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.”