Explosion At Illegal Oil Refinery in Southeast Nigeria Kills Scores

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — In one of the deadliest explosions in years, fire and blast shook south-eastern Nigeria, Imo state, possibly the result of illegal oil refining of stolen crude or “kpofire”.

News reports described charred bodies left scattered among burnt palms, cars and vans after the weekend explosion which killed more than 100 people at an illegal depot on the border of Nigeria’s Rivers and Imo states.

The explosions are worsening air pollution in the Delta and causing respiratory problems for some residents, city officials say.

Most of the victims were workers at the illegal refinery, Timothy Obiezu of the Voice of America reported.

Energy expert Odion Omonfoman said the high rate of poverty and deprivation in the region is the reason many locals are endangering their lives.

“If you have a fuel station in a community, that community must have electricity, must have some form of energy source for cooking,” he said. “Until you start addressing the basic needs of people… and you’d be shocked …meeting their basic needs can make them go to this extreme length.”

The Nigerian Red Cross Society was on the scene on Sunday to assess the blast, which destroyed a section of the Abaezi forest.

Unemployment and poverty in oil-producing Niger Delta has made illegal crude refining an attractive but deadly business.

The Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre said several vehicles that lined up to buy illegal fuel were burnt.

“The fire outbreak occurred at an illegal distribution sites and it affected over 100 people,” Goodluck Opiah, the state commissioner for petroleum resources, said of the accident.

The border location was constructed in response to a recent crackdown in Rivers on illegal refining in an effort to reduce worsening air pollution.

“In the last month or two, there were several raids and some security agents involved were tackled,” Ledum Mitee, former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), said.

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

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

Illegal refineries are common in Nigeria, where shady business operators often avoid regulations and taxes by setting up refineries in remote areas, out of sight of authorities.

Environmental groups say the way to end the illegal industry is for the government to fund small refineries. This would be cheaper and simpler to run and also create jobs.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari described the incident as a “catastrophe and a national disaster.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 April 2022]

Photo Credit: The Financial Express, Nigeria

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