Over 15 persons and two pregnant women have lost their lives due to the activities of illegal refining of crude oil at Rumucholu community in Ibaa , Emohua Local Government Area which occurred in the early hours of Monday, October 2, 2023.
Following massive and intensive clamp down and destruction of illegal refineries by 26 Support Engineer Regiment (SER – Nigeria Army Engineers) in collaboration with Pipeline Infrastructures Nigeria Limited (PINL) along the row and its corridor, It was gathered from a community source who pleaded anonymity, that the fire incident occurred as a result of attempt to set up illegal refinery, popularly called “kpo-fire”, at the said location as the GSA and PINL had previously destroyed the illegal refinery at the same location about 2 weeks ago.
The source further stated that the accident could be linked to fear of a clamp down or arrest as PINL and GSA maintain an all round the clock presence especially at night.
Representative of PINL who spoke to journalists at the scene of the incidence, said the feedback from some community members reveals the victims were burnt due to the illegal refining at the location as the illicit business was hurriedly carried out for fear of the private security contractor – PINL and GSA who had intensified destruction of illegal refineries over the last six (6) months.
The PINL representative, who led his team along with some stakeholders to the scene, expressed worry that after engaging hundreds of youths in Ibaa communities, in public enlightenment on the danger of illegal refining, they still engaged themselves in the illicit business of crude oil theft and illegal refining.
He further said that the company will not relent in its synergy with the community stakeholders and relevant security agencies towards sensitizing the youths to shun all forms of illegal crude oil refining in the area and also keep the TNP safe.
On his part, the Chief Security Officer of Ibaa Community, Rufus Welekwe while expressing sadness over the incident, appealed to the youths of the community to stay away from illegal crude oil refining and ensure they engage themselves in legitimate business.
“I’m not happy with what has happened. The Nyenweli has been shouting for everybody to stop this because FG does not want it and we don’t want it in our community.
“Now it has happened, and they have seen the result. They said some are from Ogbodo community, some from Rumuji community, some from Odogha and I can’t exactly know”, he said, adding that plans are on to hand over the corpses to their relatives to avoid an epidemic.
Meanwhile, some family members of the affected victims that burnt to death expressed sadness over the loss of their loved ones.
Pastor Henry Iyenatobo, 32-year old elder brother to the only recognisable victim said he was in church and was called to come to Ibaa as his younger brother had died as a result of kpo-fire business.
“Eric Isaac-Okoro is his name.
I didn’t have a clue that he was into this kind of business because if I knew I would have stopped him on time”, he said, and expressed his surprise at the development, adding, “That is not how he was brought up. We were trying to train him on welding”.
Brother to another victim, a girl, from Rumuji Town who gave his name as Mfata Prince, said he never knew his sister was into the kpo-fire business.
His words, “She moved down to Ibaa to live with her boy friend from Ibaa. We have been begging her to come back home but she refused.
“Her boyfriend was not involved. According to the people I spoke to, her boyfriend is in the house while she came here to do bunkering.
“We are yet to identify the body but according to the boyfriend she left in the night to come here that’s how we knew she is one of the victims”, he said.
Reacting to the incident, Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area, Dr. Chidi Lloyd expressed sadness that some youths still engage in illegal oil activities despite numerous advocasies to educate them about the dangers involved.
He called on traditional rulers in the area to speak out against criminal activities within their domain.
“It is unfortunate that people who have been misguided will lose their lives in that kind of manner. I have said several times, that there cannot be any shortcut to wealth. I have also said to traditional rulers that they have a duty to expose criminal elements within their neighborhood”, the EMOLGA boss said.
Hon Lloyd also identified Obele, Rumuji and Ibaa as places where illegal oil refining activities have persisted.