By OLUWOLE FAROTIMI and WOLE BALOGUN
Scores of oil thieves were yesterday feared to have been burnt to death, while scooping fuel at a site of vandalised pipeline in Ije-Ododo, near Ijegun in Iba Local Council Development Area of Lagos, when an NNPC oil pipeline exploded. A witness said the raging fire started when about 30 oil thieves loaded in two canoes arrived the scene and started scooping fuel into hundreds of 50 kilogramme jerry cans.
Daily Sun learnt that luck ran out on them, when a mysterious fire started and engulfed the environment, including the thieves, their jerry cans and other materials. The fire raged for several hours, as fire fighters stayed away from the scene of the inferno. Some men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, (NSCDC) and NNPC officials were at the scene to assess the situation.
The NSCDC officer who simply identified himself as Mr. Baiye said: “You can see that the fire is still raging. We can’t go far to examine the damaged pipeline or know the number of people killed because the pipeline is buried under water.” Residents of Ije-Ododo who spoke in separate interviews alleged that the suspected oil thieves who vandalised the pipeline conspired with the police in their nefarious activities. Confirming the incident, the Information Officer, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, for South West, Ibrahim Farinloye said NEMA was informed about the incident.
He said both state and federal firefighters were at the scene of the inferno but could not do much because it required a technical way to handle. However, residents of the community blamed the authority of the NNPC for the explosion. According to them, such explosion had become an annual ritual. They questioned the motive behind the withdrawal of security men guarding the pipeline facilities in Oke Agemo axis of the area.
According to the traditional ruler of the community, Alhaji Chief Tajudeen Suberu Ododo, the inability of firefighters to put off the fire was because of the inaccessible road to the scene. A resident, who identified himself as Isiaka Bello Ajadi told Daily Sun that: “The fire started around 10:00p.m on Monday night and it was very serious that many people started running away from the scene.” “Since 1996, we have been writing and appealing to NNPC to sandfill that road and links us with Abule Ado but they have refused to answer us. See what has happened now.”
Meanwhile many residents of the community have since Monday night been relocating from the scene of the incident for fear of escalation of the inferno, even as Fire Service men, National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) and Lagos State Emergency Management Authority (LASEMA) officials are still battling to put out the fire.