At least 20 people have reportedly died at an illegal refinery camp at Kolo Creek in the Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State and many others were said to have suffered varying degrees of injury during the inferno.
The Joint Task Force, Operation Delta Safe, and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, security outfits directly in charge of checking illegal bunkering, pipeline vandalism and illegal refineries, were said to have had knowledge of the camp but allegedly failed to halt its operation.
According to reports, tragedy struck in the camp near the creeks of Ebelebiri and Otuogwe when it exploded on December 5, 2017 and went up in flames. Community sources claimed that an attempt by a woman in the camp to cook noodles, using a stove, sparked the fire that caused the havoc.
An eyewitness described it as tragic, unspeakable and avoidable. “When we got there, I almost vomited. I saw charred remains of people. They were burnt beyond recognition. In some cases, you could only see heads and feet of victims. Despite the burnt bodies, we still met people illegally cooking crude oil there. We thought that security agencies, especially the military, would have taken over the place, but we didn’t meet any security operatives. We only met people who were still refining illegally bunkered crude oil. It was that bad and terrible.”
It was gathered that the camp, allegedly owned by a powerful cartel, had been in operation for a long time. Investigation, however, revealed that the state police command had earlier appealed to security agencies in charge of oil theft, especially the NSCDC and the JTF, to clamp down on the site and arrest the operators. A police source told newsmen that the Commissioner of Police uncovered the existence of the camp through intelligence gathering and warned of dire consequences.
The source said the commissioner had, in September, allegedly dispatched a letter to security commanders in charge of oil theft, appealing to them to treat the matter with urgency. He quoted some parts of the letter as saying, “Information gathered revealed that the presence of ongoing illegal refining of petroleum products such as kerosene, diesel at Ebelebiri and Otuogwe, two communities in the Ogbia LGA of Bayelsa State, under the Kolo jurisdiction. “The activities of these criminals constitute economic sabotage to the nation as well as endangering lives and properties as explosion on this pipeline may lead to disaster”.