By Chiemelie Ezeobi
The Inspector General of Police Special Task Force on Anti-Pipeline Vandalism, led by Mr. Friday Ibadin, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, has arrested three Beninese and one Ghanaian for pipeline vandalism in the communities around the Atlas Cove, Lagos.
The suspected vandals were identified as Fufo Soglo (Ghanaian) and the three Beninese ‚Äì Christopher Suso, Yovo Itoh and Matilda Idowu ‚Äì who also doubled as their treasurer.
The suspects, who were arrested on May 24, were said to have attempted to bribe the task force with the sum of N550,000 so as to have unhindered access to bunker PMS.
Confirming the arrest, Ibadin said the suspects were arrested with valves that have 12 different holes connected to it, adding that with this kind of technology connection, vandals can siphon over 50,000 litres in less than 30 minutes.
He said: ‚ÄúWe were alerted of this crime when one of their members contacted the police to grant them unhindered access to oil pipelines without having to arrest them. In other words, they wanted the police to ‚Äòcooperate‚Äô and aid the crime. The operatives led by Lagos Sector Commander, DSP Onaghise Osayande, determined to rein them in, played along with them.
‚ÄúWhen he lured all four of them in, he got them arrested while they were about to hand over the N550,000 initial deposit to the police. Meanwhile, we are working with the village heads to sort out those members of the community who are actually in the business and prosecute them accordingly.‚Äù
The female suspect, Idowu, had however confessed, but added that she was only appointed as the treasurer to collect the contribution by interested members of the community for an upcoming vandalism.
She said: ‚ÄúIn recent times, it is difficult to vandalise pipelines without interference from the police, so one of our members, Chukwuma, asked me to collect money from members of the community to settle the police; that Chike our leader wants to settle security operatives, so that we can operate freely.
‚ÄúI was able to collect N50,000 each from some of our members and added N20,000 to the amount. I paid N20,000 because I was the one that took the risk to collect money from others.
‚ÄúAs soon as I collected the money, I called Chike and he told me to hand over the money to Chukwuma but when I called him, he asked me to bring it to the police tent at Atlas Cove that their boss was waiting for it.‚Äù
The 50-year-old suspect, who admitted she was from Benin Republic but was born and bred in Nigeria, added that the said Chukwuma was angry when she disclosed that the N1 million earmarked for the bribe could not be raised.
She added: ‚ÄúI told him the much I had and he was angry because the agreement was. I told him that I cannot force people to contribute money as some interested ones pleaded for more time to assemble the money. He now told me to bring whatever I have with me. It was when I went to give him the money at the police tent that I was arrested.‚Äù
She however stressed that she did not set out to be a pipeline vandal rather she was a fish seller who swerved to the crime because she couldn‚Äôt make ends meet.
She said: ‚ÄúI sell smoked fish but the economy is very bad since I have six children with no husband. When I was introduced to this business, I saw it as a way to make ends meet. Normally we would contribute money to enable Chike ensure that the security operatives would allow us function.
‚ÄúI thought it was business as usual although I was surprised when Chukwuma said that I should come to the police tent at Atlas Cove to deliver the money. I am sorry and I promise to go back to my legitimate business if I am allowed to go home.
‚ÄúIt is unfortunate that our leader, Chike, has abandoned us and there are so many of us, but now that they are aware that we have been arrested they will all deny and the major players would go underground. It is not a new thing that in Akaraba that most of us are into oil business. All we do is to raise money to enable the real vandals to bring out the product and sell to us at a very cheap rate.‚Äù
Another suspect, Itoh, who claimed to be a palm wine tapper, admitted he entered Nigeria two months ago through Seme border, but stressed that he was going about his daily wine tapping business when he was arrested.
He said: ‚ÄúI was invited by my brother who lives in Akaraba that there was a better opportunity in Lagos. All I do is to tap palm wine at night and sell it in the morning. On that very day, I was on my way to the bush when the police arrested me and said that I was on NNPC right of way.
‚ÄúAlthough I was told that if I am found in this area, that I would be arrested as a pipeline vandal, I felt that the security operatives would understand if they later discover that I am a palm wine tapper. The truth is that inside that bush that belongs to NNPC are fresh untapped palm wine trees.¬† I went there to tap palm wine not petrol.‚Äù