ABUJA: More than 100 people were killed overnight in an explosion at an illegal oil refining depot on the border of Nigeria’s Rivers and Imo states, a local government official and an environmental group said on Saturday.
“The fire outbreak occurred at an illegal bunkering site and it affected over 100 people who were burnt beyond recognition,” the state commissioner for petroleum resources, Goodluck Opiah, said.
Opiah said unidentified burned bodies littered the area, disclosing that the government had already declared wanted the operator of the illegal oil refinery, who is said to be currently absconding.
The explosion was suddenly heard in the forest between the states of Imo and Rivers, with thick smoke engulfing the entire area, according to Collins Ajie, a community leader and President-General of the Supreme Council of Oil and Gas Producing Areas in Imo.
“It is unfortunate; a tragedy no one dreamed of where about 108 burned bodies have been counted so far,” Ajie told Xinhua by telephone.
“A lot of people died. The people who died are all illegal operators,” said Michael Abattam, spokesman of the Imo State Police Command. The Imo state government is also looking for the owner of the refinery where the explosion occurred and have declared him a wanted individual, an official said.
Illegal refineries are common in Nigeria where shady business operators often avoid regulations and taxes by setting up refineries in remote areas, out of sight of authorities.
The practice is so widespread that is it affecting Nigeria’s crude oil production, in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil but it has very few refineries and as a result most gasoline and other fuels are imported.
Oil pipeline vandalism and oil theft are frequently reported in Nigeria, causing huge economic losses.