After the dramatic attack on Kpofire sites by the Nyesom Wike administration in January 2022, the operators are fully back in business right inside Port Harcourt neighbourhoods. Rivers State is the capital of the trade in illegal siphoning and refining of crude oil that has left the state in the grip of choking soot that threatens the health, environment and lives of residents. Elsewhere in the states of the Niger Delta, criminal gangs involved in the business threaten citizens including local chiefs and government officials who oppose their bid to set up refining sites in the creeks of these states. Reports Ibiba DonPedro
Dikio: Kpofire Operators Are Murderers
Interim Administrator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), Col. Milland Dixon Dikio (rtd), has classified operators of illegal refineries as murderers, saying they contribute to the untimely death of many people in the Niger Delta.
Dikio made the declaration in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, at a one-day awareness and sensitization workshop organized by PAP’s Strategic Communication Committee (STRACOM).
Lamenting the health hazards posed by illegal refineries, Dikio said everyone living in Port Harcourt was at risk of dying for inhaling toxic substances from such refineries. Dikio declared that any ex-agitator who is involved in the artisanal refining business is a murderer, ‘if you are involved in ‘kpo fire’ (illegal refineries) you are not involved in a good success. You are a murderer pure and simple’.
He stated further that,’ Niger Delta is too rich for anybody to be poor. You have to think beyond paper qualification and work for the development of the region. 60% of the small businesses that run America are owned by individuals and most of them don’t have college degrees’.
Dikio spoke the mind of residents of the oil bearing Niger Delta when he made the statement. In cities and towns especially Rivers State, a pall of soot that stains everything black has turned the oil capital into a place of ghosts where helpless citizens complain of their travail including children suffering upper respiratory track diseases including asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, without any hope of redress.
Meanwhile, Chief of naval staff, Rear Admiral Awwal Gambo has disclosed that illegal oil refining sites in the Niger Delta are usually reactivated hours after demolition.
This was stated by the navy chief while speaking on efforts to combat illegal oil refining in the region during a media chat on Saturday.
According to Gambo, there are over 3,000 creeks in the Niger Delta, which he says makes it difficult to track activities of all illegal oil refiners.
How The Refining Is Done- Local Flavour
As more persons speak up on the menace of soot and the Kpofire trade, more information is beginning to filter on how the artisanal trade in crude oil plays out. The method employed by the Kpofire operators is said to be an adaptation of the same technique and tools deployed by local distillers of native gin, commonly referred toas Ogogoro or kaikai”.
National Point findings indicate that the well organised refiners of crude oil travel some distance to places where oil pipelines are located to get the stolen crude. The crude is then transported to the site of ‘cooking’. There, a huge fabricated cooking pot is filled with the crude oil. This is then set on a huge fireplace fueled by a large heap of firewood and set ablaze with the same crude used as fuel to keep the flames fired up. The crude product then undergoes purification by heating so that it vaporises, then cooling and condensing the vapour to collect the resulting liquid which is transferred through a pipe dipped in water into another container.
“Depending on the level of heat deployed, what results is kerosene, then diesel and possibly petrol. .
A source who is knowledgeable about the Kpofire business notes, “The first danger involved is the inability to curtail the highly inflammable associated gas in the crude, which a regular refinery separates and discharges safely by flares. Most times, the gas bursts into flames and results in disaster’.
Death In Infernos
The danger in the artisanal refining trade is underscored by the easy way scores of the persons involved die in flaming infernos that occur frequently. Last week, four Kpofire workers are said to have lost their lives in an inferno that ensued at a camp in Ibaa community in Emohua LGA. The direct cause of the fire has not been ascertained. But outbreaks are a common feature. It is said to be the reason why the men who cook the crude are often completely naked to reduce the possibility of serious burns in the event of a fire. Ibaa a community with thriving presence of members of violent cult groups who generally control the Kpofire trade in Rivers state, has been a conflicted community for nearly two decades. The entire community was deserted by ordinary locals, compelled to flee the oil fueled cult violence that held the community hostage from 2000. Many locals have not returned to the community 10 years after a major bout of violence rocked Ibaa. Over 400 kpofire cooking sites are said to exist in the Ibaa axis. A reported over 40 homes in the farming community were said to have been burned down by the recent Kpofire ignited inferno.
In Elele Alimini, scores of Kpofire camps operate and thrive. Fire outbreaks are a common feature here also.
