BY OSA OKHOMINA, Yenagoa
There is an unusual silence in Bayelsa State following the explosion at an illegal refinery camp in Kolo Creek area of Ogbia local government area of the state, killing over 20 persons and injures others.
LEADERSHIP gathered that though the source of the explosion at the illegal refinery camp cannot be confirmed, a member of the Ebelebiri and Otuogwe communities told leadership that a fire from a cooking stove by the food vendor in the camp ignited an explosion.
Indigenes of the communities argued that though the incident occurred few days ago, the decision of the authorities of the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police to keep silent over the incident is unsettling.
A source also confirmed to LEADERSHIP yesterday that eight days after the incident, the operators of the illegal refinery camps have resumed full operation with security harassment.
The December 5 explosion ignited flames and the fire was said to have spread quickly consuming almost everybody in the camp except about three persons, who escaped by the whiskers with severe burns.
Sources said an attempt by a woman in the camp to cook noodles using a stove sparked the fire that wreaked havoc in the camp.
Charred remains of the victims were reportedly littered in the area.
A source, who visited the scene of the disaster, 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.”
He added: “We thought that security agencies especially soldiers would have taken over the place, but we didn’t meet any security operative. We only met people who were still refining illegally bunkered crude oil. It was terrible.”
It was learnt that the camp is said to have been owned by a powerful cartel, with known politicians and security personnel benefiting from an operation that had lasted for long.
Sources called for an investigation between the owners of the camp and security operatives alleging compromise and conspiracy.
But investigation by LEADERSHIP revealed that the State Police command had earlier appealed to security agencies in charge of oil theft especially NSCDC and the JTF to clamp down the site and arrest operators.
A highly-placed police source, who spoke in confidence, said the commissioner of Police, Asuuo Amba, uncovered the existence of the camp through intelligence gathering and warned of consequences.
He said the commissioner on September 21st dispatched a letter to responsible security commanders 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 like kerosene, diesel at Ebelebiri and Otuogwe, two communities in Ogbia local government area 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.”
The source said it was disheartening to hear that despite the warning, the explosion still occurred and claimed lives.
When contacted, the police public relations officer (PPRO), Mr Butswat Asinim, confirmed the explosion but he said few persons died and others sustained injuries.
He however, refused to confirm a letter from the commissioner of Police, Asuquo Amba, to other security commanders about the existence of the camp before the explosion.
He said: “There was a fire outbreak at an illegal bunkering camp at Ebelebiri and Otuegwe II community. Few persons were feared to have been burnt to death while others sustained severe burns.
“Three persons who survived the inferno were rushed to the Cottage Hospital Otuasiga for medical attention. They are Timi Gaji, male, 21, from Southern Ijaw; Benjamin Theophilus, male, 20, from Elebele community and James Meshack 21 from Delta State but resides at Igbogene.