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Empower us or we continue operations, illegal refiners tell FG

From TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt

Former illegal oil refiners in Rivers State have declared that they would resume illegitimate refining of petroleum products until the Federal Government empowers them.   The refiners, who are mainly from Ogoni extraction, pointed out that they would return to the business, which according to them was their only source of survival, pending the time the Federal Government provides an alternative.

   They stated their position at the weekend during a one-day consultative meeting with the Minister of State for Environment and Chairman, Governing Council, Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), Ibrahim Jibrin, organised by the office of the Project Coordination, HYPREP, in Port Harcourt.

  Speaking for the ex-artisan refiners, Mr. Domka Humphrey noted that they would only stop refining petroleum products illegally if the Federal Government provides alternative businesses for them.

  He also demanded their participation in the remediation project.   Humphrey said: “I will tell you our minds; if you don’t empower us, we will not stop refining, because this is what we use to feed our families and relatives with.

We don’t have anything doing after government took away pipeline surveillance from us.   “So, we need to be carried along; some of us are graduates; many people are still in the bush refining. If you empower us, we will talk to them and they will leave the bush. But where we are not seeing anything, it would be very difficult for us to leave illegal refining.”

  Meanwhile, Jibrin in his address to the former artisan refiners, promised that the Federal Government in partnership with the Ministry of Petroleum and office of project coordination, HYPREP, would make sure that they are trained in different skills.

  Jibrin said: “I have heard all of you; I’m assuring you that the issue will get to the Acting President. But remember that you have fishes and animals of all kinds; we cannot get them if you contaminate the water with hydrocarbon pollution.

  “We need the mangrove because we use it for firewood. But it is in our own interest to keep our environment clean; it is in our own interest to ensure that whatever we must do we have to take care of our environment.

   “That is why the Federal Government has taken the issue of Modular refinery seriously; it is community based. It is going to be regulated. There is need for us to organize ourselves into responsible cooperatives.”

  The Head Project Coordination, Dr. Marvin Dekil, also urged the illegal refiners to stop their activities, stressing that it would affect the Ogoni clean-up project negatively.

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