Burnt bodies were strewn among palm trees, cars and trucks Sunday in a weekend explosion that killed more than 100 people at an illegal oil refinery on the border between the Rivers and Nigeria’s emo states.
The flip-flops, bags and clothes of the dead were scattered on the floor, which was darkened by oil and smoke, while in some places it was still smoking despite rain all night. “Many people have died here. I beg the government to deal with this,” business cyclist Uche Vogue told Reuters at the scene on Saturday night.
The Nigerian Red Cross arrived at the scene on Sunday to assess the shelling, which destroyed part of the Abyssinian forest. It borders the Ohaji-Ekbema Local Government Area of Emo State with Rivers State. Nigerian President Mohammed Buhari said in a statement that he would step up a ban on illegal refineries after describing it as a “disaster” and a “national disaster”.
Action against illegal purging
Unemployment and poverty in the oil-producing Niger Delta have made illegal refining attractive, but often with deadly consequences. Crude oil is extracted from a network of pipelines owned by major oil companies and refined in temporary tanks.
The process has caused dangerous accidents and has already polluted an area affected by oil spills on farmland, streams and ponds. The Advisory Center for Youth and the Environment, a local nonprofit organization, said several vehicles queuing to buy illegal fuel were set on fire.
“There was an illegal bunker fire that affected more than 100 people,” said Goodluck Ophia, state commissioner of petroleum resources. The location of the border is a reaction to the recent campaign against the illegal treatment of rivers in an effort to reduce bad air pollution. Members of the Nigerian Red Cross are seen at the scene of an explosion in Ohaji-Ekbema on Sunday. (Different Zoology / Reuters)
“In the last month or two, there have been many trials,” said Ledam Mitti, a former leader of the Okoni People’s Survival Movement. An explosion and fire at another illegal refinery in Rivers state in October killed at least 25 people, including some children.
In February, local authorities said they had launched an operation to refine the stolen crude, but it was apparently unsuccessful. Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and exporter, loses an average of 200,000 barrels of oil a day, more than 10 percent of its production, due to illegal drilling or destruction of pipelines.
This has forced oil companies to continue declaring Force wages on oil and gas exports.