It seems the last has not yet been heard about the recurring incidents of oil explosion in Rivers State communities, especially as a result of the operations of illegal refineries or vandalism of oil pipelines.
In the early hours of Monday, October 2, at least 18 people were killed in an oil explosion in Rumucholu Ibaa community in Emohua LGA, with the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) saying 25 others sustained injuries.
However, residents said more than 35 persons were killed.
Some communities in Emohua LGA were said to have been running a cartel in illegal oil bunkering and refining of petroleum products. Many youths of the area were alleged to have taken advantage of obsolete trans-national trunk lines belonging to some oil companies to siphon crude oil for illegal refining activities. Early this year, 12 youths were burnt to death in Rumuekpe community in the same LGA. The victims were caught in an inferno as they attempted to scoop crude oil from a facility belonging to a multi-national oil company.
In 2021, about 20 persons were killed in a petrol explosion in the same community. Several efforts made by the state government and security agencies to stop the youths of the area from illegal oil bunkering did not yield any result as those involved operate in cartels and are said to have the backing of influential people who benefit from the criminal activities.
According to the state’s Commandant of NSCDC, Basil Igwebueze, “From our preliminary findings, it was gathered that the October 2, inferno was caused by a local refinery cooking pot constructed close to an oil reservoir which contained combustible materials. The burning temperature eventually became too high and the environment gutted fire. We also gathered that the cooking pot belonged to one Mr John Bodo who sustained severe injuries, while his son, Uche John Bodo, a fresh graduate, died on the spot.
“It is lamentable that most of the victims were youths, then a pregnant woman and a young woman getting ready for her marriage ceremony next month.”
He decried the unrepentant nature of those dealing illegally in petroleum products through the construction of local refineries where siphoned crude oil was being processed.
He noted that the command had destroyed a good number of illegal oil bunkering sites and oil dumps across the state.
A resident, simply identified as Emmanuel, said most of the victims were selling the product at the refining site when the place suddenly went up in flames.
He said the incident also affected people from neighbouring Isiokpo in Ikwerre LGA, as well as Ibaa and Oduoha in Emohua LGA.
Emmanuel further said, “More than 40 people were there at the site. They were there scooping oil when the fire started.
“The fire came from a refining site that is close to the point where they were bagging the crude.
“Many Isiokpo, Oduoha and Ibaa people were there. Seven of the people died inside the pit where they were scooping the crude. About 10 got burnt by the pit.
“About 30 people died at the site while over 15 were rushed to the hospital. I heard that three of them died while being rushed to the hospital.”
Another resident, Innocent Okeh, blamed youths of the community for endangering their lives by engaging in oil bunkering.
Another resident, who pleaded anonymity, said oil bunkering and illegal refining operators ran cartels which he alleged involved some security agents and well-connected people.
He noted that petroleum explosions would continue until the youths of the area desisted from illegal oil bunkering.
He called on the state government to work out more ways of checking illegal oil bunkering and refining of petroleum products.
The Executive Director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria), Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, condemned what he described as the continuous engagement in artisanal crude oil refining activities in some communities across the Niger Delta despite intense campaigns and advocacy against crude oil theft, artisanal refining and pollution.
Fyneface noted that if the intense campaigns against pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft and artisanal refining mounted by his organisation and other stakeholders, including the state and federal governments, were adhered to, deaths of this nature would have been avoided.
He added that if the federal government had issued the 18 modular refinery licenses approved by the former President Muhammadu Buhari administration and established the Presidential Artisanal Crude Oil Refining Development Initiative (PACORDI) which modernised, standardised, legalised and integrated artisanal crude oil refining into the nation’s economy, among others, as alternative livelihood opportunities for artisanal crude oil refiners in the Niger Delta, the deaths would have been avoided.
He called on artisanal refiners in the Niger Delta to stop acts of crude oil theft and artisanal refineries to avoid unnecessary deaths of this nature, while also calling on the federal government to immediately approve measures that provided alternative livelihood opportunities for artisanal refiners in the Niger Delta and Nigeria.
When contacted, the Rivers State Police Command’s spokeswoman, SP Grace Iringe-Koko, said she would reach out to the DPO in the area to find out what actually happened and get back to our correspondent.