Some officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as well as men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) have been linked with the explosion of the Corporation pipeline in Baruwa, Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos on Thursday
A suspect Pastor Clement Oni, in charge of the Celestial Church, Imole Ayo Parish in Baruwa, said about eight NNPC officials in company with some NSCDC men had come to fix leakage from the pipeline on Wednesday.
The 56-year-old man explained that in the process of fixing the leakage, fuel gushed out and officials of two agencies reportedly siphoned it into several jerry cans which they took away.
He stated that the NNPC workers also gave him seven jerry cans of fuel and allowed some local security men manning the facility to help themselves to the product.
Oni, who spoke to journalists on Friday at the police headquarters in Ikeja, stated that the officials left on Wednesday unable to fix the leakage and promised to return the next day, adding that they were about to resume work on Thursday morning when the explosion started.
The inferno reportedly broke out after a priest administering a spiritual bath on his church member in a stream around the pipeline lighted a candle.
Fuel from the pipeline was said to have flowed into the stream, resulting in the fire which travelled to the leaking spot.
One person died on the spot while another victim, who suffered about 90 degrees burns was admitted to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja.
In the wake of the explosion, police raided the affected area, and arrested Oni with several fuel-laden jerry cans found buried on his church, premises where he also lives.
Three other suspects – Omo Opeku, Rasheed Ajibade and Yusuf Waheed – were also apprehended by the police, with 14 sacks of fuel suspected to have been siphoned from the pipeline.
Oni, in an interview with our correspondent, denied involvement in pipeline vandalism, insisting that NNPC officials gifted him the fuel for his generosity.
He said, “On Wednesday, December 4, 2019, about eight NNPC officials came to repair the pipeline which was vandalised about three months ago. They identified themselves as maintenance officers and some NSCDC men came with them. They asked me to help them get five labourers to work with them but I was able to get three. They gave them N30,000 after work that day.
“In the course of repair, they removed the stick that was used to block the leakage but they did not succeed in fixing the fault and fuel was gushing out like flood. They siphoned it and gave me seven jerry cans to power the church’s generator.
“The NSCDC officials and local security men guarding the pipeline also siphoned fuel into jerry cans and took it away. Three of the local security men are called Ejo, Agbara and Dublin.”
The pastor stated that most of the jerry cans recovered by the police belonged to Dublin, adding that he buried the fuel to prevent fire outbreak.
“The NNPC officials came around 7am on Thursday to resume the maintenance. They were about to start work when the explosion happened,” he said.
Asked to name the officials, he said could only identify their faces.
Ajibade, 40, a resident of Ojuelegba, said one Ade, who is at large, had asked him and his accomplices to convey the fuel to Ijora from Iyana Ipaja.
He said they were waiting for Ade at the destination when the police rounded them up.
He stated, “Ade brought out the fuel packed in 14 sacks from a building around 11pm and asked us to take it to Phase 3, Ijora. He promised to meet us there. I didn’t bother to ask him where he got it. This is the first time he would involve me in something like this.”
The police spokesperson in the state, DSP Bala Elkana, dismissed the pastor’s allegation against the NNPC officials but said investigation had commenced to reveal the truth.
He said, “The excuse that the maintenance officers gave him the fuel is not adding up. Which maintenance officers from NNPC would give individuals fuel while they are trying to do away with people vandalising their pipelines?
“We are searching our beam light at the community to fish out those who are involved. The Commissioner of Police is determined to bring an end to this.”
The spokesperson for the NSCDC, Lagos State Command, Kehinde Bada, confirmed that NNPC workers were at the area on Wednesday to fix the leaking pipeline and officials of the corps provided security for them. She, however, refuted the claim that the men siphoned fuel.
She said, “Why will the NNPC officers and our men be there to scoop fuel? When we get (petroleum) product, we hand it over to the NNPC and if there is leakage from pipeline, we inform the NNPC and ensure we are at the scene for safety.
“They started fixing the pipeline but they could not finish the work because it was creeping into night. By the time they got there the next day, there was explosion already. Today (Friday), we were there all through and it has been fixed. Our men and the commandant were on the ground. It is not possible that our men siphoned fuel. The man (Oni) was actually arrested by our men from Alimosho office.”
Efforts to get the comment of the Group Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, NNPC, Mr Samson Makoji, proved abortive as he did not pick up our correspondent’s calls to his mobile. He had also yet to reply to a message sent to him on the allegation as of press time.
But in a statement on Wednesday, Makoji had said that “preliminary reports of the incident indicated that the pipeline might have been touched by an act of vandalism by suspected oil thieves, who hacked into the line to intercept the flow of petrol.”
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