By Onwuka Nzeshi in Abuja and Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos
Following the pipeline explosion, which occurred at the weekend, leading to the death of over 25 persons at Arepo village in the Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) yesterday said it had recovered three charred bodies as well as six boats belonging to suspected vandals.
This is just as the state Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of complicity in the incessant cases of pipeline vandalism across the state.
No fewer than 25 suspected pipeline vandals who had allegedly gone to siphon petrol from a ruptured NNPC pipeline were burnt to death when the pipeline exploded.
However, according to an eyewitness account, the casualties were not only vandals but also security guards attached to the area.
It was gathered that prior to Saturday’s explosion, the vandals had engaged officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) guarding the area in a gun duel on Friday during which about five persons were killed.
Speaking to THISDAY, the NEMA spokesperson in the South-west zone, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, said about three charred corpses had been recovered from the swampy area, adding that evacuation was ongoing.
He, however, lamented that the evacuation process was being slowed down given the swampy terrain of the location.
He said: “Evacuation of bodies will commence tomorrow (today) but three bodies have been recovered so far. We saw one body at our first visit and two more bodies were seen coming up from under the river.
“The agency will employ the services of those who know the terrain well to recover more bodies.”
But he urged the state government to stop trading blame and seek sustainable ways to end the incessant pipeline vandalism in the area.
On how to prevent disasters of such magnitude from recurring, Farinloye said such could only be achieved when state governments become pro-active and work with NEMA.
He said: “Prevention can be achieved when state governments leave blame apportioning and work towards closing the gaps for effective disaster management. We are incapacitated until the state governments are ready to do their job.
“In our line of work, the state and local governments are very important and it is only when the two tiers come together and work with us that maximum success will be achieved.
“At a point we set up the grassroots disaster management organisations to reduce the risk of disasters but no sooner had we handed them over to the state and local governments, did they abandon it.”
Meanwhile, Amosun who was on an on-the-spot assessment tour of the fire scene lamented that the swampy nature of the terrain made it difficult to organise effective rescue operations.
He said: “This is clearly failure of governance. Indeed, I have to say that the NNPC by their inaction are aiding and abetting this and I want to believe they are part of the pipeline vandalism.
“In fact, people here are endangering their lives because there is no access to this place. Look at the canoe that NNPC is using in this time and age to protect a billion-dollar investment.
“Even if the place is combustive, can’t they use solar-powered boats? For me, it is straightforward, if NNPC supports us, we will get the whole place cleared.”
He noted that if the corporation provides the state government with about five to 10 swamp boogies, the entire area would be cleared and platforms erected in its place as well as electronic chips.
He added that Close-Circuit Television (CCTV) would be mounted with a control room where the entire area will be monitored mechanically.
He said: “How can vandals hold us to ransom? Just look at dead bodies littering everywhere. It took us 45 minutes to access the place because it is hard to access the place.
“I even understand that it is the same spot where the three NNPC officials were killed last year. Since oil is the bedrock of the nation’s economy, investing in security which will protect oil facilities cannot be over-emphasised.”
Also, the House of Representatives yesterday condemned the incessant incidence of oil pipeline vandalism in parts of the country and its negative impacts on the economy. Aside the Arepo explosion, another oil pipeline vandalism was reported by the Joint Task Force (JTF) at Ovade, Oghara, Ethiope-West Local Government Area, Delta State.
Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Hon. Dakuku Peterside, who condemned the incidence, observed that in recent weeks, Nigeria had witnessed needless deaths and damage to property following the attacks on oil pipelines in different parts of the country. The lawmaker said that oil pipeline vandalism poses grave security, health and environmental risks and results in enormous economic consequences.
“My grievance is with those who vandalise our pipelines and I condemn in strong terms the sponsors and perpetrators of this evil. Pipelines are used all over the world to distribute petroleum products; therefore Nigeria should not be an exception.
“This continuous sabotage of our commonwealth has continued for too long because culprits have not been adequately sanctioned. I call on the
relevant security agencies to be up and doing in the protection of our oil facilities,” he said.
According to Peterside, pipeline vandalism was largely responsible for the use of trucks in transporting petroleum products across the country.
He drew a nexus between this system of transporting fuel and the recent inferno that occurred when a fuel tanker crashed and exploded into flames at Mbiama in Rivers State. At least, one person was killed and many others seriously injured at the Mbiama incident.
“This is due to the fact that our petroleum pipelines are not safe and functional, thus the resort to the use of tankers to convey products and its associated risks. The dead victim, it was gathered was selling drinks at a spot very close to the scene of the accident. This incident occurred just seven months after several people who were scooping fuel from a damaged tanker in the same area were killed in an explosion.
“The repeated tanker accidents in Mbiama axis of the East - West Road also brings to the fore the urgent need to fix the road which has been on for over five years. The East- West Road is a critical road infrastructure that should be given priority attention,” he said.