By Ibidapo Balogun with agency report
The Arepo, Ogun State pipeline fire ignited by oil vandals has now been put out, Information Officer of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in the South-west, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, confirmed to WESTERN POST on Thursday morning.
Scores were feared killed when oil vandals engaged in a gun duel at the Arepo area of Ogun State on Wednesday.
As at Wednesday evening, no security agency had dared to brave the site, which was still burning.
The fight, alleged to be a supremacy one between two factions, started after they met at the site where they used to siphon fuel from the pipeline of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
It was gathered that one group first reached the scene and was already scooping fuel, when the second group arrived. There was a heated argument, which resulted in a gun battle. Bullets were said to have hit the pipeline, triggering explosion.
Another version of the story said the vandals had already scooped fuel and were about to start their boat when there was a spark, causing the explosion.
An ex-banker and a landlord in area, Bayo Oke, residing at Beach Land Estate, located directly opposite the creek, was said to have collapsed and died immediately he heard the explosion. Oke’s grieving wife told residents that he had been suffering from hypertension.
Aside from the area being volatile as the vandals continued to hide in bushes, shooting at one another, security agencies said the area is a swamp and dangerous for anyone to venture into.
The swamp has so far made it difficult for any security agency to state the casualty figures.
Residents, however, insisted that over 100 died in the inferno, while many more were injured.
A resident said: “So many of them were badly burnt that their faces couldn’t be recognised.
“These vandals had already concluded their operation and were about to leave when their speed boat refused to start.
“It was while trying to start the speedboat that there was a spark.
“I learnt that more than 100 of them died.”
Another resident said: “It was around 1:30am that we heard a loud explosion.
“It sounded like an earthquake.
“We saw ray of light from the river.
“The vandals, as usual, scooped fuel from the pipeline, filled them into many jerry cans and packed them into their speed boats.
“Trouble started when they were starting the engine of the speed boat, but it refused to start.
“The engine sparked, causing explosion.
“The explosion engulfed the filled jerry cans.
“The vandals were also dragging some on the water with ropes.
“Those jerry cans spilled on the water surface, causing the fire to spread along the water surface until it reached the pipeline installation, leading to further explosions.”
A man, who claimed to be an eyewitness, said he and many others in the area heard the vandals’ scream in pains and call for help.
A member of the Landlords Association of Beach Land Estate said an emergency meeting had been held at the estate with the aim of petitioning the Federal Government.
He said that they needed constant police presence in the area because of the vandals.
On April 28 this year, a gun duel between vandals and members of Oodua Peoples Congress, who were then guarding the pipeline, claimed the life of a six months pregnant lady, Damilola Fajana.
Fajana was returning from hospital where she had gone to visit her husband when a stray bullet hit her.
The managements of Pipelines Products Marking Company and NEMA on Wednesday confirmed an oil pipeline explosion at Arepo, Ogun State.
Nasir lmodagbe, PPMC spokesperson, told the News Agency of Nigeria in Lagos that the explosion occurred in the early hours of Wednesday.
Imodagbe said the explosion was caused by vandals trying to siphon petroleum product from the pipeline.
He said: “We cannot confirm the level of damage and casualty for now until the fire is put off.
“Our engineers and fire fighters are seriously working to ensure the fire is put off.
“We have shut down the products channel line to avert continuous burning of the pipeline.”
The South-west spokesman of NEMA, Farinloye, also confirmed the incident, adding that an unconfirmed report of a clash between different groups of vandals at Arepo was said to be the cause of the explosion.
Farinloye said NNPC had been alerted about the incident and the corporation had shut down the pipeline.
“No one can confirm if there are casualties or anyone injured,” he said.