FRIDAY, April 24, 2022, was a black day in Imo State and the country at large due to the explosion at an illegal refinery in Abaezi Community of Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State which claimed over 120 lives.
The scale of the tragedy became obvious when videos of charred remains of the victims and property emerged. As usual, the Federal and Imo State governments were quick with their reactive responses through condolence messages and the dispatch of officials to the site. President Muhammadu Buhari also ordered security forces to clamp down on all illegal bunkering and refining facilities throughout the Niger Delta and bring their perpetrators to justice.
If Nigeria were a truly functional country, illegal refineries would not be possible in the first place. As an oil-producing country, we would not be selling only crude to the world market. We would have enough modern and modular refineries adequately supplying our local needs and earning valuable foreign exchange. But because of the incompetent management of our oil resources, oil thieves roam our oilfields unchecked, with Nigeria losing 150,000 barrels of oil per day or $4bn annually, according to the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC.
This, and our total dependence on imported petroleum products give vent to the emergence of illegal refineries in the oil-producing communities. These criminal facilities are fed with stolen crude and produce mostly diesel, which is scarce and expensive because its price is no longer subsidised. Apart from the economic sabotage and rendering of the Niger Delta as an unsafe zone for legitimate maritime activities, the illegal refineries are major sources of environmental pollution. The underground water resources and even the air are cynically polluted in Rivers State.
Black soot is a major menace in Port Harcourt and environs, endangering the health of the people.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State recently embarked on a crackdown on illegal refineries. It became obvious that those behind them are highly-placed and politically- connected individuals who are big enough to steal our crude oil and get away with it with the connivance of security personnel. Understandably, the public is sceptical about the president’s “marching order”.
As soon as the noise over this tragedy dies down, it is likely going to be business as usual. The people sent to close down the facilities and fish out the culprits are part of the problem. How can they solve it?
We demand a totally new approach to this problem. We must be like other oil-producing countries where oil theft is almost nonexistent, refineries work efficiently and the industry is properly regulated and policed in the interest of the economy and environmental sanity. Otherwise, we will stay mired in the problem.
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