By George Onah
PORT HARCOURTâ€”NO fewer than 813 illegal bunkerers and operators of refineries in Ogoniland have surrendered their implements to the joint committee set up by the Rivers State government to stamp out the trade.
Also recovered were four barges loaded with locally refined products, three of which were still on the high seas. While one of the barges was anchored at the Bodo Creek, a truck loaded with drums of products covered with sand was also surrendered to the committee.
Speaking while receiving the repentant bunkerers and their implements at Kpor, headquarters of Gokana Local Government Area, weekend, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, Mr. Oji Ngofa, praised those who yielded to the call to denounce the act and surrender their implements.
Ngofa, who is also the Chairman of Eleme Local Government, said anyone who engaged in the act after Saturday, March 13, 2010, would be arrested and prosecuted, stressing that the repentant ones should seek legitimate means of livelihood.
The chairman who urged the repentant bunkerers not to use the excuse of unemployment to commit crime that would further devastate the environment of the Ogoni people, enjoined them to avail themselves of existing skills acquisition programmes at the various councils to improve their wellbeing.
He said the committee apprehended two men and a tipper with registration number Edo, BE 700 BEN loaded with 10 drums of locally refined diesel which was concealed with sand from Bodo illegal refinery in Gokana.
Also speaking, a member of the committee and Chairman of Gokana Local Government Area, Chief Victor Giadom, said the committee had been working with the state government to stamp out bunkering activities in Gokana, Tai, Khana and Eleme.
Giadom advised the security agencies to ensure effective punishment for those that failed to surrender voluntarily after the expiration of the deadline, stressing that the state government was determined to stop the illegal activities in the area.
The Gokana chairman said illegal bunkering activities had further devastated the Ogoni ecosystem and destroyed fishing and farming activities of the local people, adding that the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, officials working in Ogoniland were worried by activities of the bunkerers.
Some of the illegal bunkerers who spoke to newsmen said they were in the business because of lack of job openings, and assured that they would not go back to the trade, but would seek alternative means of livelihood.
At a stakeholdersâ€™ meeting with the Ogonis two weeks ago, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi set up a Joint Committee of Ogonis drawn from the four Local Government Areas to collectively stamp out the local refineries in the area.