By Samuel Oyadongha
YENAGOA-NOTWITHSTANDING the December 5 explosion that killed over 20 persons at an illegal oil refining site at Kolo Creek, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, greedy crude oil thieves have, barely a week after, recommenced business even with scalded remains of victims strewn at the scene.
A village dweller told NDV during the week, “When we got to the site, popularly known as ‘Kpofire,’ between Ebelebiri and Otuogwe communities a week after the explosion, I almost vomited. I saw charred remains of people burnt beyond recognition. In some cases, you could only see heads and feet of victims, but despite the burnt bodies, we still met people illegally cooking crude oil there.”
He said the locals were worried that the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, codenamed Operation Delta Safe and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, have not swooped on them, raising fear of another catastrophe.
His words, “We thought that security agencies especially soldiers would have taken over the place, but we did not meet any security operative. We only met people who are still refining illegally bunkered crude oil. It was terrible.”
Sources called for investigation of the owners of the camp and security operatives, alleging compromise and conspiracy.
However, operators of the camps have devised a trick of carrying out their trade in the dead of the night because of the massive carbon emitted into the atmosphere in order not to give away their location.
Fire from a cooking stove of a food vendor, who was allegedly preparing noodles, triggered the latest explosion at the bunkering camp, tucked in Kolo creeks between Ebelebiri and Otuogwe communities. It went up in flames and spread quickly, consuming almost everybody in the camp, except about three persons, who escaped by the whiskers with severe burns.
Police danger alarm supposedly disregarded
A highly placed security source hinted that the state Police Command alerted the JTF and NSCDC of the illegal activities at the site before the unfortunate December 5 incident.
The source said the Commissioner of Police, Asuquo Amba, uncovered the existence of the camp through intelligence gathering and warned of the consequences.
He said the Commissioner on September 21 dispatched a letter to the respective security commanders, appealing to them to treat the matter with urgency.
The source quoted the letter as saying in part, “Information gathered revealed the presence of ongoing illegal refining of petroleum products like kerosene, diesel at Ebelebiri and Otuogwe, two communities in Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State under the Kolo jurisdiction. The activities of these criminals constitute economic sabotage to the nation as well as endangering lives and properties, as explosion on this pipeline may lead to disaster.”
“ It is disheartening to hear that despite the warning, the explosion still occurred and claimed lives,” he lamented.
PPRO keeps mum on correspondence
Contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Bayelsa Police Command, Mr. Butswat Asinim, refused to confirm the correspondence from his boss about the existence of the camp before the blast to other security commanders.
He simply said, “There was a fire outbreak at an illegal bunkering camp at Ebelebiri and Otuegwe II community. Few persons were feared to have been burnt to death while others sustained severe burns.”
Three persons, who survived the inferno, were rushed to the Cottage Hospital, Otuasega for medical attention. They are Timi Gaji, male, 21, from Southern Ijaw; Benjamin Theophilus, male, 20, from Elebele community and James Meshack, 21, from Delta State, but residing at Igbogene.
Disaster foretold – Samiama, SDN Coordinator
A concerned Bayelsan and Coordinator, Stakeholder Democratic Network, SDN, Inemo Samiama, some years back, described the illegal refining and bunkering activities as a waiting disaster that needed the attention of all to be stamped out.
He had warned, “We should all be worried about the level of environmental degradation caused by bunkering and illegal refining in our communities. We are destroying our land, rivers and families with these activities. It is time someone raises the alarm about the sheer scale of environmental destruction that is taking place, and this is entirely caused by our men and youth, not Shell, Agip or Chevron.”
“If only the communities had pursued the illegal bunkerers with the same vigour they tackled the oil majors, perhaps the situation would have been better in the hinterland,” he asserted.
We need holistic approach – Morris, environmentalist
Also speaking on the development, renowned environmentalist, Comrade Alagoa Morris, said, “It is an unfortunate, lawless phase that Nigeria is passing through and I do not think we will be doing justice to the situation if we single out only this kpofire thing out of the myriads of negative things sailing in the country presently.”
“Only a holistic approach to the crimes that are threatening to bring this country to her knees will be adequate. That is why the non-implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference has prompted the call for restructuring.
“Our social institutions are in a state of comatose and institutions, which ought to be the strong pillars of society are weak here And so, law enforcement agencies too are culpable in these crimes of stealing and looting.
“We cannot effectively stop it because the political leaders also lack the moral justification as they have also, by their actions, impoverished the people and made society very unsafe,” he said.
The environmentalist noted, “Such a scenario is very favourable for some set of folks to take advantage of and thrive. In those days, you hardly see police officers and soldiers owning landed property, cars and fat bank accounts, but today, because security personnel are involved in trading with their uniforms and guns; society is getting worse by the day.”