By Bose Adelaja and Ebun Sessou
Last week, the Lagos state police command made a startling discovery of some wells in Ilasamaja area of Lagos where diesel, instead of water was drawn out and sold at ridiculously low price. While the various fuel stations were selling the product at between N180.00 and N200.00 per litre, it was being sold in this area at N100.00 per litre. It was suspected that there were underground pipes that connected the wells to the pipes of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC from where the petroleum product was being siphoned.
This illegal business had been going on for decades on Abeokuta and Ibadan streets in Ilasamaja, Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area of the state until last week when the operators were apprehended by the law enforcement agents. It was gathered that more than 10 residential buildings were being used for the illegal operation.
The wells were located within the compounds in the buildings with suspended tanks to deceive the public. Pumping machines were said to be installed inside the wells, from where the product is pumped into trucks which were usually stationed outside. Sources in the area told Saturday Vanguard that different categories of people came to buy the product ranging from those with jerrycans to those who bought in drums. It was gathered that those who bought in trucks came in the night.
It was gathered that some touts were hired who acted as spies and were positioned in strategic locations to be on the look out for law enforcement agents. These spies were paid daily and their assignment was to notify or alert the dealers of the presence of security operatives. Saturday Vanguard learnt that some uniformed men were also on the pay roll of the operators and their job was to protect the business.
It could not be ascertained when the illegal business actually started but sources said it has been in existence for decades. Some of the dealers who were mostly property owners were said to have given their tenants quit notices while others were said to have co-opted their into tenants in the illicit business for protection.
Some of the residents in the area who spoke on condition of anonymity recounted their experiences on the illegal business. An artisan Mr Wole Fakeye said, ‘’I don’t live here but own a shop and I want to tell you that the business has been going on for decades but not many people knew about it because it is a mafia business. I could recall about eight years ago when some people were killed because they tried to expose the shady deal”.
A petty trader simply identified as Madam Sikira said some uniformed men were privy to the business. According to her, ‘’Uniformed men come here to get their own piece of the action, will they claim they are ignorant of the development? Thank God for this present regime on the fight against corruption. If it were to be in the past, who will dare arrest them?”
Another resident said, ‘’it was not as if the business was hidden from anybody but whoever dared to expose them did so at his own risk”.
The bubble burst
Saturday Vanguard reliably gathered that the secret about the illegal business leaked out due to disagreement between the operators and their spies. The spies believed following the increase in the pump price of diesel there should also be an increment in what they were being paid. The operators however disagreed. Some of the partners were also said to have felt shortchanged in the sharing formular of the proceeds and this led to the secret being leaked to the police. The police made some arrests and assured that they will get to the root of the matter.
Speaking with the lawmaker representing the constituency, Jude Idimogu who spoke from the United States of America, said, any illegal activity should be dealt with. “The activity is wrong and it is against the law of the land”, he said.
According to him, “government was not aware that oil wells exit in Ilasamaja before now and I am certain that government will do everything possible to investigate the issue and bring all the culprits to book”, adding that no offender will go unpunished as government does not encourage illegal activities. “I am concerned and will ensure that the culprits do not go unpunished”, he concluded.
The Head of Media Environmentalfriends of the Earth Nigeria ERAFoEN Phillip Jakpor who spoke on the issue enumerated some of the hazards associated with such illegal activity. According to him, the risks involved ranged from fire outbreaks to environmental degradation, pollution, offensive odour, and exposing the illicit deal to the youths which may defocus them from legitimate business ventures.
In his own submission, the General Manager Lagos State Emergency Management Agency LASEMA, Mr Michael Akindele said the area has been classified as a potential disaster area and the government will soon decide what action to take on the matter.