Edith CHUKU/ Chinecherem Doris ANYANEBECHI
There are fears that on-going efforts by the Rivers State government to end the regime of illegal refining in the state and the neighbouring Bayelsa State may come with negative effects on the people.
The crude thieves whose refining sites are being destroyed by agents of the government are believed to be plotting to fight back, as their source of livelihood has been destroyed.
TNN learnt that the illegal refiners are not taking the situation lightly. Some of the illegal refineries are said to be promoted by very top former militants who have vowed not to give up easily.
It is observed that criminal activities in the state are assuming a frightening dimension since the anti-kpofire campaign started. Activities of kidnappers are believed to have increased in the last two weeks.
But some of the residents are happy with the state government for its effort in checking the activities of the illegal operators. But they have also challenged the government to do more than just destroying the illegal refineries.
Mr Kentebe Ebiaridor , programme manager, Environmental Rights Action/Friends Of the Earth Nigeria and head of the Port Harcourt office said in an interview that lives had been destroyed by the kpofire business because of its adverse effects on the people.
“It is an inglorious business that the government had failed to address both from the federal and state levels. In the past, I have always condemned the act of stealing crude and refining it for whatever reason or arguments people put up.
“I have had cause to visit communities where these illegal activities happen and always take time to remind them that the fact that you are making money from the activity today does not mean it is an alternative source of income, they will end up spending all the money on treatments in years to come.
“Apart from that, the fact that the activity is impacting negatively on the environment is worrisome. Where ever this illegal refining takes place, the land, water and the air is polluted.
“Before we had massive soot situation in Port Harcourt, we have had series of capacity building for youths in various communities in the Niger Delta where we trained them on the dangers of pipeline vandalization and capacity building on Joint Investigation visit(JIV).”
The activist praised the state governor, Nyesom Wike for his courage to tackle the menace, but said the governor ought to have acted earlier than he did. “The clampdown by the Rivers state government is highly commendable although it should have been done years ago, we still applaud the fight against soot in Port Harcourt.
“The amount of soot seen on a daily basis in the city is equally likened to criminal activities, the difference is that while criminal steal properties and most times money, these other activities steal your health.”
He however said he did not think that the clampdown on illegal refineries will lead to an upsurge in other crimes like kidnapping. “I honestly don’t believe that stopping these acts will lead to an increase or resurgence in kidnapping or crimes in the state.
“When kidnapping was on the increase in the state, there was still kpofire business going on and other related crimes. The police, we believe, will step up their game and get the miscreants off the streets.”
The activist also questioned Wike for paying local government chairmen to destroy the illegal refineries. Hear him: “The fact that the government is giving some form of incentives to the local government chairmen calls for question.
“The chairmen were elected and they have budgetary allowance for security and should be able to tackle such from there. The government should move to make a law that criminalizes involvement in such activities. Politics should be taken far from the fight to give river state access to clean air and environment,”
A medical practitioner at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, Dr. Rosemary Essien has however said that even though there have been no information on recorded deaths as a result of the activities of the kpofire dealers, it was necessary to check their activities and put a stop to them.
She told TNN that “the soot has accumulated in the atmosphere, and when we breathe it in, it goes to the lungs and diffuses to the heart. There have been no death cases yet, but this soot is very dangerous especially to people with respiratory illnesses like asthma.These activities should be put in check to avoid causing further harm to the respiratory systems of residents.
TNN also interviewed the Rev Moses Adebowale who said “any Nigerian that does not want kpofire to stop is an enemy to this country. In fact, he is worse than an enemy to this country .There are people whose survival depends on armed robbery. Should they continue to the detriment of other people’s lives?
“Kpofire is worse than armed robbery, kpofire is attacking the whole state and country at the same time, the effects of kpofire is not only on health, it’s a global effect.”
Speaking in an exclusive interview, a native of the Kalabari kingdom who gave his name simply as Mr Jack said “the move is in the right direction, the governor is taking a right step. It is evident that it is through this kpofire business that soot is here in the state.
“I am in support of the governor’s action; whatever is illegal is illegal. The fight cannot be realistic if you treat some as sacred cows and some as sacrificial lamb. The fight should be holistic.
The state commissioner of information and communications, Paulinus Nsirim believes that with the support of the residents, the battle against kpofire will be fought and won.
During the presentation of prizes to winners of the Ministry’s.social responsibility campaign, Nsirim said the “government cannot stop this trend without the cooperation of citizens and law enforcement agencies.
“We cannot be our enemies. We must collectively fight this syndrome. The hazard we are facing is becoming worrisome. If you live and do business here in Rivers State, this should concern you and I think the time has come for us to bring an end to this menace.”
All the 23 local government chairmen are now on their toes, making efforts to stop the activities of the illegal refineries.
Chairman of Emohua Local Government, Dr Chidi Lloyd as well as his other colleagues have been combing the bushes in search of kpofire sites. To him, what the people are doing is an act of genocide.
He lamented in a recent interview that military personnel were not helping matters and that even with the fight put up by the government, illegally refined products were still being loaded from his local government to other parts of the country, with the assistance of security operatives.
Chairman of Degema local government, Michael John Williams, Sunday has raided and set ablaze, some artisanal refining sites, popularly known as kpofire at Oruama-Kiri in Bille Kingdom.
The chairman who went on the raid in company of some community members, including chiefs and youths of Bille, as well as a detachment of security operatives, declared zero tolerance to the illicit act in the LGA.
He said government would no longer keep silent and watch, while some group of recalcitrant individuals commit crimes against the state and humanity, through economic sabotage and generating deadly soot, that poses serious health challenge to the people of Rivers State and beyond.
The council boss who earlier visited the palace of the Amanyanabo of Bille Kingdom, HRH King Igbikingeri Ngowari Cornelius Herbert, Agbaniye-Jike XVIII, commended the monarch and people of Bille for swiftly swinging into action, in sensitizing their people against involving in the illegal activity, in line with the directive, issued to them at the end of the stakeholders meeting between the Council administration and traditional rulers in the area.
He said his visit to the palace was to intimate the monarch and his council of chiefs about his mission and seek their leave to invade their territory, in search of locations where the kpofire operations were taking place.
“Your Royal Highness, we are not here to kill, arrest or accuse anyone, but we are here, on the mandate of the Governor, to do the needful and stop this illegal activity that is threatening our very existence as humans inhabiting in this grossly polluted environment of ours.
“My father, the Governor of Rivers State, His Excellency, Chief Barr. Nyesom Wike, had aptly described this kpofire menace as worse than Boko Haram, because the latter is a known terrorist group, while the former is an invisible and deadly killer.
“If you see the level of degradation in our once flourishing and endowed environment, you will understand the reason why our mothers and fathers can no longer easily get fishes, prawns, shrimps, periwinkles, oysters and other rich sea foods in our nearby creeks, without going far into the ocean.
“I therefore appeal to our people to cooperate with government to end this menace and restore our ecosystem for the benefit of the present and future generations,” Hon. Williams stated.
In his response, the royal father commended the Council Chairman for courageously leading the fight against the illegal bunkering activities across the LGA, even on a Sunday, praying God to continue to grant him more courage, wisdom and strength to serve the people of Degema.