A coalition of environment focused civil society organisations has urged the Federal Government to crack down on crude oil thieves and illegal refineries to avert further deaths.
The call came on the heels of Saturday’s fire incident at an illegal refinery site at Ohaji-Egbeme Local Government Area in Imo where over 100 people died.
The group, coordinated by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), in a statement issued on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, by Ms Kome Odhomor, the Media/Communication Head, said unemployment is a driving factor for the people to venture into illegal refineries.
The group, however, urged the government to create alternative livelihood sources for the employed youths across the country.
According to the statement, fire outbreaks from oil theft have continued unabated in the country since October 1998 when pipeline fire broke out at Jesse that led to the death of 1,082 victims.
The civil society organisations said they are concerned about the lives, livelihoods, and environment of the people, following the incessant explosions.
“In October 2021, not less than 25 persons, including children, were killed when an artisanal refinery exploded in Rumuekpe community of Rivers state.
“Recently, on April 11, buildings used in the storage of artistically-refined petroleum products exploded, burnt for days at the Bonny-Bille-Nembe Jetty in Port Harcourt, killing five persons, including a pregnant woman and a baby.
“In spite of the regularity of these explosions and the gory deaths, the last three years have witnessed worsening ecological disasters in the Niger Delta on account of illegal artisanal refineries.
President Muhammadu Buhari has described this explosion and the fatalities as “catastrophe and a national disaster”, promising to find and prosecute sponsors of the illegal activities.
The group said after each gruesome incident, government officials are quick to make statements and promises to stamp out illegal refineries and provide better security.
The coalition said that artisanal refineries have grown due to a 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.
They said the benefit transfer schemes that were established by successive governments to address the endemic unemployment and poverty in the region have all failed to address the economic challenges of the people.
“While we call on the government to take steps to stop the spate of illegal artisanal refining, this should not be seen as an opportunity to further entrench the region militarisation to abuse community rights.
They urged the government to go beyond the military response and immediately address other factors that make death by roasting “look like the best survival alternative for the people of the Niger Delta”.
By Nathan Nwakamma