Illegal bunkerers: Ilasamaja in the eye of the storm

· ‘Police knew about them for decades’

When the news broke that 12 ‘illegal oil wells’ were discovered in Lagos State a few weeks ago, not many believed such acts could happen in an urban centre.  However, in this report, OLATUNDE DODONDAWA, who visited the area in Ilasamaja, gave the picture of what was actually going on in the community before the bubble burst. Excerpts.

It was the week that Lagos State experienced its worst rainfall in the year. It had rained for over 17-hours and many residents lost valuables worth millions of naira. Ilasamaja axis was flooded, while motorists and pedestrians struggled for the narrow way that stretched along the shanties.

Among the shanties were houses built on the Right of Way (RoW) belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). It is believed that the  houses were built there with the  intention of drilling and exploration of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) otherwise called diesel, from the pipelines buried beneath their structures.

Some houses on Abeokuta Street, were listed among the most notorious for illegally exploring the mineral resource, just as house numbers 9 and 11 on Ibadan Street, both in Ilasamaja were also listed. Ibadan Street is located directly behind Abeokuta Street, so both buildings were located under NNPC’s Right of Way (RoW).

From Ilasamaja bus stop, one will have to navigate through streets like Baale, Salamotu, Adeyiga, Salako, Fabiyi, Alhaji Salau Lane and Oluwasiji Streets to link Ogunbowale Street. Abeokuta street is off Adegbite Street, an extension of Ogunbowale Street and also a slum with a population of over 5,000 people. Shanties are very common in the area, same for damsels who were either gossiping or doing some laundries. Men and friendly children heartily greet strangers, but majority of them are aware of the illegal activity that most of the residents engage in.

This should be expected because many of the residents are mostly unemployed, self-employed, entrepreneurs or shop-owners. After media reports that illegal bunkering had been discovered to be going on in the area, the residents became more uncooperative and except there is a tip-off (betrayal) by someone among them, it may be difficult for any unsuspecting member of the public to know that such acts take place there.

On August 12,, 2016, the Lagos State government combed both streets and discovered several ‘oil wells’ being illegally drilled n the suburb of Lagos State. However, only House number 10, Abeokuta Street, was cordoned off and inquisitive passers byes are directed to non-visible inscriptions on the fences of other affected buildings, indicating that the houses had been sealed off.  Except for house number 1, which is an uncompleted building, but with fence and gate, the other sealed houses still have occupants in them. An officer explained that the shop owners were allowed to stay and sell their wares, while the occupants have been asked to leave, except the landlords and the landlady who are  now at the Force Headquarters pending the completion of investigations. The officer declined to give further information.

At Ibadan Street, where the only houses that have been cordoned off with official tapes, officers on guard did not say anything. He directed Sunday Tribune to the Force Headquarters for any information.

But attempts to locate the exact buildings where oil wells were discovered proved daunting initially, because the residents suddenly became hostile and aggressive when asked where the illegal oil wells were.

In that heavy rainfall, and despite the hostility of the residents, Sunday Tribune eventually discovered a sealed one-storey building. While approaching the building, a police officer emerged from the building and the following conversation ensued:

Journalist: Good morning officer

Officer: Good morning. How may I help you?

I am a journalist and I’m here sir to do a follow up on the arrests that were made two weeks ago.

We don’t want anybody here and I give you 5 seconds to leave this place.

Journalist: Sir……

(cuts in)…..I said leave. The reporter left.

Not so far from House number 10 where he had engaged the police officer, another officer was seen with a food vendor. Without introduction, he engaged the officer in a brief conversation:

Journalist: Why your colleague come dey embarrass person like that even when I told him who I am.

Officer: Na because we get instruction say we should not allow anybody on the premises.

From the officer, however, it was discovered that it wasn’t only House number 10 that was discovered doing the illicit trade.

“Now that it is raining, just look at the ground and you will see oil stains everywhere. It is dangerous for the inhabitants in the community to live and be exposed to such spills. Several times, some people have gone to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to complain about the illegal oil wells because of the dangers it posed to the community. Thank God it is diesel and not petrol which is highly inflammable, a resident said.

When asked why people are yet to leave the entire area, they said that the poor economic conditions may be responsible because people need places to live.

When the rain subsided, Sunday Tribune quickly left the area.

The Lagos State government maintained that the houses in Abeokuta and Ibadan Streets in Ilasamaja remain shut. The state’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said the step to shut the wells and cordon off the area was taken by government to forestall loss of lives and property.

Ayorinde, who addressed journalists alongside top government functionaries and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, said a combined team from the police command, the Ministry of Environment, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, Lagos State Fire Service and Sole Administrator of Isolo Local Council Development Area carried out a thorough inspection of the entire area and discovered no fewer than 12 of the illegal oil wells.