Rivers residents accuse security operatives of aiding illegal bunkering
…As petroleum fire destroys properties worth millions
A midnight fire at illegal bunkering depot at Isiokpu Street, D/line in Port Harcourt City Council Area of Rivers State has destroyed properties worth millions of naira.
Eyewitnesses blamed officers of the Nigeria Police, Army and Navy for the fire outbreak which started at 8.30pm on Saturday, alleging that security personnel were aware of the illegal petroleum business, which began six months ago in a residential area and accused them of encouraging it by coming every morning to collect their share from the sales of the product.
Mr. Samson Pepple, who lives next building to the burnt illegal depot site, told The Guardian that the complex was converted into petroleum site after the firm managing it stopped operations.
The source said: “The bunkerers used taxis to convey drums of diesel, fuel and sometimes they use polythene bags and bring the products to complex at midnight hours.
“In the morning, petroleum tankers come to load the products for distribution. You can see, I live at the next storey building, so, I use to peep from my window. I often see the police, navy and army officers park their vehicles outside the complex, enter inside the complex and collect their own share of money and this has enabled the business to thrive unperturbed.”
Another resident of the area said there was no night or day in the area due to the thriving petroleum business.
He disclosed that the boys working at the illegal depot smoke, stating that the fire outbreak might have been ignited by cigarette fire.
Contacted, the spokesman for the Nigerian Army in Port Harcourt, Charles Ekeocha, promised to get back to the reporter as soon as he gets fillers from officers deployed around the area.
Also, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, failed to pick his calls and text messages sent to his phone was not responded to.
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Peter Medee, who visited the scene of incident on Sunday morning, clarified that it was not an explosion but an inferno from suspected petroleum products.
Medee said: “This was not an explosion but there was a fire outbreak which happened as a result of some combustible materials.
“When we got the information earlier, we thought it was a gas explosion because we have a gas pipelines close to this place. So, we called the company to demobilise and de-pressure their lines, the company did that and the company told us it was not from their facility. We called the government fire service, and they responded proactively.”
Medee explained that the company, where the fire started was not in operation and that its premises was converted to unwholesome practices like storing of petroleum products.
He said: “With the magnitude of the fire, it must be high combustible material that is not far from petroleum products. This is a concern to us as a state that every body that is doing any business that is petroleum products must be able control it.”