From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Following the increasing havoc be perpetrated by pipeline vandals on the oil sector, the Abia NSCDC has risen to occasion to dismantle the evil network of criminals. In continuation of sustained efforts by men of the security agencies to rid Abia of hardened criminals and economic saboteurs, the Abia State command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, has arrested three suspects, who allegedly specialised in siphoning petroleum products with valves hooked to oil pipelines.
The National Economic Council, NEC, recently lamented that activities pipeline vandals cost the nation about $1.6 billion or 22 million barrels in the first half of 2019. The state Commandant, Mr Nnamdi Nwannukwu, said in Umuahia that this must stop, while interacting with journalists in his office on the achievements of his Command in the area of checkmating the nefarious activities of vandals in the state.
Nwannukwu said that the suspects, identified as Ikechi Ngozi, Chukwudinma Allen and Nwokoro Nwapem, “were caught in the act” this month.
“The suspects were caught in the act of affixing valves on the petroleum pipeline for the purpose of siphoning petroleum products illegally and loading it in GeePee tanks and drums fixed in standby buses.”
He accused the suspects of being behind the destruction of pipelines at Km 74.5 – 75.5 at Amekpu in Isialangwa North Local Government Area of Abia. Nwannukwu said that the suspects confessed to have fixed the valves with the help of a technician, called Ogbuagu, who was still at large.
“These suspects have committed a lot of economic sabotage against our nation through their attacks on oil pipelines, which is a critical infrastructure to our nation.”
Also, the commandant said that the command arrested three other suspects for allegedly causing “malicious and collateral damage on a broken down truck, conveying petroleum products and conversion of the products.
“The suspects were arrested for their alleged involvement in criminal conspiracy and fraudulent misrepresentation of facts by some supposedly fake staff of the state Ministry of Environment,” he said.
He said that the suspects illegally towed the truck and “carted away the products, disassembled the truck and sold it in parts” to scrap dealers at Alaoji Old Parts Market, near Aba.
“The suspects are also being investigated for receiving stolen property at the scene of the crime at Imo Gate on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway,” he said.
He said that the command had spread its dragnet in search of other members of the syndicate, who allegedly had fake identify cards and emblems of the ministry in their possession, when operatives of the command accosted them.
The commandant therefore charged the state government to scrutinise the activities of scrap buyers in the state. According to him, “It is a syndicate that goes about dismembering accident and broken down, faulty vehicles and property of innocent road users that needed to be fixed, take them to unknown destination, pieces them and sell them off as scraps.”
He said that the command would arraign the six suspects at the end of its ongoing investigations.
The wife of one of the suspects, 33-year-old Amarachi Ugochukwu, was said to have been arrested at her shop housing some of the scraps.
In an interview with newsmen, Ugochukwu, who claimed that her husband was a dog meat seller, said that she had no knowledge of the alleged crime. She however said that she did not know the whereabouts of her husband but admitted that they had been communicating via cell-phone since she was arrested.
The driver of the tow van, Ikechukwu Achinihu, said that he was contracted by a man who drove in Toyota Avelon. Achinihu said that he was oblivious that the truck he was hired and paid to tow did not belong to the man.
He said that he was initially reluctant to do the job until the man and two others with him convinced him with identity cards that they were officials of the ministry.
He said that he also saw operatives of the corps and their vehicles, when he went to tow the truck, adding that the operatives gave them protection on their way to where he packed the truck.
He said that at a point on the expressway he lost sight of the man that hired him, until the third suspect, one Uchenna Iheonunekwu, suddenly showed up from his shop and directed him to where he packed the truck.
He said that he was surprised when men of the corps called him the following day, arrested him and asked him to take them to where he packed the truck.
The command’s spokesman, Mr Agu Ndukwe, said that the operatives were attracted to the truck on the expressway, when they noticed that it was conveying suspected petroleum products before it broke down.
Ndukwe said that when the operatives could not find the driver of the truck, they kept surveillance in the area, hence they had to escort the driver of the tow van to ascertain his destination.
He said that neither the driver nor owner of the truck nor the fake ministry officials, who allegedly hired the tow van, had yet to report to the command. He said that efforts were being intensified by the command to track them down.