By Jonathan Ugbal
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A coalition of 11 Civil Society Organizations have accused the government of being insincere in the provision of lasting solutions to the menace of illegal refineries as the country experiences worsening ecological disasters from accidents and explosions.
The CSOs also accused law enforcement officials of complicity in artisanal refining of petroleum products in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The CSOs made the allegations in a joint statement titled “Another Oil Blow Out In The Niger Delta: A Hundred Deaths Too Many” signed by leaders of the CSOs including Nnimmo Bassey – Health of Mother Earth Foundation; Ken Henshaw – We the People; Akinbode Oluwafemi – Corporate Accountability and Popular Participation Africa (CAPPA); Prince Chima Williams – Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN); and Emem Okon – Kebetkache Women Development Resource Center.
Others include Auwal Musa Rafsanjani – Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC); Betty Abah – CEE-HOPET; Tijah Bolton-Akpan – Policy Alert; Constance Meju – Center for Media, Environment and Development Communications; Nne Umoren -Women Initiative for Climate Change, and Taiwo Otitolaye – Green Alliance of Nigeria.
The statement followed the April 23, 2022, explosion, near Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State on the border with Rivers State, which killed over 100 persons and injured dozens. A large section of the adjoining forest was burnt. And, the coalition said this was “regrettable,” especially as, “thousands of oil fires continue to occur in Nigeria since the tragic pipeline fire at Atiegwo, near Jesse, on October 18, 1998, that led to the death of 1,082 citizens.”
Before the Imo explosion, two explosions occurred in October 2021, at Rumuekpe and April 11, 2022, at the Bonny – Bille – Nembe jetty, both in Rivers State leaving at least 30 dead including children, a pregnant woman and a two-month-old baby.
Imo and Rivers States rank among the highest in unemployment in Nigeria – a pointer to the failure of the government in providing “meaningful engagement for the people,” the coalition said. It added that the “prevailing poverty,” corruption in benefit schemes and “ecological devastation which has accompanied almost 70 years of ruthless and mindless oil extraction,” compounded the problem.
“After each gruesome incident, government officials are quick to make statements promising to stamp out illegal refineries and provide better security. In the same manner, President Buhari has described this explosion and the fatalities as a ‘catastrophe, and a national disaster’, promising to find and prosecute the sponsors of the illegal activities,” the statement read.
Furthermore, the CSOs alleged 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, they are also known to facilitate all aspects of the operations. And in some instances, (they) own and operate their own artisanal refineries.”
However, the CSOs condemned the act, even as it feared that this would lead to a further militarization of the Niger Delta region.