By Iliya Kure
Scores have died Friday night, in southeast Nigeria, when an explosion rocked an illegal crude oil refinery in Abaezi forest, Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State.
Eye witnesses who spoke with journalists local, put the casualty figure between 100 and 200.
AFRICA PRIME NEWS gathered that several other people were injured and six vehicles got burnt in the incident.
Imo State Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Goodluck Opiah, has described the incident as unfortunate, describing illegal oil bunkering as “suicidal business.”
“At the moment, I can’t really confirm the number of the deceased because many family members have removed the corpses of so many others,” the commissioner said, during an on-the-spot assessment visit on Saturday.
The commissioner said government has declared the owner of the illegal refinery, Okenze Onyenwaoke, wanted.
“Most of the people who are engaging in this act are from Rivers, Bayelsa and other neigbouring states and it is sabotage for our people to allow this illegal act to continue.
The commissioner therefore advised Mr Onyenwaoke to make himself available to the police immediately.
“Apart from this calamity, the act has destroyed the aquatic life in the community. Our people before now were predominantly farmers and fishermen.
“Look around, you will find smoke 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,” said Mr Opiah, who hails from the area.
An eyewitness say majority of the victims in the incident were youth, adding that they could not escape because the fire engulfed the whole forest.
“I rarely see old people involved in this illegal act. They are mainly youths,” he said.
“It is a popular business here. I think they make it there, that’s why they take such risks,” he added.