• Guards connive with vandals to steal petrol, navy alleges
By Esther Onyegbula
The responsibility of protecting the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, pipelines across the country used to be the sole responsibility of security agencies, with the Nigeria Police playing a major role.
But, over the years, vandalisation of pipelines has become a major problem afflicting the petroleum industry with devastating consequences on many communities where these pipelines pass through.
From Jesse in the Niger-Delta to Ijegun, Arepo, Abule-Egba, Ikorodu and Atlas Cove in the South-West, the story is the same as residents have scary tales of the activities of vandals to tell. Aside hampering the distribution of petroleum products, billions of naira has been lost to the repairs of vandalised pipelines.
More terrifying is the way vandals kill anyone who may try to stand in their way. Reports say many policemen, operatives of the Department of State Security, DSS, soldiers and personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp have been killed by vandals at Arepo, Ikorodu and Atlas Cove.
At a point, security agents were accused of aiding and abetting vandals by looking the other way whenever they (vandals) attack pipelines to siphon petroleum products. At the end of each operation, such compromised security agents get something in return.
In 2015, the Federal Government under former President Goodluck Jonathan withdrew the protection of pipelines nationwide from the police when it became apparent that they were overwhelmed by constant breaking of pipelines. The mandate of securing pipelines was then given to private guards.
Meanwhile, there are indications that all may not be well between the Nigerian Navy and private guards attached to Topline Security, charged with the responsibility of securing the NNPC pipeline at Atlas Cove.
This was evident, last Tuesday, after the guards threatened to engage the personnel of the Nigerian Navy in a clash at Ilashe Island, Idi-Mongoro area of Atlas Cove.
Personnel from the Nigerian Navy Ship Beecroft, Apapa, led by the Commander, Commodore Okon Eyo, had gone to the Island to effect the arrest of vandals and evacuate seized petroleum products when they met stiff resistance from the guards.
They (guards) were reported to have prevented the naval personnel from getting to where the recovered products were on the grounds that the arrest was made by them and not the navy.
But for Eyo’s order to his men not to respond, the situation would have gone out of hand.
The senior naval officer told his men to be calm and led frightened journalists who went to cover the evacuation of the recovered products back to the boats which conveyed everyone back to the naval base.
Why we resisted the navy – Guards
Explaining the reason for their action, the Commander of the private guards unit at Atlas Cove, Aminu Jeremiah, said that action was borne out of their resolve to stop alleged irregularities on recovered siphoned products by the navy. He alleged that previous seizures handed over to the navy never got to the NNPC.
Jeremiah, popularly known as JJ, stated that the seizure was made by his team and not the navy.
“We impounded two cars with fuel at Virgin Island about six days ago after the occupants had fled on sighting us. Later, I started receiving telephone calls from officers of the Nigerian Navy to release the products. But I refused on the grounds that I had to get directive from Abuja. Four days later, 18 naval personnel came and told me that their Commander said I should release the vehicles and kegs to them. By then, I had made another arrest of over 3,000 kegs”, the private guards commander narrated.
“Again I refused and insisted that I must get directive from my bosses in Abuja first. They even told me that their Commander said they should arrest me if I refused to release the recovered items to them. I called Abuja to inform my bosses of the threat to arrest me”.
On why his men almost opened fire on the naval personnel and journalists who came to witness the evacuation of the recovered products, Jeremiah said, “The navy men came that day (Tuesday) and ordered us to separate ourselves. I passed the order to my boys. They (navy men) came with two cameras and started recording the proceedings. But when one of my boys brought out his phone to do same, the navy took it from him, threatening to break it. But I said no that they too were recording.
“It was when they threatened to arrest me that my boys resisted. What we had were small arms. I told them if they come near me, I will hit them. Since we didn’t have powerful guns like theirs, we threatened to use juju. I didn’t allow them access to the recovered vehicle and the kegs before they left.
“We were later directed from Abuja to take the products to the NNPC yard.”
Asked if they were authorised to use arms, Jeremiah said, “Yes, we are authorised to carry local guns just like local vigilante. We do not use sophisticated guns. If we have the backing of government, we will police pipelines’ right of way better than security agents. On our part, vandals are warned against operating in the area under our jurisdiction. I may not have the power to kill them but I will beat them to comatose and hand them over to security agents.
“We have made several arrests of vandals and their trucks seized before now at Ogere and Shagamu. At the end of any arrest, we burn affected trucks and kegs in the presence of concerned organisations. Army and naval personnel were witnesses to the burning of 28 trucks so impounded while arrested vandals were handed over to the police.
“In one of the cases, a recovered truck went up in flames while driving it to the NNPC office”.
The navy, on its part, accused the guards of conniving with vandals to siphon petroleum products at Atlas Cove even as it expressed shock that the guards were armed.
Sunday Vanguard reliably gathered that a meeting between the management of Topline Security and the navy was held in Abuja after the near clash on Tuesday where modalities on how to ensure that peace reigned were fashioned out.