The Area of Takwa Bay Islands
Pipeline Vandalism, Illegal Bunkering and Other Crimes Have Cost Takwa Bay Islands Residents their Temporary Homes
Disturbed by the upsurge in pipeline vandalism, illegal bunkering, sea robbery and other crimes perpetrated around the Lagos anchorage, security operatives embarked on demolition of illegal structures and eviction of persons illegally residing at islands and communities where petroleum pipelines passed though.
These evictions, which covered a stretch of about 72km from Atlas Cove, Lagos to Mosimi in Ogun State followed discoveries of manholes and well laid pipes scattered across these islands.
The areas included Old Akinbo; Aditu; Phase Two; Ikate; Upstairs; Virgin Island; White House; Akaraba; Tarkwa Bay and Idimangoro among others. They are where Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) were siphoned by criminals and syndicates from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) System 2B into jerricans loaded into waiting boats for evacuation to neighbouring countries.
Although security operatives comprising the Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigerian Army (NA) Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Police and private security firms contracted by the NNPC for surveillance of these pipelines had overtime made arrests and destroyed thousands of jerricans hidden by the vandals.
But the criminals got more emboldened after each seizure and reconstructed their pipes and channels in no time. More worrisome was the fact that some of these island dwellers, mostly aliens from Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Togo and Liberia, allegedly acted as spies for the criminals or feigned ignorance about their operations when confronted by security forces.
Angered that pipeline vandalism was assuming a dimension akin to the days of Niger Delta militancy, coupled with worries of heightening insecurity in the southwest occasioned by the presence of foreigners said to have infiltrated the hinterlands; the government decided to reclaim such territories and by improving the internal security.
These evictions, which took off successfully from the third week of December last year, saw security forces in an operation codenamed: KUROMBE, a Yoruba word for “ get away from there”, bulldozing shanties, burning over 100,000 empty jerricans and recovering scores of others laden with PMS at the various islands.
But the story changed on January 24 when the operation moved into Tarkwa Bay Island with civil society organizations and international bodies accusing the government of displacing about 10,000 dwellers.
The groups had argued that the victims were rendered homeless without prior notice and provision for alternatives; allegations the government described as unfounded.
According to the security operatives, the dwellers were given three-month notice and some of them were allowed several hours to pack their belongings at the expiration of the deadline at 2pm on January 21.
While some of the residents relocated to Ikorodu and Apapa, others sought shelter from neighbouring islands like Manager, Sam Okoji and New Village and there were those who resorted to sleeping in their fishing boats.
During a visit to the affected islands last week, it was observed that the criminals buried metallic drums in the sands to protect already dug holes where the PMS sipped into once pumping was going on at the Atlas Cove terminal.
It was also observed that these manholes were located near those illegal structures and security posts manned by private guards contracted by NNPC as well as operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
“They went as far connecting pipes to the pipeline and channeled them to their respective homes. From their homes, they had specific taps where they fetched fuel from as if they were fetching water. They then would load the jerrycans filled with fuel to black markets and sell.
“This act has been ongoing for years. But eventually, the government has finally decided to arrest the situation after another act of vandalism recently discovered. Those sympathetic towards these people need to declare their interest.
Have they wondered the disaster the entire state would suffer should a fire break out here?” queried an officer. Continuing, the officer said the government had only risen to its responsibility by ensuring that it took control of its waterways and riverine communities.
He noted that most of the attacks on vessels around the Anchorage area were carried out by people, who hide in those islands, adding that they took advantage of the terrain to commit heinous crimes and acts of sabotage.
Commenting on what he termed a smear campaign, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command (WNC), Rear Admiral Oladele Daji said: “There has been some attempts by some individuals, criminally minded at that, to blackmail operation ‘Awatse’ in the effort to clear the NNPC right of way of all illegal structures as directed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and we believe that we have to let the world know the kind of criminalities that are taking place here and also at the strategic storage facilities of the NNPC so that the world and indeed the good people of this country can judge by themselves.
“That is basically why we have asked you to come and see for yourself and let the public know the crimes. The economic sabotage, environmental degradation that are being perpetrated by just a few criminal elements among us.
“We are entering the stabilisation phase and that is to ensure sustainance of adequate security presence both at the waterfront and on the island so that it will make it difficult for these criminal elements to gain a foothold on the island. I want to say, never again will we allow them to perpetrate the kind of acts of economic sabotage that they are perpetrating against this country.
“We did not destroy any house built with approval and off then right of way. You can see them yourselves. These beautiful houses and private homes contribute to tourism and generate employment for our people.
“It is just the few criminal elements that have thousands of jerrycans stored in their backyard, that have wells dug in their compounds and concealed that are going to be removed from the island. Most of these criminally minded people are Togolese, Benin Republic, Gambians, Ghanians and Cameroonians citizens.
“The primary purpose of unarmed guards is for observation and passing of information rapidly to the force to respond quickly and you know that there are restrictions on bearing of arms in this country.
“The good and law abiding citizens are advised and encouraged to go about their lawful businesses without any form of harassment and intimidation and that is part of the rules of engagement and also the standard operating procedures for operation Kurombe and we sustained that. We ensured that even in the process of evicting the economic saboteurs, Human Rights is upheld.”
Similarly, the Lagos State government threw its weight behind the taskforce, noting that it was bent on reclaiming all unpossessed land in the state.