The toll from Kpofire related deaths is mounting, In September 2021, 25 Kpofire artisans lost their lives when their Kpofire cooking site in Rumuekpe community in Emohua LGA became engulfed in flames following an attempt by a hungry Kpofire worker to cook some quick cooking noodles at the site. The fire lit by him after he moved some distance away from the ‘cooking pot’, inflamed the already heavily spirit filled environment and set the camp on fire, our investigations indicate.
Bayelsa State Shows the Way To Sanity
Unlike Rivers State where violent persons in dreaded cult groups are allowed to function with impunity operating Kpofire campsites, destroying the environment already degraded by over 60 years of oil exploitation by the International oil companies, taking lives, kidnapping and raping girls and women without caution in some communities, Bayelsa State showed the path to sanity when it flatly refused to treat the overstepping of bounds by a daring violent group in the State, whose leaders plotted to set up a Kpofire cooking site at Otuokpoti Community by looking away.
The drama of the absurd played out from January 20, 2022, when Mr Federal Oparminola Otokito, the State Commissioner for Trade and Investment, travelled home to spend some time in his country home, Otuokpoti in Ogbia Local Government Area. Otokito had his home attacked in the late hours of that day and was whisked off to an unknown destination by a kidnap gang that brutalised him. The state government and security operatives set in motion action to comb the creeks and corners of the state in search of Otokito.
The abduction, which occurred at about 11pm on Thursday Jan 20 night, had thrown the quiet riverine community into panic following claims that one of the commissioner’s abductors is an indigene. As the dreary drama unfolded, it became determined that Otokito was abducted by a criminal gang which wanted to set up a Kpofire site with the support of some persons in the community including the traditional ruler. Otokito had vehemently opposed the group and its plan.
Police sources claimed the abducted Commissioner recognized one of his abductors said to be from the same community.
The State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, had assured that no stone would be left unturned to ensure the release of, Mr. Federal Otokito.
The governor called for his immediate and unconditional release by his abductors, stressing that the state’s laws against kidnapping would be followed to the letter against them.
Speaking during the 12th Kolokuma-Opokuma Thanksgiving Day in Sampou, his community, Governor Diri insisted that the state government would not pay a dime as ransom for his release.
He called on youths to shun kidnapping, which he said was counter-productive to the state and their wellbeing.
He said: “I left Yenagoa for Abuja and within the period, one of my cabinet members was kidnapped. A lot of people expected me to make statements but I am not a man of too many words.
“I advise those who settle scores by kidnapping and criminality that there are laws of Bayelsa State against kidnapping. Let me call on those that kidnapped my Commissioner of Trade and Investment to immediately release him without any conditions.
“I have been on it from the beginning till now and I will ensure that he is released unhurt. I advise all others involved in that criminal, ungodly and inhumane act to have a change of mind and leave that illegitimate business.”
Otokito was released 5 days after his kidnap. The incident also led to the removal of the traditional ruler of the community by the Governor.
Widening The Path To Justice, Sanity Over Artisanal Refining Of Crude Oil
Speaking on the menace of oil theft, recently Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Mr. Tony Elumelu, disclosed that Nigeria lost $4 billion worth of crude oil to thieves in the first nine months of 2021.
Among this, he stated, Heirs Oil and Gas lost 50,000 barrels of crude oil to thieves every day.
Elumelu who disclosed this in a lecture he delivered to members of Course 30 of the National Defence College on the theme, Strategic Leadership: My Business Experience, described oil theft in the Niger-Delta as a national challenge.
Scary as the reality of large scale oil theft is, the failure of beneficiaries of the status quo among them benefiting businessmen and women, oil bloc owners and government to address the real roots of crude oil theft in the country including the exclusion of large segments of people from the oil bearing communities from participation in the oil and business in legitimate ways, is worrisome.
Artisanal refining and sale of crude oil is nothing but, a crudely devised participation of youth, men and women in a sector from which they have been legally excluded, their natural ownership rights not withstanding.
Only a determination to end cronyism, operation of fiscal Federal system in which local persons, local and state governments are able to fully participate in the legal exploitation of oil and gas resources in their backyards, pay relevant taxes, will there be a gradual reduction and end to the illegal siphoning and sale of crude oil in the Niger Delta.
Specifically to end the pandemic of death and disease from soot and flaming deaths from Kpofire infernos, the governments at all levels must commit to organising the skill sets developed by the youth involved . Organise and empower them in legitimate ways to set up small refineries in environmentally safe systems, to maximise the skills acquired from what is simply a hellish place.