BY PHILIP NWOSU
Military personnel attached to the Defence Headquarters operation , OPERATION AWATSE late on Monday swooped on vandals in the Arepo area of Lagos, arresting ten persons who had brought trucks and container laden trucks to scoop fuel from a broken Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline.
The military also impounded the trucks with inscription DANGOTE, which were allegedly being used to transport the siphoned fuel.
Speaking to journalists at the scene, the Commander OPERATION AWATSE and Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji said the arrested vandals would face the wrath of the law, while the impounded trucks will be destroyed.
Admiral Daji spoke along side the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 81 Division Major General Godwin Umelo, warning vandals in the area to stay away from NNPC pipeline as it will not hesitate to deal ruthlessly with those caught.
Admiral Daji and General Umelo took reporters round the area of the punctured pipelines assuring that the maintenance team of the NNPC are working to stop the leakage and that the punctured pipelines with not affect petroleum distribution.
He said that with what is seen at the scene, there seem to be an organised syndicate at work, but that the military has already launched investigation to unravel those behind the act.
Admiral Daji on Monday said that together with sister agencies and other security agencies, they are determined to get to the root of the syndicate.
His words: “I assure the Nigerian public that the operation AWATSE, the military and other security agencies will continue to make sure that we discharge our responsibilities in a responsive and responsible manner.”
He said that the vandalism was being carried out by influential and rich people.
Daji said that it was a highly sophisticated syndicate for them to have hired nine trucks, a grader and the procurement of a line of over three kilometres in length.
“This is a crime syndicate organised by rich and influential people considering the amount of money put in to carry out the operation.
“Considering the amount of money put into it, including the harding of the road from Forthright Garden Estate to where they were siphoning the fuel is about 1km.
“And the road was graded for this operation, even the grade.”
The Operation Commander appealed to Nigerians to continue to volunteer useful information, saying that all information would be confidential.
“I want to appeal to Nigerians to continue to volunteer useful information to us through the Operation AWATSE helpline and the website is active.
“We promise to keep every information given to us confidential that would lead to the arrest of those that are bent on sabotaging our quest for energy security so that they can face the full wrath of the law.
“We thank all those in the communities where the pipeline has transverse that have been cooperating and volunteering information to us,” he said.
Daji said that the NNPC maintenance team would fix the vandalised pipeline and that it was not going to affect the supply of petroleum products to various parts of the country.
He added that the trucks that would evacuate the recovered products would be sent in line with the standard operating procedure, saying that the trucks would be destroyed immediately.
Maj.-Gen. Godwin Umelo, the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 81 Division that the operation intensified surveillance when it got information that the vandals would strike.
“Arepo is well noted for pipeline vandalism and we got information that the vandals would strike any moment from now so we intensified surveillance within the area to monitor them.
“In the early hours of today, we got information that vehicles were moving into the area and we directed our troops to move in which they did at about 5.30 am.
“We met them loading their trucks with the fuel. Because it was still very early and dark, some of the vandals escaped into the forest as a result of poor visibility.
“But we were lucky to have arrested ten of them, all males. Six vehicles were arrested with already loaded products while three were yet to load, while nine vehicles were arrested,” he said.