December 24, 2021, Most residents on Gloryland Estate, Isheri Olofin, Igando area of Lagos State, South-West Nigeria, had retired to bed, waiting for dawn to kick off preparation for the Yuletide.
But around 12.30am, the sleepy neighborhood erupted in chaos. Explosions! Fire had broken out from the pipeline point in the wetland and consumed the languid shrubs and trees.
Within seconds, balls of fire powered by oil rolled down, devouring the only rickety wooden bridge that connected the community with its neighbors, with threats to advance to the many clusters of houses nearby. Anxious parents and families shrieked and searched for loved ones in frenetic strains to escape the raging fire.
As the sprouting inferno followed the water channels now overtaken by spilled oil, some of the residents courageously mobilised and confronted the fire. A community leader with a borehole pumped water as the youth and elderly joined in keeping the fire at bay.
At sunrise, when the fire had ebbed and tired residents resting from the overnight battle, news reports from the statement of an emergency management agency started making the rounds that high tension cables which landed in the pipeline area caused the explosion.
“How can anyone say such a thing?” Emmanuel, one of the youth who participated in the rescue operation, queried.
“In fact, it was the other way round. The explosion was caused by vandals who spilled fuel. It was a loud blast that made the electrical grid fall, which caused some sparks. There is a distance between where the cables fell and where the explosions actually occurred,” a trader close to the scene added,Her observation was confirmed by many residents.
Investigations by our correspondent also showed that there was heavy spillage of oil along the path of the explosion.
However, none of the suspected vandals was arrested.
On December 29, five days after that incident, there was another fire incident along the same pipeline area.
Our correspondent watched on Wednesday as technicians combined to put out the fire, which according to residents began in the early hours of the day.
At exactly 10.28am, the fire from the leak suspected to be from the activities of vandals, was stopped, Like in the previous case, none of the culprits was arrested.
How could frequent vandalism occur at a point heavily guarded with a security post of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, an outpost of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and at least four police stations all within touching distance?
The NNPC bland security post, our correspondent observed, is atop a hill that will make it easy for a sentinel to see activities at the pipeline point usually tapped by vandals. It will take less than two minutes to get to the area.
The NSCDC office, which is at the entrance to the NNPC Pipeline Road and usually swarming with officers, is less than five minutes trek to where hoodlums usually break the pipeline.
There are11 police stations under the Area M Police Command, Idimu. They are Ikotun, Igando, Idimu, Isheri Osun, Shasha, Oke-Odo, Meiran, Ipaja, Gowon Estate, Ayobo and Alagbado police stations.
Google map indicated that in a normal traffic situation, the area command is the closest to reach the vandalised point within 10 minutes drive. This is followed by the Isheri Oshun Police Station, which is also 10 minutes drive away.
Officers at the Ikotun Police Station will get to the scene within 17 minutes, while Igando Police Station will arrive there in 20 minutes. The Ipaja Police Station will get to the scene within 24 minutes. At night when there is little or no traffic, most of the stations will get to the scene in far less time.
Iya Alaje, as she is fondly called, has lived on Gloryland Estate, Isheri Olofin, for several years. She also knows that the community battles frequent pipeline vandalism despite the heavy security presence there.
The mother of five has always suspected that the frequent vandalism in the area, which most times comes with heavy civilian casualties, cannot happen without a compromise of the security architecture.
On August 19, 2021, her suspicion was confirmed.
On that day, she was in her house around noon when a strong smell of fuel wafted into the room and immediately made her lose interest in the bowl of rice before her. She stepped onto her balcony to see.
“I saw some armed officers of the NSCDC. A few moments later, I saw some men who were not in uniform. There was also a truck, a tricycle and a bus, all parked on the road.
“Apparently, they had been mining fuel from the bush and loading them into the vehicles. At a point, a policewoman who stayed within the neighborhood saw them and went to query the illegal operation. They took her away fro