Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on landlords at Ibadan and Abeokuta Streets in Ilasa, who diverted diesel to their domestic wells, running a thriving illegal oil trade before the syndicate was smashed by the Lagos State Police Command

It was indeed a coded affair where the actors conducted illegal oil sales from the confines of their compounds at Abeokuta and Ibadan Streets, suburbs at the Ilasamaja area of Lagos, albeit illegally. Turning the wells dug for water into storage for diesel products, they sold this illegally to some unscrupulous persons under the cover of darkness. That went on for a long time until recently.

It was on a Thursday night, August 13, 2016, that their once well-run business crumbled due to the due diligence of police operatives in the Ilasa area of the state. In a crime bursting format, the Lagos State Police Command, smashed the syndicate at Ilasa and arrested four persons in connection with the crime.

The syndicate, who are residents of the densely populated suburb, were exposed by the eagle eye of the Divisional Police Officer of Ilasa, Oriyomi Oluwasanni, a woman Superintendent of Police, who acting on intelligence swooped on them.

THISDAY gathered that the DPO who had gone undercover by pretending to be a buyer of the ill gotten petroleum products, had lured them before she and her men arrested them.

A Domestic Affair
Call it a domestic affair and you won’t be far from the truth; or how else do you describe an oil operation run from the confines of their bedrooms and under the cover of darkness. A visit to Abeokuta Close, off Ibadan Street, Ilasa, revealed that virtually all houses in the close had water-wells turned into oil wells, from which they ran a well-oiled operation.

THISDAY checks also revealed that some of suspects had connected water pumps into the wells, from which they pump the products, suspected to be diesel, into an overhead tank. From the overhead tanks, the suspects then run it into jerrycans and then sell them off to the buyers under the cover of darkness. One of the landladies, who was arrested by the police, one Mrs. Moji Adeshina, of No. 10 Abeokuta Street, was said to had even given quit notice to her tenants to afford her the privacy to run her business.

Bursting the Syndicate
Apparently, the indicted streets were not even far away from the Ilasa Police Division, but it was so much a coded affair that it went unchallenged for long. It probably would have remained so but for the suspicious activity of one of the suspects, then the gut instincts and sheer bravery of the police.

THISDAY gathered that the DPO was on routine patrol early in the morning that Friday, when the patrol vehicle ran into a woman carrying a keg around 12 midnight. When they attempted to intercept and interrogate her, she fled, an action that aroused the suspicion of the police.

They immediately gave her chase and overtook her, after which she eventually took them to number 12, Abeokuta Street, one of the houses housing the illegal oil wells. But those in the house refused the police entry. Afterwards, the DPO and her men left the scene, only for her to go back to the office to change into civilian clothes.

Parking their patrol vehicle miles away, they walked back to the said house, this time disguising as potential buyer. When those inside opened the door, the police barged in and began a search of the house. When the DPO got to the back of the house, she saw one of the wells covered with concrete slab, she demanded that they remove it and that was how they discovered the well. Further search unearthed more houses, prompting her to call for reinforcements.

The Lagos State Commissioner Police, Fatai Owoseni, who was at the scene said the residents have been advised to relocate because of the danger the oil wells portend for their safety, adding that the activities were carried out by property owners. He also said he doubted if some of the tenants had no knowledge of what was going on in their environment, adding that the level of arrangements they met on ground in the houses showed it was a planned business activities which most people in the area would have been aware of or have knowledge about.

While urging Nigerians to be patriotic and report all illegal activities to security agencies, Owoseni said residents have been advised to vacate the area pending when the wells are drained and the area certified safe. He also noted that some culprits may already be planning to wreak havoc by setting any of the houses ablaze because of their close proximity.

Owoseni went for an on-the-spot assessment of the area in the company of Oluwasanni; Area D Commander, ACP Gyadiayadi Salisu; Rapid Response Squad (RRS) Commander, ACP Olatunji Disu; the state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Dolapo Badmos and the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Michael Akindele.

In an interview with journalists afterwards he said, “The Ilasa DPO had gathered intelligence that some houses had diesel where the landlords and landladies do illegal oil business. The landlady of one of the houses on Abeokuta Street was also selling the vandalised products. She pursued all her tenants out and have been doing the business illegally. They are all aware and she is one of the landladies that lives there and connected pipes to the wells with a pumping machine.

“Some of the tenants have denied culpability. How can they live here in the midst of oil and keep quiet. This is a disaster. If this catches fire, it will be disastrous because the area is densely populated. After now, the Lagos State Government will make an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to decide what to do with the diesel found in these wells.

“Already, the personnel of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are at the wells to collect sample and test the quality of the diesel. As investigation progresses, we will track the buyers of the products and also arrest them. Already, we are ferreting information from the suspects arrested.”

Two days later, the Lagos State Police Command, said it’s operatives would continue to go more after landlords and other possible suspects with connection to the oil wells discovered at the Ilasa area of the state.

Already, the five suspects picked up after the raid by the Ilasa Police Division, SP Oriyomi Oluwasanni, were said to have given some useful information to the police that would help in picking up others. The landlords that were arrested, were those fingered in the massive pipeline vandalism and illegal oil trade that was thriving in the area before intelligence by the DPO uncovered it.

The state Police Public Relations Spokesperson, Dolapo Badmos, a Superintendent of Police, who confirmed the manhunt for more suspects, said the command has launched a full scale investigation into the matter and would soon arrest more landlords.

She said, “The command has launched a full scale investigation into the matter. Investigation is still on. The arrested suspects are still being held and we would arrest more landlords. The sealed houses where these illicit activities are taking place remain sealed until further notice.”

