It was a close shave with death on Tuesday at Ilashe off Ilade-Odo area of Atlas Cove, when some thugs attached to Topline Security Outfit attempted to hold naval personnel and defence correspondents at gun point.
The thugs who were purportedly private security thugs working with Topline Security to protect Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to supposedly supplement the efforts of the navy who are constitutionally backed to protect such pipeline and oil facilities.
The federal government had in 2014 awarded the contract of securing pipelines belonging to the NNPC to Topline, a private security company and they in turn sublet the contract to the local security who went berserk yesterday.
The operatives of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT, had taken some Defence correspondents from different media houses for an on-the-spot assessment of the recovered petroleum products at the site.
When the navy got to the scene, hundreds of 25 liters jerrycans were stacked at the centre in five sports utility vehicles (SUV).
However, the thugs, who were obviously very high, challenged the navy to a gun duel, threatening to gun everyone down and set the recovered products ablaze.
Chanting war songs and puffing into the air, these thugs were brandishing their guns, axes, matchetes and even charms, as they threatened to match the navy weapon for weapon.
For over 45 minutes, they held sway, and when the journalists attempted to leave before the situation becomes bloody, they blocked off the escape routes, brandishing the guns at their faces and threatening to shoot them.
Of course, their threats were not taken lightly by the naval personnel, who quickly took positions by spreading out on the plain grounds.
Save for the coolheaded intervention of the Commander NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo, a blood bath would have been recorded on both sides, with the civilian reporters inclusive.
Although the navy’s intention was to take custody of over 3,000 jerrycans filled with petroleum products recovered from suspected vandals, the thugs refused.
The products were said to have been siphoned by suspected vandals from NNPC pipelines that runs from Atlas cove, Apapa to Ejigbo and Mosemi depots in Lagos and Ogun States.
When all finally got to the safety of the navy base, the Commander, NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Eyo, while addressing the media on the issue, said the navy was going to meet with the management of NNPC to review the terms of engagement it has with Topline Security.
Eyo said the navy was also going to ascertain if they are allowed to carry guns.
He said: “You all saw what happened at Ilashe, a riverine community that plays host to an important NNPC facility.
“The navy had conducted an aerial operation on Monday during which they sighted over 3,000 jerrycans loaded in vehicles.
“With the aerial reconnaissance, the navy decided to move in to ascertain the activities but the end of it was untold provocation.
“Personnel of Topline security claim to have been awarded the contract of protecting the pipeline that runs from Atlas cove through satellite town to Enigbo, Mosemi and to Ilorin and other parts of the country.
“You also witnessed the shameless attitude which their personnel put up. They were apparently trying to provoke the navy into taking actions. But ours is not to endanger the lives of people and engage in needless casualty.
“They say that they have the contract to secure the pipeline but we are going to meet with the management of NNPC to review the contract terms.
“We also saw that they are carrying guns. We will also ascertain if they are allowed to carry firearms. The way they appeared today goes to show that they are not trained to carry guns.”
But the commander of the thugs, identified himself as Tiamiyu Jeremiah aka JayJay, who finally released the journalists on the promise of an interview, claimed the navy was preventing them from doing their job.
In between shouts and threats to deal with all within sight, he said they want unfettered access to the pipelines.
He said: “We are tired of the threats by the navy and other military operatives. They told us that they will deduct money from our salary if any product gets missing and we agreed, yet they won’t leave us alone.”