The residents of Ekoro/Ile-Epo area of Abule-Egba had awoken to another regular day on Sunday, 19th January, 2020, but no one could have foretold the disaster that was about to befall them at nightfall.
A vandalised NNPC pipeline in the area led to an explosion which left five persons dead, 20 injured, and 150 people displaced.
An24.net visited the area again on Tuesday to know what had become of the once peaceful area, and hear what residents had to say about what led to such a disaster.
A shop owner on Akorede Street, said that members of the community had become familiar with fuel leakages in the area. According to her, she was in her shop when her children ran to alert her of another leakage right before the explosion occurred.
She said, “I was not around, I was in my shop on Akorede street, but what I know is; the fuel regularly comes out of that place (she gestures towards the pipeline location), and everybody knows about it. When it comes out like this, it just flows like water.
“Everybody knows about it, when this thing happened before, they called the fire people. But they would say they had locked it, so we don’t know why this really happened.
“On that Sunday night, my children ran from home to meet me in the shop. They said the fuel was leaking again,and that it was doing so forcefully. They advised we should flee as the whole place was smelling of fuel.
“It was over a year ago that we last experienced fuel leakage, before this.”
A land owner in the area blamed security operatives for negligence and connivance, stressing that the incidences of vandalism increased since security operatives were deployed to the community.
The landowner who refused to name himself for fear of being targeted, called for the dismissal of the DPO assigned to Oke-Odo police station, and the operatives of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps ( NSCDC) operatives in the area.
He said, “This fire outbreak is a man-made incident. It is a deliberate act. Failure of government and people in authority to take action to prevent this occurrence that led to this. The pipe did not leak. People do come to that pipeline to syphon fuel. I personally have held meetings with many people of high ranks in security outfits.
“When this thing newly started, the leakage did not result in a fire outbreak. Then former governor, Fashola came to that spot, and I discussed this thing with him. Fashola said he would provide Security, and provide streetlights. He said he would provide a barbed-wire protection for the pipelines. But that was the last time we heard from him. All that he promised he would do, he did not do it.
“The people who are coming to syphon the fuel, in the past they usually come with a 20-feet truck. Sometimes they come three to four times a year. The community was not comfortable with it so we kept on putting pressure on people in authority to give us security. That was how Civil Defence was brought to protect the pipelines in the community. The very month that Civil Defence was brought, was the month that these vandals that usually come three to four times a year with one truck, began to come every 10 days, sometimes with 12, 15 or 19 trucks to syphon fuel.
“If you go to call the DPO that is closer to here, or the NNPC, they’ll tell you it is leakage. If you go to that place, there are about 10 spots that were burst deliberately by those people. There was nothing like leakage.
“The DPO of Oke-Odo should be removed. And those Civil Defence operatives.. we don’t want them there any longer because they are the ones that compounded the situation we are facing right now.
“Some boys protested last year in respect to this issue. Civil Defence shot one of the boys and the boy died. The Civil Defence wrote an allegation that the boy was one of the vandals that came to syphon fuel. The people in the community are afraid because they believe if they talk; it will be twisted against them. The family of the deceased boy said they left everything to God.
“I would have given my name but when good people speak against evil, their lives are in danger. The Chief vigilante operative in the area has threatened that anyone who disrupts their operations or speaks against them would be located and assassinated in their houses at night.”
An24.net reporter attempted to contact the DPO of Oke-Odo Police Station for comment, but was directed to another officer instead.
Speaking on behalf of the DPO, he said the real protectors of the area are the NSCDC operatives.
“We have security men in charge of the pipeline. The DPO has been making effort by patrolling the area regularly. What happened to the people that are in charge of the pipelines? They should hold the NSCDC responsible, not the DPO. NSCDC are there, police work is to patrol the area which we have been doing.
“I am new here, whether the incidents have increased or not, I am not aware, but all I know is, in the short space of time I have been here, we have been patrolling the area, not only here, but Abule-Egba area too.” he said.
An eye witness, Prince Lere Aborisade, an All Progressives Congress chieftain and retired journalist called for a lasting solution from the government.
He said, “This situation has affected a lot of people in the area. Some vehicles were parked beside the pipeline, which was not supposed to be so. They knew this place has a pipeline so it has to be free, that is why there are about 40-feet distances on both sides of the pipeline, but people are parking vehicles there. I shook my head when I saw the damage because I don’t know if the government would compensate them for the losses.
“Government should find a permanent solution to it, because it is happening all over the country, not only this area, not only Lagos. The last time, there was an occurrence at Ekoro. The advice I gave then was welcomed and they upgraded the road. Then, the pipes from Aboru were naked because of erosion. The pipes were about six, I advised they raised the linkage up, and they did so.
“It is a pity because it is affecting both government and private individuals, businesses are also affected. I don’t think they should erect any shops on the road, but they did. So, it is their own fault. I advise that government to sit and find a lasting solution. In my village, it is very easy for anyone to go in and tap anything because it is inside bush. The bush is about 27 Kilometres.”
Efforts made by An24.net to elicit a response from the NSCDC to the allegation made against them proved abortive. The spokesperson for NSCDC, Kehinde Bada-Okoli first told our reporter to call her back in two hours’ time. But subsequent phone calls made to her were not answered. She did not also reply the text message sent to her.