A coalition of civil society organizations has raised concerns over what it termed ‘regular and routine oil explosions, describing the recent incident at Ohaji-Egbema as one blowout disaster too many.
Recall that last Saturday, an artisanal refining site in the Niger Delta exploded, killing over 100 persons and injuring dozens.
The explosion which occurred near Ohaji-Egbema’s local government area of Imo State, on the border with Rivers State, reportedly razed large sections of the adjoining forest.
The Coalition now says the incident portends grave danger to that environment, its wildlife, lives and livelihoods of people in the region.
A statement signed by eleven CSOs working on environmental protection expressed worry that despite the regularity of the explosions and the gory deaths, the last 3 years have witnessed worsening ecological disasters in the Niger Delta on account of illegal artisanal refineries.
The coalition flayed the Buhari administration for being too quick to make statements, promising to stamp out illegal refineries and provide better security but doing nothing.
It noted that ”beyond the statements of condemnation and condolences, government at the state and federal level have consistently failed to diligently examine the key factors that drive the proliferation of artisanal refineries despite the exposure of their operators to fatalities.
Artisanal refineries have grown and expanded principally because the government has failed in its responsibilities to provide meaningful engagement for the people, adequately address the prevailing poverty and protect the network of oil installations in the Niger Delta region.
Sadly, thousands of oil fires continue to occur in Nigeria since the tragic pipeline fire at Atiegwo, near Jesse, on 18th October 1998 that led to the death of 1082 citizens.
It is noteworthy that the two states affected in this latest artisanal refinery explosion incident- Imo and Rivers- rank among the highest in unemployment in Nigeria according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Poverty in the region has been compounded by the ecological devastation which has accompanied almost 70 years of ruthless and mindless oil extraction. The millions of barrels of crude oil routinely spilt into the rivers, swamps and lands of the region, and the constant flaring of associated gas have rendered the lands, forests, and rivers unproductive, making traditional income-generating vocations of the people unviable.
While we call on the government to take steps to stop the spate of illegal artisanal refining in the region, we are mindful that this should not be seen as a new opportunity to further entrench the militarization of the region and abuse community rights. It is also important to mention that irrefutable evidence points to the active complicity of law enforcement officers in establishing and running artisanal refineries and by extension oil theft and the so-called third-party interferences. Some law enforcement officers do not only grant operational permits for artisanal refiners to operate freely for a fee, but they are also known to facilitate all aspects of the operations, and in some instances, own and operate their own artisanal refineries.
While we recognize that the recourse to artisanal refining of petroleum products for sale in the local market is a desperate response to the poverty and destitution in the region as well as non-functional refineries, we nonetheless condemn it, especially as it is fast becoming a key cause of death among youths in the region; and a major source of pollution. We, however, call on the government to go beyond the usual military response it always prefers in the Niger Delta, and immediately address other factors that make risking death by roasting seem like the best available survival alternative for the people of the Niger Delta.