The alleged connivance of security officials had also unsettled many landlords, who now fear for their lives.
The PUNCH gathered that last Sunday, some vandals broke into the mechanic village on Providence Avenue and siphoned fuel from the pipeline of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
They were reported to have bound a local vigilante and bundled him into the back of a sports utility vehicle they brought for the operation.
The men, who loaded no fewer than four tankers of 33,000 litres, were said to have operated without any challenge from the security agencies.
Done, they released the guard and left the area without a trace.
At the rate of N125 per litre, the pump price fuel was being sold at the time, a 33,000 litre tanker would cost N4,125,000. The four tankers would therefore cost N16.5m.
Findings by our correspondent revealed that some members of the group had visited the site a few days earlier to prepare for the operation.
A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the vandals dug a hole at the point where they intended to siphon the fuel.
“A guard on the adjoining street saw them digging in the wee hours of the night and flashed a torch in their direction. He asked what they were doing and they told him not to bother himself because they worked for some powerful people.
“The guard said towards the end of his chat with them, they asked for his phone number and account details, that they could send something to him as well. A gate separated him from those people, so they did not have contact,” he said.
A former executive member of the mechanic union told The PUNCH that when he arrived at the workshop in the morning, he noticed the hole around the pipeline.
He said he quickly mobilised other mechanics to tow a van to the spot, to frustrate the plot of the vandals.
“We removed the four tyres of the vehicle we towed to the spot. We also alerted the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps officer in charge of Ifako Ijaiye, Mrs. Osho; and one Mr Dare, who works with a private company guarding the pipeline. They usually patrol the area. They both said there was no problem,” the source added.
Our correspondent learnt that the mechanics also queried the vigilantes they employed to watch over cars parked in the area.
“The leader of the vigilantes, Old Soldier, told us that he did not see anybody. He said some goats might have strayed in and created the excavation with their hoofs,” a senior mechanic said.
The PUNCH gathered that residents became worried when there was no visible improvement in security despite reports to the security agencies.
Our correspondent learnt that when the chairman of the mechanic village called Osho for an update, she said she had escalated the report to her boss at Alausa, the Lagos headquarters of the NSCDC.
However, some policemen were reported to have stormed the mechanic village and arrested some people.
A senior member of the mechanic union said their suspicion doubled at that point.
“Last year when those vandals were about to strike, a similar thing happened. Some policemen just came from nowhere and arrested everybody, including our guards. It was the following day that the vandals came.
“The same thing happened a day to this incident. The police just came and arrested the abokis (northern artisans) we have here,” he said.
On how the operation happened, The PUNCH was informed that Old Soldier, the leader of the vigilante who had earlier sold the goat fable to his employers, was absent from duty.
However, he left behind a junior security guard.
The vandals, late in the night, pushed a vehicle from the road to the gate separating the mechanic village from Iju Road.
“They told the guard that their vehicle broke down and they needed to push it into a workshop in the mechanic village.
“The man ignorantly opened the gate for them. At that point, they seized him and put him in the back of their Sienna vehicle. They drove the vehicle to Railway Crossing and asked one of them to stay with him, as they brought in the tankers,” a resident said.
Our correspondent gathered that some of the vandals wore military camouflage and others wore police uniform.
Three Hilux vans were said to have been parked at three junctions for surveillance.
The next morning, most residents woke up to the smell and spillage of the oil, as officials of the NNPC, NSCDC and police personnel flooded the area for assessments.
Our correspondent learnt that Old Soldier was among several suspects arrested over the incident, which was also being investigated by men of the Department of State Services.
The PUNCH, during a visit to the area, observed that the spot where the fuel was siphoned, was only few metres from the main road.
Also, more than a week after the invasion, the spot was only covered with mud.
A little distance from the crime scene was an expansive secondary school, Providence High School, which also had its boys’ hostel within a stone’s throw.
A canal down the road exposed a big portion of the NNPC pipeline, as water gushed down the channel.
Residents said their lives were in danger and the government appeared not to care.
One of them asked that while security should be improved in the area, concrete should be poured at the point where the vandals struck.
He recalled that a few years earlier, an armoured personnel carrier was mounted close to the mechanic village.
A landlord wondered how the tankers moved around during the curfew without any policeman stopping them demand their waybills.
The Chairman of Ifako Ijaiye Local Government Area, Mr Oloruntoba Oke, confirmed that the hoodlums had earlier visited to prepare the ground for the eventual bursting of the pipeline.
Oke said, “There is a kind of high level conspiracy. It’s the work of a very strong syndicate. When I got to the scene and made enquiries, I was also informed that some people had come earlier to prepare the ground.
“The maintenance department of the NNPC later came to fix the damage. They promised to ensure permanent measures are put in place to prevent a recurrence.”
Oke, however, advised that the mechanics should not be evicted from the area, saying they depended on the place for their livelihood.
The NSCDC officer in charge of the area, Osho, denied that she was informed by the community before the attack.
“Nobody told me about anything. I was not aware,” she said.
The NSCDC Lagos Commandant, Adeyinka Fasiu, said investigation was ongoing.
Fasiu said, “Before the incident, our men had ensured that they watched the right of way of the NNPC pipeline. Our men patrolled the place together with a private security company, Pentagon.
“Immediately we left the place, we were told some unknown men in fake police uniform approached the security guard and told him that their vehicle was not good enough and he should help them to push it in.
“He allowed them in and that was how another set of people came in, collected the keys and took the guard away. They were there till 4am when they left. We had to arrest the second security guard (Old Soldier) and investigation is ongoing. We will get to the root of the case.”
He said neither the agency nor Osho had pre-knowledge of the incident, adding that the NSCDC officer was one of the best in the agency.
“What they (community) said did not pertain to that place. They just said some policemen came and raided the Hausas in the place. And we had a meeting that Friday and we said we needed to be vigilant on the issue,” Fasiu added.
The Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana, said the police were not aware that the vandals visited the community before the operation.
Rather, Elkana said the police believed there was community participation in the crime.
“Nobody reported to the police station covering that area that a pipe was open anywhere. And there was no raiding or arrest of anybody, whether mallams or not, by the police division covering the area. If they have any such report, they should let us know.
“The Iju Divisional Police Officer informed me that when the incident occurred, he led his team to visit the place and he looked at the crime scene closely as an expert and his conclusion was that there was no way such a thing could happen without the connivance of the people living there. They cannot say they are not aware of such a thing. So, for the community to seek to pass the blame to somebody else looks surprising,” he added.
The police spokesman, however, said the NSCDC had the mandate to investigate the incident.
The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, NNPC, Dr Kennie Obateru, did not take his calls for two days and asked the reporter to send him a text.
A text message seeking his reaction to the matter had yet to be replied to as of press time.
However, a top official of the corporation, who did not want to be identified, said the dalliance between security agents and the vandals was an open secret.
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