AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE EGBEMA FIRE INCIDENT
By Rachel Izuogu Onah
Egbema is an Oil-producing Community, located in both Imo and Rivers States respectively. Thirteen (13) Villages are in Imo State, while Three (3) Villages are in Rivers State. Some believe that the reason the Community was split between two States is because of Political interests.
Because the Community has a large deposit of Crude Oil, a lot of oil exploration is going on there, with some International Oil Companies located in the Community, like Shell and Agip among others. Despite the presence of these oil Companies in the Area, the People of Egbema lack basic amenities like Electricity, Portable Water and good Roads, as a result of years of neglect and abandonment by these oil Companies. This has led the Youths in this Community to engage in some illegitimate practices like oil bunkering and oil theft.
Sometime in April 2022, there was a huge Fire incident in Abaezi, one of the villages in Egbema, and this led to the death of 110 People in the area, including Youths, Men and Women.
MY INVESTIGATION TO UNRAVEL THE CAUSE OF THE FIRE
In an attempt to unravel the cause of the ugly incident, I visited the Scene of the Incident, where I saw Many Tankers lined up this time a bit far away from the scene of the Fire Incident. On noticing that I just came in there, one of the boys who refused to tell me his name for fear of being exposed as an illegal oil Bunkerer, approached me and asked if I wanted some products, (referring to the illegally refined Petrol.) I asked him how much a Tanker of Petrol which is 33000 liters of Petrol, cost he said I can get it for one Million Naira. This sounded interesting to me because that same quantity of Petrol sells at Two Million Naira at a Standard Depot. This accounts for why many oil dealers prefer sourcing Products from these Boys who refine crude illegally. As I was still trying to negotiate with the boy, a man putting on Police uniform, walked up to me and introduced himself as one of the officers sent to guard the Pipelines around Egbema, asked if I want some Products, that he can give me at a cheaper rate. I exchanged pleasantries with him, and asked him how much he would sell his own. He said he could give me for 800 Thousand Naira. I asked if he cannot go lower than that amount, he said it’s the last price. When I asked him his name, he said I should just call him officer. At that point I left the place and told them ill come back, that I just came to find out the Price. I was startled to see that even the security operatives sent to safeguard the oil Pipelines are deeply involved in this illegal oil Business. There is a ready Market for the illegally refined oil, and this is encouraging the Community boys to go into this illegal oil Bunkering.
On my way out of the scene, I met a young man and called him aside to ask him how long this Bunkering and selling of petrol has been going on. He said its been going on for more than five years, before the fire outbreak. I sought to know how they ‘settle’ the security operatives that secure the pipelines. He said they introduce the security operatives to the business and sometimes, they give them some unspecified amount of Money regularly, in other not to get exposed.
STUDIO-BASED INTERVIEW ON RADIO
Armed with the above findings, I invited some indigenes of Egbema for a talk-show on the cause of the Egbema Fire . one of them is Barrister Prince Nwakibea, President of Egbema Elites and Professionals, and he made shocking revelations. Prince Nwakibea noted that because the International Oil Companies are drilling oil from Egbema Community for Decades now and neglecting both the People and the Community, many of the Youths are unemployed , members of the Communty are drinking polluted water, and coming down with various ailments, their main source of livelihood which is Fishing and Farming, has been destroyed as a result of Water Pollution, resulting from the activities of these International Oil Companies. This has made the Youths of the Community. To take to Illegal Oil Bunkering activities, which was the reason for the massive Fire Incident in the Community, that claimed more than One Hundred Lives.
I also interacted with a woman in the Community, Miss Chioma Oguegbu, who revealed that these oil companies pay Bribes to the Youth Leaders, Chiefs and Elders of Egbema Community, to ensure they do not organize the Youths for Protests against the Oil Companies. This has further worsened the plight of the Egbema People, because the People that ought to speak for them have been bought over.
From the above gory picture, it does appear that the People of Egbema Community will continue suffering as there is no hope in sight for them. The Imo State and Rivers State Governors are not doing much to alleviate the plight of the Egbema People. According to Barrister Nwakibea. They are hardly considered, when it comes to Political appointments.
The National Emergency Management Agency has said that it is difficult to extract testimony of what happened at the Fire Scene, because everybody who knew what happened is dead. But the People from the Community I interviwed above, including one Mr Nnamdi Oyichukwu insist that the Fire erupted as a result of illegal Oil Refining.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed that those involved in the illegal activity be arrested and prosecuted. How can they be arrested? When they are already dead? So many Questions beckoning for answers.
If the International Oil Companies Operating in Egbema are not held accountable, God forbid, we may see this scenario playing out more often.
Chiefs, Youth Bodies, Political office Holders from Egbema, and the State Government, should rise up and make the International Oil Companies to provide basic amenities like Roads, Electricity, Water and Jobs for the Egbema People, to avoid a repeat of this ugly Incident.