From CLEM ONYEMAECHI, Port Harcourt
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike has vowed to root out illegal bunkering and artisanal refinery activities that have caused soot pandemic in the State, insisting that his administration would not succumb to any form of blackmail or sentiment that would be stirred by those perpetrators in an attempt to frustrate efforts at curbing their hazardous business.
The Governor made the vow after he took a long walk through track roads into the forest of Ogbodo community in Ikwerre Local Government Area, and the forest of Ibaa community in Emohua Local Government Area, where he uncovered some illegal crude oil refining sites.
“They can’t be doing this and be killing my people. No reasonable government will allow that. And I can tell you with all due respect, we will take this matter very seriously,” the Governor warned.
“Look at how, everyday, in your house, you see the soot. I mean, how can you allow that? So, this one that we can solve, we will solve it. We have assured the people of Rivers State, we will fight this matter to the last until I leave office.”
While noting that confronting “this cartel kind of business” would not be easy, the Rivers State Governor, however, vowed to treat the situation as war-like and confront it as such – from the standpoint of law.
According to him, no matter how highly placed the perpetrators might be, they would not be spared, but would be made to face the full force of the law.
To that end, the Governor directed the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Zacchaeus Adangor, SAN, to take over the case files of illegal crude oil refinery operators arrested by the police.
“Attorney General, all these matters with the police, you have to retrieve the files so that you can prosecute the matters on our own. I don’t want any compromise anywhere,” Wike ordered. “And, then, too, it will not be on the ministry. You have to constitute a legal team. Go and get our friends all over the country, so that we can execute this prosecution to the last.
“It is a serious matter. And I’m going to take it head on. In fact, it is a war. It is not poor people doing this, they’re a cartel. You must go and arrest these people; Chief W. J. Wocha, you must arrest Fubara Ohaka, and Chief Promise Ezekwe. You must arrest them.
“It doesn’t matter how highly placed you are. If you like, be the paramount ruler. In fact, any traditional ruler that is involved, pick him for me. Let him understand that the law does not respect anybody.”
Wike also directed Chairman of Emohua LGA, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, to search for and locate residences where processed crude oil products were stored and let the people ascertain their sources, assuring the people that he was confronting the present danger to ensure that the health of Rivers people was not hampered any further by illegal refining activities.
“If not our people will continue to die,” he agonised. “Even you, you’re not safe from related sicknesses like cancer. All those products in the houses, you must go after them. They must tell you where they got the products. Enough is enough.
“Look at what is happening, they are dying. I want to live. So, we must stop these illegal refinery activities.
“And I have said to the Federal Government, if you’re not willing to do anything, don’t promise people anything. You told them that you will do something; how can you promise modular refinery? What I’m talking about is the safety of Rivers people. That is more important to me.”
Explaining the ugly experiences of community people, Lloyd noted that the problem of illegal refining activities in the area was beyond the capacity of the council to handle.
He wondered why the Federal Government which once promised to establish modular refineries in the Niger Delta region reneged on that promise.
“Thank God for your boldness. Rivers people are now aware. On a daily basis, people roast and burn here. The whole Ibaa community has been taken over by this trade.
“And when you talk, they say look, if they don’t do this, they’ll go to the roads and begin to carry arms. And I say to them, you don’t dig a hole to cover another hole. Your business shouldn’t kill me.”