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CAUGHT IN THE ACT: Soldiers arrest 10 vandals, impound 9 trucks sighoning fuel from pipeline

Joy Anyim

Military operatives attached to Operation AWATSE have foiled an attempt to steal nine trucks of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), from a vandalised Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipeline, behind Forthright Garden Estate, Arepo in Ogun State.

The operatives who stormed the sparsely populated area about 5:30 a.m. on Monday, November 30, successfully arrested 10 suspected vandals involved in the criminal venture.

It was gathered that the pipeline travels from Atlas Cove to Mosimi, where it supplies PMS. It was, however, vandalised by the suspects, who connected a 3.2 kilometres long hose with seven outlets to syphon the product.

On-the-spot assessment of the crime scene revealed the suspects, who are part of an organised syndicate, syphon the PMS in nylons and sacks and then load into waiting containers and trucks.

Conducting journalists round the area which has been cordoned off by military personnel, the Commander of Operation AWATSE, Rear Admiral Oladele Daji, described the act as economic sabotage.

Daji, who is the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, revealed that the modus operandi of the suspects revealed it was a crime organised by rich and influential persons.

Stating that investigations were still ongoing and that the arrested suspects will be handed over to the appropriate agency for prosecution, Daji also revealed that the gang had graded the road to the crime scene ahead of their operation.

Urging members of the public to avail security operatives more information on the activities of vandals and other criminals, he assured that such information would be handled with the utmost confidentiality.

He said: “This is a crime syndicate organised by rich and influential people considering the amount of money put into the operation. The syndicate graded the road from Forthright Garden Estate to where they were syphoning the fuel, which is about 1kilometre.

“The road was graded for this operation, even the grader is still here as part of the exhibit. It is a highly sophisticated syndicate to be able to hire nine trucks, a grader and the procurement of a hose of over three kilometres in length, fooling everybody.

“We were all patrolling along the pipeline but the main activity was taking place 3.2 kilometres away from the pipeline. They even hired nine trucks to load the products. So this is evidence that these are not just petty thieves but a highly organised syndicate.

“Together with the sister agencies, we are determined to get to the root of this syndicate and break their will from perpetrating the dastardly activities.

“I appeal to Nigerians to continue to volunteer useful information to us through the Operation AWATSE helpline and the website, which is active. We promise to keep every information given to us confidential, as such information would lead to the arrest of those that are bent on sabotaging our quest for economic security and they will face the full wrath of the law.”

While applauding communities where pipeline traversed that have been cooperating and volunteering information to security operatives, Daji assured Nigerians that security agencies would continue to discharge their responsibilities responsively and responsibly.

Warning that all economic saboteurs will be dealt with according to the law, the Operation AWATSE Commander said NNPC Maintenance Team were already on ground to fix the vandalised pipeline.

He maintained that the attempt on the pipeline would not affect the supply of petroleum products to various parts of the country.

“The trucks that would evacuate the recovered products would be here and in line with the standard operating procedure, the arrested trucks would be destroyed immediately and the trucks that were impounded with suspects would be presented in court as exhibit, ” he added.

The Deputy Commander of Operation AWATSE, Major-General Godwin Umelo, who was also present at the briefing, said the suspects were arrested based on intelligence that had filtered to operatives.

Restating that Arepo is notorious for pipeline vandalism, Umelo, who is also the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 81 Division, the intelligence spurred operatives to intensify surveillance around the area.

He said: “In the early hours of Monday, we got information that vehicles were moving into the area and we directed our troops to move in, which they did at 5.30 am and met the vandals loading their trucks with the fuel.

“Because it was still very early and dark, some of the vandals escaped into the forest as a result of poor visibility, but we were lucky to have arrested 10 of them, all males. Six vehicles were arrested with already loaded products while three were yet to load. So nine vehicles were arrested in all.

“The law will certainly take it’s course even though the military does not have prosecution powers, NSCDC that has the powers to prosecute those involved in pipelines vandalism will handle the matter when we are done with the investigative process.”

The suspects were identified as Taofeek Abdulsalam, 42, Rasaq Oluwaseyi, 40, Tejumola Adedayo, 40, Mohammed Jimoh, 25, Isa Mohammed, 40, Julius Adeyemi, 52, Rilwan Adebayo, 16, Hassan Tajudeen, 37, Lawole Abubakar 43 and Tunde Raheem, 45.

Making a confessional statement, Jimoh, who is a truck conductor said the driver of his truck only told him they were contacted to come to Arepo to load products.

“It was my driver that discussed with the people. I am the conductor and he only told me our services was needed at Arepo, he said we were coming to carry some products, but he did not tell me it was petrol.

“When the military men came, the people fled, including my driver. I was arrested, but sincerely I know nothing about this. My driver just implicated me,” he said.

Tajudeen who also spoke on his arrest maintained he was innocent. He said he was led to the location by a Naval Intelligence Officer (IO).

He said the IO, whose identity he gave simply as Adebola, often contracted to drive him around whenever he was going for investigation.

The suspects said: “Adebola is like a brother and I have known him for years. Whenever he wants to go for surveillance, he would hire me to drive him around. He does not wear a uniform nor go around in his uniform. So on Sunday night, I drove him to Arepo, I parked my vehicle and he went inside, I was waiting for him when military men came and arrested me in my Toyota Camry car.

“I am not a vandal, and the shocking aspect is that I have been calling Adebola, who has, in turn, begged the operatives to release me, but they have refused. I do not belong to the syndicate.”