By Evelyn Usman
LAGOS—A yet to be ascertained number of pipeline vandals were roasted in the wee hours of yesterday, following a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, pipeline explosion at Arepo, Ogun State.
Although an unconfirmed report put the death toll at 100, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, could not state whether any casualty was recorded, as it claimed it could not access the terrain due to the magnitude of the fire.
There were different accounts of how the explosion occurred.
A version said some of the vandals intentionally fired some shots on the broken pipeline during a heated argument, thereby resulting in an explosion that sparked off a wild fire.
Trouble, as gathered, started after different group of vandals stormed the creeks in boats loaded with empty jerry cans and engaged in a verbal confrontation over ownership of a section of the pipeline.
One of the group leaders, whose identity was given simply as Killer, was said to have ordered the other groups to vacate the creeks, stating that he was the owner of the section they invaded.
Apparently taking the order as an affront, leaders of other groups reportedly told their boys to break another section of the pipeline, from where they began to siphon the product.
In the process, a member of Killer‘s group allegedly fired a shot at the broken pipeline, resulting in an inferno.
Another version had it that the vandals had finished siphoning the petroleum product and were leaving the creeks when one of the boats developed a fault.
In the process of trying to start its engine, a spark of fire emerged, causing the explosion.
Several of them were reportedly burnt beyond recognition, while some, who managed to swim to safety, sustained severe burns.
… ground zero inaccessible
As at 6.30p.m. yesterday, the fire was still raging. No agency had reported at the scene to contain the spread of the fire at press time.
NEMA’s South-West spokesman, Ibrahim Farinloye, when contacted, could not confirm the number of casualty. He simply stated that the agency could not give details since it was yet to access the terrain.
He said: “An unconfirmed report on a clash between different groups of vandals at Arepo around midnight has led to pipeline explosion.
“NNPC has been alerted about the explosion and has immediately shut down supplies to suffocate the fire, while efforts are on to put it out by the NNPC safety unit.
“No one can confirm if there are casualties or anyone injured because no agency is yet to access the scene which is swampy. No one can confirm until we get to the scene.”
However, residents of the area have called on the relevant authorities to come to their aid, following the incessant fires caused by vandals.
A resident, Mr. Majekodunmi Fatai, said: “For a long time now, there had been no agency securing the pipelines. We noticed the absence of security agents since a pregnant woman was shot dead around this area some months ago.
“No one can access the scene today, not even officials of NNPC fire safety unit, as they are afraid that vandals could be lurking around to shoot at any intruder, just as they killed one NNPC official last year.”