By Emma Arubi
TUESDAY May 24, 2011 would forever remain indelible in the memory of the people of Oko Ovwore-Amukpe Okpe community in Delta State following an early morning NNPC pipeline fire explosion reminiscent of the Atigwo-Jesse explosion of October 17, 1998 incident that claimed thousands of lives and visited unimaginable suffering and hardship to many families till date.
This time around, the pipeline fire explosion was not in Jesse community but at a close-by neighbouring community that resulted in the death of over 22 persons while many more are still unaccounted for because they have not been seen till date.
But unlike the Jesse incident where the scene was easily accessible, the Oko-Ovwore case occurred deep inside the creek strewn with difficult- to- penetrate forest which according to a security source, “only a thief can go in there because of his intention”.
Truly, accessing the site is still a daunting task with its attendant risk factors, but fishermen and farmers whose lives depend on the creek for their daily survival get into the area without much ado.
According to an eye witness account, the fire started in a yet -to -be ascertained circumstances with a loud bang and heavy fog. There was also a heavy flame which killed farmers, fishermen, sand dredgers, sand divers and those scoping fuel from the burst pipes. It also burned the new bridge across the river Ethiope.
My people and community not involved – Agoda
With the bitter lessons learnt from the 1998 Jesse explosion, Evangelist Flourish Agoda, the secretary General Idjerhe Development Union (ICDU) who spoke to journalists in Jesse over the unfortunate incident said that the fire was not from the Jesse Kingdom . “It is from the other side of River Ethiope opposite Atigwo village, the direct site of the Jesse October 17th 1998 pipeline inferno”.
He stressed that the people of Jesse saw the fire and discovered that it was not from their community. He warned emphatically that no one should link them with the ugly incident as it is purely the affairs of their neighbouring Ovwore community.
According to him, “considering the magnitude of the incidence, there could be casualties that I could not ascertain because the fire is still raging and the river prevents the people of Jesse from visiting the site to establish the degree of loss of properties and human beings.”
He revealed that “ our youths have since learnt their lessons since the fire incidence of 1998. The community has put in place effective mechanism to checkmate the excesses of youths in the area and bar them from visiting pipelines and other anti-social vices. The youths of Jesse no longer visit the pipeline area for years now”.
But considering the financial gains and social influence that goes with material wealth illegally acquired, how long would the youths be able to sustain their poverty level given the fact that they do not truly have any visible means of livelihood ?
An indigene of Ovwore- Amukpe community who simply identified himself as Mr Sunny said the staff of NNPC are already at the site of the fire battling to put it off and effect immediate repairs to the broken pipeline which caused the spillage that resulted to the fire outbreak.
He appealed to the government at all levels to immediately expedite action by sending relief materials to its Ovwore Community because they no longer have drinking water as their farm lands have been devastated by spilled oil and refined fuel .Properties worth millions of naira were destroyed by the pipeline explosion.
Evangelist Flourish Agoda who is also the Secretary-General of Idjerhe Community Development Union admonished people to look for genuine means of livelihood blaming the get- rich- quick syndrome afflicting the youths for the dubious and criminal activities that usually take their lives at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, divers and family members of persons that lost their lives to the explosions along the Ethiope river were seen combing and ransacking every where along the river bank in search of missing people.Those believed to have died are yet to float out from the bowel of the waters, while NNPC Officials from Benin were seen making frantic efforts to put off the fire to enable them effect immediate repairs to the burst pipeline and prevent them from further spilling refined fuel into the river Ethiope which is the only source of drinking water in the community.
Efforts to get comments on the development from NNPC officials proved abortive as they referred journalists to their corporate headquarters.
Even in the face of this suffering and hardship, some persons were also seen at the river bank at Amukpe killing fish, snakes and other dead aquatic animals they gathered from the polluted river Ethiope which engulfed almost 4 kilometers length of the river terminating at the Gamon Bridge Okirigwre, through Jesse.
The high tension cables carrying current from Ughelli Power Station to Benin via Oshogbo were not also spared by the fire explosion.
The divisional Police Officer in charge of Sapele Police Station C.S.P Emmanuel O. Igwodala who was at the site of the explosion declined comments but the Police Public Relations Officer ( PPRO) Mr Charles Muka,( ASP) confirmed confirmed the incident to Saturday Vanguard without giving details.