Imo Illegal Refinery Disaster – HURIWA Blames FG; Imo State Govt

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Prominent Civil rights advocacy group- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has asked President Muhammadu Buhari and the Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma to stop chasing shadows and speaking from both sides of their mouths over the recent inferno that engulfed an illegal REFINERY site in Imo State leading to the killing of over 100 persons engaged in crude oil bunkering.

HURIWA has asked the duo of President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor Hope Uzodinma to hold themselves and the governments they sit on top as heads of the Executive arms responsible for abysmally failing the people by not proactively uncovering the existence of the illegal Crude Oil bunkering site or for covering up the criminal enterprise but have now engaged in ‘channel noise’ since the fire engulfed the venue of the illegality in Imo State.

HURIWA recalled that at least a hundred persons were feared dead as fire razed an illegal crude oil refining site at Abaezi forest, in Ohaji-Egbema council area of Imo State. This ugly incident, which happened in the early hours of Sunday, also had about one hundred and fifty others sustained serious degrees of burns.

HURIWA recalled that during his visit to the scene, the state governor, Hope Uzodimma, represented by the state Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Goodluck Opiah, expressed shock over the incident and condemned the illegal activity leading to the deaths.

Opiah who hailed from the area, also disclosed that the owner of the illegal refinery, Okenze Onyewoke had been declared wanted by the government of Imo State.

“I can’t really confirm the number of the deceased because many family members have removed the corpses of so many others,” Opiah said.

“Apart from this calamity, the act has destroyed the aquatic life of the community. Our people before now are predominantly farmers and fishermen.

“Look around, you’ll find smokes coming from this illegal act. If this is not enough for any person to stop, I think the community is heading for what I can’t describe.

He continued, “most of the people who are engaging in this act are from Rivers, Bayelsa and other neighbouring states and it is sabotage for our people to allow this illegal activity to continue.

“I wish to appeal to our youths to desist from making themselves available for this illegal act. This is a suicidal business they got themselves into.”

“On behalf of Imo State Government, we condole with the bereaved family. Imo State Government pray God gives the family of those who lost their lives the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss,” he added.

HURIWA which condemned the activities of crude oil bunkering by some hoodlums however said the Federal Government and the Imo State Government are guilty of permitting the gory incident by failing in their statutory duties of providing security to lives and property of the citizens because specifically, the Imo State government couldn’t get the actionable intelligence on the activities of the illegal bunkering hoodlums so as to deploy the needed mechanisms of law enforcement in collaboration with the Federal Government to pre-emptively stop these activities of illegal bunkering.

HURIWA said on the part of the Federal government, it specifically failed ab initio to build at least one functional REFINERY in Imo State which is one of the most prolific crude oil producing states but the government at the centre chose to site REFINERY in far away Kaduna whereby there is no trace of a single drop of crude oil deposits.

“Why is the Federal Government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari making needless noise after the ugly fire incident in Imo State has already killed over 100 persons allegedly involved in illegal Crude Oil bunkering? Why has President Muhammadu Buhari not considered building one REFINERY in Imo State but opted to rather invest billions of tax payers money in Niger Republic? This same President who is wasting over $2 billion USD borrowed by Nigeria to build railways in Niger Republic that is not under Nigeria’s jurisdiction is crying out his heart hypocritically after 100 Imo State citizens who went to refine crude oil illegally perished?

Why did the Federal Government not erect one REFINERY in Imo State and why did the armed Security services under the command and control of President Muhammadu Buhari unable to detect these illegal bunkering activities or were the soldiers part of the illegality? So instead of making unnecessary noise in the media, the President and the governor of Imo State should constitute a judicial commission of inquiry to find out why these illegal REFINERY site was allowed to operate even with all the massive deployment of soldiers to Imo State and South East of Nigeria?”

HURIWA also carpeted the Federal Government’s controlled Nigeria National Petroleum Company for failing to detect the activities of the illegal Crude Oil thieves in the Imo site that was recently engulfed in fire with over 100 illegal Crude Oil thieves being burnt to ashes even when since 2021 the NNPC set up a National investigative committee to track illegal refineries in the oil producing areas of Southern Nigeria?

HURIWA recalled that the Federal Government had on Thursday 23rd September 2021 inaugurated an inter-ministerial committee to tackle illegal refinery of crude oil in the Niger Delta region.

The then acting solicitor-general of the federation (SGF) and permanent secretary in the federal ministry of justice, Umar Mohammed, who represented the minister, said the move was in a bid to block revenue leakages.

“The major mandate of the committee is to recover illegally refined petroleum products (crude oil) in the dug-up pits found around the creeks of the Niger Delta”.

Members of the committee were drawn from the ministry of defence, army, navy, defence headquarters, civil defence corps and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Others are from the federal ministries of justice and environment, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.

Recall that the military in August 2021 deactivated some illegal refineries in Niger Delta. Troops of the Operation Delta Safe deactivated several illegal refining sites and recovered large volumes of refined petroleum products and crude oil in the region.

Acting director of defence information, Bernard Onyeuko (brigadier general), had disclosed the operations of the military in Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta led to the discovery and deactivation of several illegal refining sites. A total of 21 ovens, 12 dugout pits and 58 metal storage tanks with 2.329 million litres of illegally refined diesel and 2.19 million litres of stolen crude oil were recovered.

Also recovered were two boilers and 750 bags of illegally refined petroleum products, one speed boat, one AK-47 rifle, one FN rifle, three smoke gun rifles, 12 fabricated RPGs, 263 live cartridges, 20 rounds of 7.62mm NATO and 7.62mm special ammunition among other items.

HURIWA therefore wonders why with the massive deployment of soldiers in Imo State the state governor couldn’t find out the illegal refining sites in the state not until the major fire incident occurred and then both the governor and President Muhammadu Buhari have continued to make unnecessary noise in the media as if anything positive would happen.

Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko
National Coordinator
April 25th 2022.

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