Suspect’s Denial
Although five persons were initially arrested, two were later released after investigations. One of the landladies, accused of selling the diesel, one Mrs. Moji Adesina said, “It’s true that they found diesel in my well but I never sold it. I noticed it three weeks ago and I haven’t touched it.”

When she was asked why she didn’t report to the police and why she sent out her tenants she said, “The house belongs to my late husband and was transferred to me after his death. It was a well we use for water but later diesel started coming out of it but I didn’t sell it. I didn’t pursue my tenants. They left on their own.”

Another suspect, one Tajudeen Bamiloye, of No. 11 Abeokuta Street, said, “I came on my own to report the well to the police. I am the landlord of one of the houses in question. My tenants called me about the well. When I got there and saw the diesel inside the well, I moved straight to report to the police. I am not an oil vandal.”

The other landlady, Mrs. Tayo Agboola, also denied knowledge, just as one Chinyere Nnaji, a 27-year-old tenant, also denied culpability, adding that they stayed off the well once they noticed the diesel, which she said had almost caused a fire disaster earlier on.

Lagos State Government Reacts

Reacting to the incident, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who also visited the scene, directed that the 12 houses be shut down, even as it prepared a temporary accommodation for the displaced tenants.

In a statement issued afterwards by the Chief Press Secretary, Habib Haruna, the governor said the houses in Abeokuta and Ibadan Streets in Ilasamaja area of the state were shut over the discovery of shallow oil wells built by landlords to illegally scoop diesel from pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

He said, “The oil wells were said to have been built for the purpose of illegally scooping diesel and selling same to members of the public, while some of the affected landlords built pumping machines and bore holes to perpetrate the crime on a large scale.

“The state’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde who confirmed this while briefing newsmen at the Lagos House, Ikeja, said the step to shut the wells and condone off the area was taken by government to forestall loss of lives and property as a result of the looming danger.

“Ayorinde, who addressed journalists alongside top government functionaries and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, said a combined team from the police command, the Ministry of Environment, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Lagos State Fire Service and Sole Administrator of Isolo Local Council Development Area carried out a thorough inspection of the entire area and discovered nothing less than 12 of the illegal oil wells.

“He said initial investigation revealed that a few of the landlords where the wells are located were taking advantage of the situation by commercialising the dangerous act. He said that samples of the substance have been taken for immediate investigation in order to determine the true nature of the substance as well as the root cause of it.

“He said the state government was working with the NNPC for further investigation. Ayorinde said for the safety of residents, especially on Abeokuta and Ibadan Streets, the affected wells have been sealed off, adding that the government would also work with those who are likely to be displaced as a result of the development.

“The Lagos State Government wishes to use this opportunity to remind Lagosians and the residents of these areas in particular, to assist the police with useful information and to urge them to always volunteer information before any potentially dangerous situation degenerates to public hazard.

“Also speaking the Commissioner of Police confirmed the arrest of three suspects in the operation, adding that a fire tanker has been stationed in the event of any fire incident. The men of the Lagos State Police Command in the area who were on routine patrol said they saw a woman around 12 midnight with keg of diesel and when an attempt was made for her to be accosted, she fled, a development which alerted the police of something fishy. The police immediately pursued the woman and accosted her, after which she eventually took them to number 12, Abeokuta Street, off Ilasamaja, one of the houses housing the illegal oil wells.

“Upon getting to the said house, those inside shut the door and prevented the police from gaining entrance. The officers thereafter left the scene with the arrested woman, and they later came back disguising as potential buyers of diesel, while those inside opened the door. It was at that point that the illegal oil well was discovered at the house, after which about 10 more wells were discovered in other houses in Abeokuta and Ibadan streets,” he said.

The Police Crime Bursting Amazon

Suffice to say that without the eagle eye of the DPO, Ilasa, the recent revelation wouldn’t have come to public glare at all. Branded a tough nut, SP Oluwasanni has gone to prove that being a woman in a seemingly man’s job, is no excuse for mediocrity.

When she was deployed to Ilasa Police Division by the CP in December 2015 from Lion Building Police Division, where she was in the traffic section, she met chaos and she had no choice but to hit the ground running. Under the leadership of CP Fatai Owoseni, she has since blossomed and can be said to have come into her full potential as an Amazon policewoman.

Little wonder she was bestowed by the notable Crime Reporters of Nigeria (CRAN) with the Distinguished award in Crime Fighting. Since the award, she has gone on to do greater things. Her division has been credited with so many crime bursting, arrests of police impersonators, rapists and cultists, thus sanitising the area and making it once more habitable for the law abiding residents.

In June 2016, she was credited to have arrested a dismissed police officer, one Inspector John Oduh, for impersonating. Although Oduh was dismissed in 2013 after being declared AWOL, he was still parading himself as a policeman.

Also in June, she arrested five notorious members of the Eiye Confraternity, among them was their leader, one Ayodele Shotayo, popularly known as AY, who has been on the police wanted list for years. Shotayo and his gang have been responsible for the killing of members of rival cultists. Others arrested were Gbolahan Adedeji, Sadiq Jamiu, Oluwatosin Onipede and Sadiq Akinosi.

Still in June, she had gone on to arrest a notorious rapist, one Wasiu, who was known for raping teenagers and beating them up afterwards.

Opinions sampled by THISDAY on the day the oil wells were discovered, all lavished encomiums on the woman superintendent, whom they said has reduced criminalities in the area within the past eight months.

Often known to lead night patrols, she has succeeded in ridding the division of black spots, known for armed robbery and cultism. Aside that, her officers who spoke on anonymity to THISDAY said she has also transformed not just their station by giving it a facelift, but has also been championing their welfare.

Meanwhile, some of the residents of the area who commended the police on the feat, said it would have been disastrous if a fire disaster had been recorded in the area.