2 Suspects Wanted as 100 Die in Nigerian Oil Refinery Explosion

A Nigerian oil official says up to 100 people may have been killed in an explosion at an illegal oil refinery in southeastern Nigeria.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement, called the blast a “catastrophe and a national disaster.”

Friday night’s explosion at the facility in the Ohaji-Egbema local government area of ​​Imo state was sparked by a fire in two fuel storage areas where more than 100 people worked, state officials told The Associated. Press.

Dozens of workers were trapped in the explosion, while many others tried to escape the fire by running into wooded areas.

Those who died in the disaster are estimated to be in the “100 range”, said Goodluck Opiah, the Imo oil resources commissioner. “Many of them ran to the bush with the burns and died there.”

Buhari has ordered the nation’s security forces to “intensify the crackdown” on such facilities operating illegally in many parts of southern Nigeria, a spokesman said in a statement.

Although Nigeria is the largest producer of crude oil in Africa, for many years its oil production capacity has been limited by the chronic challenge of oil storage and the operation of illegal refineries.

Nigeria lost at least $3 billion worth of crude oil to theft between January 2021 and February 2022, and shady business operators often avoid regulators by setting up refineries in remote areas like the one that blew up in Imo, the Oil Regulatory Commission Nigerian Upstream Petroleum (NUPRC). ) said in March.

“There are no arrests yet, but the two culprits are on the run and police are now looking for them,” said Declan Emelumba, the Imo state information commissioner. Authorities did not release the identities of the suspects.

A mass burial is being planned for those killed in the blast, many of whom “were burned beyond recognition,” Emelumba said. Environmental officials have begun fumigating the area.

Such disasters occur regularly in Africa’s most populous country, where poverty and unemployment (33% according to the latest government estimates) have forced millions of young people into criminal activities.

Operating illegal refineries is not as popular in Imo state as it is in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, where militants have gained notoriety for blowing up pipelines and kidnapping oil company workers.

Some 30 illegal oil refiners were arrested in the Niger Delta region in just two weeks, the Nigerian Defense Department said earlier this month as it announced a task force to curb crude oil theft.

In the wake of the explosion in Imo state, Nigeria’s Oil Ministry told The AP that there is “renewed action” to address illegal activities in the oil sector.

The government and the army are stepping up actions “to minimize crime on oil production lines,” said Horatius Egua, a senior oil ministry official.

But many of the culprits are undaunted, even in Imo state, one of the few oil-producing places in southeastern Nigeria. The problem of illegal refineries “has never been so bad” and remains “hard to end,” said Opiah, the Imo oil commissioner.

“It’s like asking why kidnapping or armed robbery hasn’t stopped,” he said. “Even with this incident, not many people will be discouraged. I am sure more illegal refineries will spring up elsewhere.”

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