Nine days after an explosion at an illegal refinery killed about 20 persons in Bayelsa State, other suspected oil thieves have returned to site, Morning Mail can authoritatively report.
Mum has also been the word from concerned authorities to the carnage.
The fire had raged on December 5 at the Kolo Creek in Ogbia Local Government area of state.
A source at the community told Morning Mail that the explosion was ignited by fire from a cooking stove being used by a food vendor in the camp.
Residents who spoke to our reporter expressed concern that information about the incident has so far been kept under wraps by the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Delta Safe (ODS), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Police.
Noticeably, the operators of the illegal refinery camps have resumed full operation.
The fire was said to have spread quickly, consuming almost everybody in the camp except about three persons, who escaped by the whiskers but with severe burns.
Sources said an attempt by a woman in the camp to cook noodles using a stove sparked the fire that wreaked the havoc.
Charred remains of the victims reportedly litter the area.
A source, who visited the area told Morning Mail that the creek was utterly destroyed.
He said: “When we got there, I almost vomited. I saw charred remains of people. They were burnt beyond recognition. In some cases, you could only see heads and feet of victims. Despite the burnt bodies, we still met people illegally cooking (refining) crude oil there”
The source added: “We thought that security agencies especially soldiers would have taken over the place, but we didn’t meet any security operative. We only met people who were still refining illegally sourced crude oil. It was terrible”.
It was learnt that the camp is owned by a powerful cartel, with links to known politicians and security officers.
The residents, who spoke with Morning Mail, called for a thorough investigation of how conspiracy between the security top shots and the oil thieves is compromising security in the area.
But investigation by our correspondent revealed that the State Police command had earlier appealed to security agencies in charge of oil theft, especially the NSCDC and the JTF, to shut the site and arrest the oil thieves.
A highly-placed police source, who spoke in confidence, said the Commissioner of Police, Asuquo Amba, got to know about the existence of the camp through intelligence and warned of consequences.
He said the commission on September 21, this year, dispatched a letter to responsible security commanders appealing to them to treat the matter with urgency.
The letter read in part: “Information gathered revealed the presence of ongoing illegal refining of petroleum products like kerosene, diesel at Ebelebiri and Otuogwe, two communities in Ogbia Local Government Area Bayelsa State under the Kolo jurisdiction …”
The Police Commissioner added: “The activities of these criminals constitute economic sabotage to the nation as well as endangering lives and properties as explosion on this pipeline may lead to disaster”.
The source said it was disheartening that despite the warning, the explosion still occurred and claimed lives.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Butswat Asinim, confirmed the explosion but he said few persons died and others sustained injuries.
He, however, refused to confirm the letter from the Commissioner of Police to other security commanders about the existence of the camp before the explosion.
He said: “There was a fire outbreak at an illegal bunkering camp at Ebelebiri and Otuegwe II communities. Few persons were feared to have been burnt to death while others sustained severe burns.
“Three persons who survived the inferno were rushed to the Cottage Hospital Otuasiga for medical attention. They are Timi Gaji, male, 21, from Southern Ijaw; Benjamin Theophilus, male, 20, from Elebele community; and James Meshack, 21, from Delta State but resides at Igbogene.