Illegal Refineries: a Stitch in Time Saves Lives

Illegal Refineries: a Stitch In Time Saves Lives

Money Palaver

By George Eze Emeghara

There is a quote attributed to Nigeria’s former military ruler, General Sani Abacha, which says that if an insurgency lasts more than twenty four hours, then the government has a hand in it.

This observation is not  limited to  insurgency, it  also extends to crimes or developments which are against the interests and well being of the country and her people.

The Government is supposed to know about everything that is happening in any part of the area that falls under its jurisdiction. 

To this end, it has various ways of keeping tabs on the  people in the area it is governing.   

If the government is responsive it should be able to, as the cliche goes, nip any untoward or unpleasant developments in the bud before they become intractable problems.

There are 774 local government areas in Nigeria. Each of them has a local government administration headed by a secretary or whatever they are called these days.

In the colonial days they were district officers. Each of them has a police station headed by a divisional police officer, and  an office or unit of the Department of State Security. 

In each of the local government areas there are  councillors drawn from the various communities or wards that make the  area, as well traditional rulers of the many communities and their chiefs. 

In the good old days, every local government secretary was required to send a daily report to the state government on the state of affairs in his  area. 

The information in his report would have been garnered from various sources including sundry informants, councillors,  traditional rulers  their chiefs and town union officials.

The divisional police officers and the Head of Department of State Security in the local government would have similar obligations to their organisations. 

The activities of the various officers and offices mentioned above are  complemented by those of  various paramilitary groups such as Civil Defence, Immigration and  Customs and local vigilantes

In all the states, the heads of the police, the Department of State Security, the Civil Defence, the Army and the commissioner in charge of local government, who has been receiving the reports from the local government secretaries, are all members of the state executive council, which should meet with the state governor once a week.

During these meetings whatever unusual, untoward and urgent issues contained in the reports they have received from their men in the field are tabled and discussed. 

In addition to reporting to the governor and the state executive council,  these officials also forward the reports to their respective bosses in Abuja, who in turn brief the president and the Federal Executive Council, the ultimate authority in the land, about the issues contained in the reports, if there is need to.

From the foregoing, it obvious that  government  at all levels cannot claim to be ignorant of    developments, occurrences or events taking place within their domains or areas of authority. 

Consequently, it won’t be wrong to conclude that any government which allows a situation to fester or get out of hand is inept and inefficient. Such a government or its officials could also be deriving a benefit, one way or the other, from the situation, which is why they are allowing it persist.

The “crude oil cooking” or “Black soot” matter in Rivers state illustrates this point. 

For several years, residents of Rivers state have had their environment poisoned and their health endangered by  black soot which is a by product of the numerous illegal refineries in the state. These cries were ignored by the government for reasons best known to it. 

Suddenly, again, for reasons best known to it, the government has woken up and has moved against the operators of these illegal refineries. 

An illegal refinery cooking in the bush outside Port Harcourt.

The speed with which it released the names of the people behind the illegal refineries including those who vandalise the pipelines from which  crude oil is stolen and the successes it has had in shutting down the operations of several illegal refineries in so short a time, indicate that it  always knew what was happening and those behind it. 

Some of the refineries are said belong to police men and other security officials while many are guarded by police men, soldiers and civil defence officials. Even the security agents who are supposed to be protecting oil pipelines are assisting the illegal refiners to break pipelines and steal oil.

Given the level of complicity by government or security officials  in the illegal business, if it were not for the personal interest the Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, has shown in the matter, it  would have been impossible to dislodge  the illegal refinery operators.

But the Governor’s move may be coming a bit too late. The damage has already been done. In future there is likely to be a surge in  various cancers and respiratory illnesses among the population of the state. However as the saying goes, better late than never.

But the question many people are asking is why it took so long for him and his government to go after these illegal refineries.

The answer is that it was  not in the interest of the government to do so for whatever reasons including the need to ” settle” some of the illegal refiners.

This is also probably why other problems facing the country such as bandits, herdsmen, illegal mining, and even Boko Haram, have been allowed to blow up and become major issues threatening the existence of the country.

It will be naive to expect the illegal refinery operators to just fold up and die. The business is too lucrative and tempting.

In true Nigerian style they will move to other neighbouring states where there is little official opposition to their nefarious activities. 

Already in Owerri, Imo state, there have been complaints about black soot polluting  the environment. This is an indication that illegal refiners are already operating in the state. 

According to the reports,  security agents know the  locations were illegal refining is going on, and they visit them very regularly to collect money. 

The Imo state government should emulate  Rivers state and move against the illegal refineries and their owners before it becomes a really big problem.

Their activities exact a huge toll on the health, wellbeing and economy of Nigerians and the country. 

So they must not be tolerated. 

As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine. It also saves lives.

If  all levels of government across the country were to respond promptly and forcefully to the information they receive of wrong doing and malfeasance as soon as they get them, Nigeria would be a safer and more secure place. Ignoring issues until they become major problems is the bane of this country.  

George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his column for