Several efforts by the Rivers State Government and security agencies to stop illegal oil bunkering in Rumuekpe community have not yielded any results. Daily Trust Saturday takes a look at how oil bunkering destroys lives.
Rumuekpe, a sleepy and rustic rural community in Emouha Local Government Area of Rivers State, is always in the news for bad reasons. The Transnational Oil Pipe (TNP) belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and other oil industrial concerns have become easy prey for many jobless youths of the community, who see crude oil and gas pipeline that crisscrosses the community as an avenue to make easy money and line their pockets.
Through the TNP, the SPDC evacuates crude oil from its fields to the Bonny crude export terminal in Bonny Island.
The obsolete nature of the pipeline has given the youth of the community the added advantage to siphon and evacuating petroleum products from the abandoned oil field.
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Even at the risk of their lives, the youth, in collaboration with officials of the multi oil companies and some corrupt security agencies, have developed strong skills through which they divert and sell stolen crude oil they refined through local technology.
Oil bunkering in the area thrives, with different cabals holding cult in the illegal business.
Scores of youths of the community have lost their lives in a fight for superiority over who calls the shot in the illegal criminal activities. Different cult groups had in the past engaged themselves in a battle of superiority over who control pipeline surveillance in the area. The pipeline surveillance contract given to notable youths of the area have given them the opportunity to trade in illegal stolen crude oil.
In October, 2021 about 22 persons were roasted to death in a petrol explosion that occurred in the community. Properties worth millions of naira were also destroyed.
The recent incident where about 12 persons lost their lives was the third in the series of petrol explosion that occurred in the area.
Fyeneface Dumeneme Fyeneface, the executive director, Advocate Centre for Good Environment, who was an eyewitness, said the incident, which occurred at a crude oil tapping point belonging to a multi oil company, left many people dead.
Fyeneface said the explosion happened about 2am on Friday when one of the buses loaded with crude oil collided with another vehicle leading to the explosion.
He said the explosion left dozens, including women dead and burnt beyond recognition, with many other vehicles and tricycles burnt at the tapping point, said to be on the Trans Niger Delta Pipeline (TNP) that passed through the community.
The report further stated that all those who were at the exact tapping point in the “pit” got killed, while some of those who had loaded the crude and waiting to load, including women, were killed by the explosion.
“The Advocacy Centre can confirm from the eyewitness information and other sources that men of the Nigerian army already were at the scene of the incident, as well as the police, said to be on the way to the scene, making it difficult for photographs and videos to be taken,” he said.
A resident of the community, Amadi Nwakanma, said illegal scooping of crude oil had become a reoccurring decimal in the area. He said youths of the community had taken advantage of the obsolete nature of the pipelines to siphon crude oil.
He said the area was so porous that illegal oil bunkering thrived without any check. He alleged that corrupt security agencies connived with those involved in the illegal activities to steal crude oil.
Another resident of the community, Okechukwu Okeh said, “Illegal oil bunkering is not new in Rumuekpe. This particular incident is the third in the series of oil explosion that occurred in the area. In October 2021, about 22 persons lost their lives in an oil explosion that occurred in the area. Since that incident, nothing serious has been done to stop further reoccurrence.”
The police public relations officer, Rivers State command, SP Grace Iringe Koko, confirmed 12 persons dead in the explosion.
SP Koko said a preliminary investigation by the command indicated that the victims were scooping crude product when the site caught fire.
The police spokesperson said the identities of the victims, who were burnt beyond recognition, were still unknown at the time of filing this report.
She said that five vehicles – four Keke NAPEP and one motorcycle – were burned to ashes.
But Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited said the Rumuekpe-Nkpoku trunk line operated by the company was not operational at the time of the fire explosion.
The SPDC spokesperson, Michael Adande, said the incident occurred at the site of an illegal connection used for crude theft, maintaining that the pipeline was inactive at the time of the incident.
Although the SPDC did not disclose the volume of crude stolen or spilled at the site, Adande, in a statement, however, condoled with the families of victims of the fire explosion, which he described as a regrettable incident.
“The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited confirms with great sadness that the fire incident, which occurred on March 3, 2023 on the Rumuekpe-Nkpoku trunk line in Rivers State, resulted in the unfortunate loss of lives.
“Security agencies are still investigating to know the exact number of lives lost in the incident. This is indeed a deeply regrettable incident; we commiserate with the families that have been impacted.
“The report of the government-led joint investigation visit team, which included representatives of the community, ascertained that the fire, which had been extinguished, occurred at the site of an illegal connection used for crude theft. The Rumuekpe-Nkpoku trunk line, which was not operational at the time of the incident, is part of the Trans Niger Pipeline,” he stated.
The director-general of the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, said it had begun probe into the fire explosion at the Rumuekpe section of Shell’s Trans Niger Pipeline in Rivers State.
A joint investigative visit to the site of the incident to ascertain the cause of the blast and volume of crude spilled was scheduled last Saturday, but the outcome is yet to be made public.
The joint investigation is a statutory inquiry that follows every oil spill incident, consisting of representatives of the oil firm, regulators, host community and the Ministry of Environment in the state.
The TNP, which is operated by Shell, evacuates crude from its oil fields to the Bonny crude oil export terminal in Bonny Island.
The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Rivers State command, on its part, condemned illegal oil bunkering activities in Rumuekpe community.
The state commandant of the NSCDC, Michael Ogar, condemned the defiant behaviours of those who engage in illegal oil bunkering activities in the community. He maintained that though the command condole with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident, but this should be a very big lesson to perpetrators of such heinous act.
Ogar said several attempts were made to combat illegal oil bunkering in the area during the command’s anti vandalism operations, where he said several illegal refineries were destroyed. He said it was quite unfortunate that they unrepentantly continued in illegal the oil bunkering business.
“Our anti vandalism squad repeatedly destroyed a good number of illegal refineries in the area, but as you destroy one, they re-fabricate another. There were times our personnel were repelled during operations, but we stood firm and undeterred. This should be a warning signal to all unrepentant vandals and perpetrators of illegal dealings in petroleum products,” he said.
The commandant further reiterated the need for collaborative efforts of security agencies to strengthen the fight against illegal dealings in petroleum products in the area and the entire state. He also called on traditional institutions, opinion leaders and stakeholders to put all hands on deck to end illegal oil bunkering activities in various communities across the state.
Ogar called on the public to feel free to relay credible information to the NSCDC, being the lead agency in the fight against vandalism of oil pipelines and the overall safeguarding of all critical national assets and infrastructures in the state.
“While soliciting for actionable intelligence and credible information from the public, let me use this opportunity to also call on multinationals to see the need for collaboration with security agencies in the provision of advanced technological equipment that would effect signal and raise the alarm when oil pipelines are being tampered with,” he added.
He noted that the command’s disaster management department had assisted in the rescue operations and would continue to patrol the area to forestall escalation and further disaster.
The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) said it had begun investigation into the incident.
The chief executive officer of the NUPRC, Gbenga Komolafe, said it began investigation in conjunction with relevant stakeholders and would provide update appropriately.