Illegal oil refinery blast that killed more than 100 people is a ‘national disaster’, says Nigerian President

Charred bodies were left strewn among scorched palm trees, cars and pickup trucks on Sunday after an explosion killed more than 100 people at an illegal oil refining depot on the border of Nigeria’s Rivers and Imo states.

Flip-flops, bags and clothes belonging to the deceased littered the ground, which was blackened with oil and soot while still emitting smoke in some places despite overnight rain.

“There are so many people who have died here. I plead with the government to look into this,” Uche Woke, a commercial cyclist, told Reuters at the scene on Saturday evening.

The Nigerian Red Cross Society was on site on Sunday to assess the blast, which destroyed part of the Abaezi forest. It straddles the border of Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of ​​Imo State with Rivers State.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that he would step up a crackdown on illegal refineries after what he called a “catastrophe” and a “national catastrophe”.

Fight against illegal refining

Unemployment and poverty in the oil-producing Niger Delta have made illegal refining attractive, but with often deadly consequences. Crude oil is extracted from a network of pipelines owned by major oil companies and refined in makeshift reservoirs.

The process has led to fatal accidents and polluted an area already devastated by oil spills in farmland, creeks and lagoons.

The Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, a local nonprofit, said several vehicles queuing to buy illegal fuel were set on fire.

“The fire occurred at an illegal bunker site and affected more than 100 people,” Goodluck Opiah, the state petroleum resources commissioner, said of the accident.

The border location is a reaction to a recent crackdown in Rivers against illegal refining in an effort to reduce worsening air pollution.

Members of the Nigerian Red Cross Society are seen at the scene of the blast in Ohaji-Egbema on Sunday. (Tife Owolabi/Reuters)

“Over the past two months, there have been several raids and some security officers involved have been attacked,” said Ledum Mitee, former chairman of the Ogoni People’s Survival Movement.

At least 25 people, including children, were killed in an explosion and fire at another illegal refinery in Rivers State in October.

In February, local authorities said they had launched a crackdown on the refining of stolen crude, but with little apparent success.

Government officials estimate that Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and exporter, is losing an average of 200,000 barrels of oil a day, more than 10% of production, to illegal exploitation or vandalism. pipelines.

This has forced oil companies to regularly declare force majeure on oil and gas exports.