July 22, 2024

Imo Illegal refinery deaths: CSOs urge FG to intensify clampdown, create jobs

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Nathan Tamarapreye, Yenagoa

A coalition of environment focused Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on Wednesday urged the Federal Government to intensify ongoing crackdown on crude theft and illegal refineries to avert further deaths.

The call is coming on the heels of Saturday’s fire incident at an illegal refinery site at Ohaji-Egbeme LGA in Imo where over 100 died in the inferno.

The CSOs, coordinated by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in a statement observed that unemployment was a driving factor and urged the government to create alternative livelihood sources for u employed youths.

The statement signed by 11 CSOs was issued by Ms Kome Odhomor, Media/Communication Lead at HOMEF recalled that oil fires have continued in Nigeria since the Oct 1998 pipeline fire at Jesse that led to the death of 1082.

“As civil society organizations concerned about the lives, livelihoods, and environment of the people, we are deeply concerned that in recent times, these explosions have become more regular and routine.

“In October 2021, no less than 25 persons including children were killed when an artisanal refinery exploded in Rumuekpe community of Rivers state.

“More recently on the 11th of April 2022, buildings used in the storage of artistically refined petroleum products exploded and burnt for days at the Bonny-Bille-Nembe jetty in Port Harcourt, killing five persons including a pregnant woman and a two-month-old baby.

“Despite the regularity of these explosions and the gory deaths, the last 3 years have witnessed worsening ecological disasters in the Niger Delta on account of illegal artisanal refineries.

“After each gruesome incident, government officials are quick to make statements promising to stamp out illegal refineries and provide better security.

“President Buhari has described this explosion and the fatalities as “catastrophe and a national disaster”, promising to find and prosecute the sponsors of the illegal activities,” the statement read in part.

The coalition noted that artisanal refineries have grown due to lack of meaningful engagement with the people and failure to tackle the prevailing poverty and inadequate security of oil installations in the Niger Delta region.

The group stated that the two states affected in this artisanal refinery explosion incident, Imo and Rivers, rank among the highest in unemployment in Nigeria according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

They regretted that benefit transfer schemes established by successive governments to address the endemic unemployment and poverty in the region have all failed to address the economic challenges the people of the region face.

According to them, the schemes include the 13% derivation policy and the Niger Delta Development Commission amongst others.

“A point in reference is the open and endemic corruption which continues to plague the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

“The 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, however, 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,” they stated.

They condemn the sale of illegally refined petroleum products in the open markets adding that the trend is fast becoming a key cause of death among youths in the region; and a major source of pollution.

They urged the government to go beyond the military response in the Niger Delta, and immediately address other factors that make risking death by roasting seems like the best available survival alternative for the people of the Niger Delta.

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