perpetuate the kind of economic sabotage that they are perpetrating against the country.
“It is just a few criminal elements that have thousands of jerry cans stored in their backyards, they have wells dug around their compounds and concealed them. Those are the ones we removed.
“Most of these criminally-minded people are Ghanaians, Beninese, and Togolese citizens.
“Why Operation Kurombe is different from the ongoing operation is that after the phase where we are now, we are entering the stabilisation phase and that is to ensure sustenance of our presence.
“There is going to be our adequate presence, both at the water-fronts and also on the islands. So, that we will make it difficult for the criminal elements to gain a foothold on the islands.”
Also, 21 canoes and two boats were recovered from some of the already demolished areas by Operation Awatse members.
The operation is conducted in line with its mandate and rule of engagement, which is to curb pipeline vandalism, crude oil and petroleum product theft, anti-kidnapping, anti-robbery, and anti-cultism.
It is also to curb other related criminal activities that could impact negatively on the security of Lagos and Ogun; particularly Epe and Ogun waterside.
The mandate entailed the protection of the critical NNPC pipelines, within the right of way from Atlas Cove to Mosimi were billions of naira had been lost to the activities of pipeline vandals.