The Sun News

Uproar trails pipeline explosion in Rivers

From TONY JOHN & CHIKA MADU, Port Harcourt    

There  have  been claims and counter-claims  over  the actual cause of the recent  pipeline gas explosion that rocked  Evekwu, Rumuji, Rumuodogo  and  Ibaa  communities  in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State. The number of  people said to have lost their lives during the unfortunate  incident  has  risen  to 10, Daily Sun learnt.

Some of  the  victims  were said to have  drowned as they were trying to  run away from the explosion site. Others  were choked  to death, while  others  died as a result  of stampede.

While residents attributed the incident  to pressure on the aged pipelines, others said it was caused by  the activities of  the vandals. The explosion was said to have emanated from oil facility operated by the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). Some  residents claimed it was as a result of equipment failure, while  others  preferred to refer  to  it as  mere accident.

Another  source ruled out  blowing up  of  the pipeline by the militants, but  reasoned that it might have been  the  normal explosion from  gas pipeline. Chief  Ndudirim  Amadi  explained  that the incident  occurred  at  about  2:00pm that fateful day,  and  attributed it  to much pressure on the pipeline.

He  disclosed  that  the facility was  a high pressure pipeline between Rumuji  and Evekwu communities, operated by NLNG and “marked keep off.” He said the pipeline exploded on its own as a result of  too much  pressure, that  could no longer be contained by the facility:

“I don’t  know what caused it. But, I think the pressure was much on the pipe that was why it exploded. It  has caused fear in our community. The  force  with which the crude is rushing  out of the pipe shows that it was an act of pressure.

“Six persons  are missing in the community, and are feared to have been consumed by the fire caused in the area polluted by  the gas. We cannot cultivate or have access to our farm lands, we  are cut  off from the river, for fishing. It is only scientists  that can quantify the level of damage done in this community and the surrounding villages.’’

Another  source alleged that a company, identified as a subsidiary of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), was working  around the facility before the explosion occurred. The source also alleged that a company which uses explosives like dynamite in its operations was at work around the area as at the time of  the incident. The source  said  vibration from the explosion forced crude to flow profusely from the  damaged pipeline. The NLNG staff who visited the scene declined comments on the matter.

Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, Professor Roseline Konya, who  visited  the scene of the incident said: “Contrary to the claims by the natives,  there was no cultivated farm in the bush, no yam, nothing! I didn’t see any death recorded. There was no trace of vandalization, we shouldn’t make up things. I come from oil producing area.

“We have to complain about what is real, not fake. I’m advising the community to keep quiet  and  be calm, let’s  carry out  the investigation. At least, we have taken some photographs, I brought my cameraman, the Task Force, on soot, has been here, I invited them. I have been sending my staff  all this while, but today, I said no, let me come here myself.

“The pipeline has been broken into pieces by the explosion. What we have to do first of all, is  for us  to determine what was the cause and know what could  be attributed  to  factors, so, investigations are on. I came with the oil companies, AGIP, NLNG, DPR and NOSDRA. All the regulating agencies were all here.”

Member  representing  Emohua Constituency at  the state House of Assembly, Sam Ogeh, faulted  the claim of the commissioner. He insisted that  it  caused  damage to  residents of  the communities, as   their  fauna and  flora were  affected by the explosion. He wondered  how  a  government official  could take such position even before investigation. He vowed  to  follow up the matter  to its logical conclusion.

But youths from Evekwu staged a peaceful protest  at  the scene of the incident, decrying   the   neglect  of  damaged   pipeline   by  oil firm  operating   in the communities. They   claimed   to  have  removed   over  four corpses  from  the bushes  after the incident occurred. They   said  some   of  the victims were  choked to death by the gas.

But the Caretaker Committee Chairman of EMOLGA, Mrs. Gloria Omereji, insisted  that no life was lost in the incident.

A community leader and cleric,  Reverend Chris Idika,  said: “On  the  22 of February 22, 2017, around 2:30pm, we heard an explosion. We have not experienced that because,  the thing almost translated into earthquake because , everywhere was shaking. The whole community was  thrown into confusion.

“ Later, we  heard cries in  the farm and we heard that gas pipeline exploded . We have two pipelines here, one is owned  by Agip,  while the other is owned by NLNG. Three days after the incident,  the two companies did not come.

“They were aware because,  while the gas was emitting, there was a shut   down ,  and   after  about  five hours, the gas started going down till it stopped. If they were  not aware,   they would  not  have shut it down. It is  neglect of the community.

“The incident caused a huge economic damage to the people. The gas destroyed everything here. From our estimate,  about 1,000 kilometer diameters of land in this vicinity are gone. The vibration was such that the compartment of the soil became so open and there was transmission of gas molecules and particle, which means the land cannot  be useful again. As we are here, you can still perceive the odour of the gas.

“We have lost three persons. Our tradition demands that anyone who dies in the bush   as  a  result of  any controversy  will not  be buried at home, neither do we keep them,  to avert further deaths. Anybody in doubt can come and see their graves at the evil forest. There is  another dead body we discovered  in the bush on Thursday and we have deposited it in the morgue.

“If  you  go to Evekwu now, you   will see people  with respiratory problem, eye defects. Over nine people are in the hospital. The company should come and identify with the community in  the hazard  we  are suffering in the cause of this explosion. Secondly, this installation  is owned  by the Federal Government; so, they  should  come  to our rescue, our  people  are  dying. Our  water  is polluted, the  air  is polluted. If these two basic things are polluted, it means that the people’s lives are at risk.”

A relative to one of the victims, Mr. Karma Wanosike, recalled: “When the incident occurred, my brother, Peter,  31 years old, was outside. So,  he  ran into the house. Our house is not very far from the scene of  the incident. When the effect of  the gas  reduced, we went inside and saw him lying on the ground, we immediately rushed  him to the hospital.

“At the hospital, the doctor prescribed  drugs  and we bought them, each cost us N3000.  But, this morning (Friday) we lost him. The gas  explosion  gave him a  shock  which  led  to his dead. If you go to our building,  you will see that it has a big crack now.”

A landlord  to one of the companies, Mr. Romanus Amadi, expressed worry that the oil firms took their farmland,  without formal  agreement, stating that  it  was  the right time to correct the  mistakes:

“We have been farming here before the company came to lay this gas pipeline. When they came, they did not enter  into Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with us, I remember then,  that I was still in the military. Since February 22, when this thing happened, we have been going to  the hospital to take care of our people.

“What  happened now is strange. The incident affected the entire Odegu kingdom. It destroyed land and crops. We are waiting for them to come and negotiate with us on the damage they have caused. We are waiting that they will come and enter MoU with us and write EIA in respect of this incident.”

Meanwhile,  a  statement credited to Omereji   was  said  to have caused  disaffection in the community. Chairman of Community Development Committee  of  Rumuji, Mr. Godspower  Nkovadu,  took a swipe at her.

“She does not know what she is saying. The Caretaker Chairman of Emohua LGA has not even visited here after the incident. So,  how did she find out that no life was lost? She does not know anything about our plight. She does not know what is happening.  She is saying what she does not know.

“The experience was terrible. Right from when I was a child, I have never experienced a thing of this nature. The explosion happened and most people ran out of their houses naked,  because the earth tremor was horrifying. As I talk now, some people, who went to the farm and forest are still missing. Some people are in the hospital. Omereji does not know what she is saying.”

The paramount ruler of Rumuji, Eze Ohna, Christian Elechi, Nenwe Eli Rumuji XIV, regretted that LNG and Agip did not conduct any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and enter into MoU with the communities before citing their facilities.

However,  the affected community has threatened to drag NLNG to court. Legal adviser to Rumuji community, Chima Obinna, disclosed that the community has concluded  plans  to institute legal action against the oil giants:

“When I became their solicitor, the first question I asked them was if there is an EIA for the kind of facility there, they said no, I was shocked. Do you have an MoU, they said no.”

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