For the family of Chief Augustus Tom Sunday the 28th day of June 2015 was like any other Sunday. After the Sunday service at his local church he and members of his family had retired for the night rest but suddenly the peaceful quiet night was shattered by the sound; “Boooooommmm! It sounded like the voice of many thunders, our house vibrated and the earth trembled”
“At first I thought that it was a bomb, considering the fluid nature of our community that has witnessed sporadic violence within the past few days” he explained. When Chief Tom came out to investigate, he peeped around in the dark but as he looks towards the general direction of Ebocha, “the night sky was light up by fire”. “Balls of fire were rolling up into the sky and thick clouds of smoke soon enveloped everywhere.”
Ebocha the home to Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited’s Flow Station and Oil Center Production facilities has suffered years of neglect. So the storage tanks that exploded during the blowout were reported to be more than 30 years old. To many keen observers of the petroleum industry Ebocha was just “a disaster waiting to happen”. Legitimate concerns expressed by local communities about the safety of these facilities were ignored and often viewed with disdain by the Multinational Oil Corporation.
Another respondent interviewed by this reporter said “it was on Sunday at about 10.30 pm there was a serious fire outbreak at Ebocha, it was very serious but no life was lost”. Mr. Festus Wilson told the reporter that the fire was so much that it destroyed substantial part of the oil center facility. He ruled out sabotage, when he was asked if he knew the cause of the fire. “No, no, it is not sabotage” he said.
Though he did not know the number of tanks that got burnt he told the reporter that the fire lasted from Sunday night till Monday evening before it was put out. “But the fire started again on Tuesday morning and was finally brought under control, later in the day.”
When this reporter asked him how the fire affected the people, he said, “All the people living at Ebocha have fled from their homes”.
A lady who gave her name as Iruka Blessing lamented the fact that Nigerian Agip Oil Company has not done anything to help the victims.
“Look I am pregnant and I am yet to recover from the shock” she said. She also complained that all that Agip did was to gather people to narrate how the fire incident affected them without any attempt at alleviating their pains.
Mr. Wilson also complained that Nigerian Agip is slow to responding to the affected communities.
According to Mr. Wilson the source of drinking water for the communities has been heavily polluted.”Water from Nkisa River is black, the same goes for rain water,” he said. “Everything in the community turned into black”.
Narrating her own ordeal a 23 years old Miss Iruka Jane from Ikeduru local government of Imo State who lives opposite the Nigerian Agip company Oil Center, the epicenter of the fire outbreak told the reporter that it was around 11 pm on the Sunday night “when everybody was sleeping, we heard a loud noise and the thing shake the buildings around and the neighboring villages, we came out and saw the fire. And the fire was very, very terrible”. She explained that everybody started running for their dear life.”We later came back and saw that the fire was drawing even closer”
As a result of the intensity of the fire many people fled to neighboring communities while others fled to their home town far away from the fire. Even as I am talking now all my body is paining me. I am calling on the government to come and help us” she said. While speaking to the reporter she explained that there is palpable fear in town for few of them who braved the situation to be there. When she was pressed to explain the source of their worry seeing that the inferno has been brought under control. She told the reporter that there are chances that the fire might be ignited again.
On Tuesday 1st July 2015 when this reporter visited Ebocha though a rural community but always bustling with life, Ebocha was only a shadow of itself. The ever busy Omoku road was deserted, shops were closed. Few people that were still hanging around were seen discussing in groups. In the neighboring communities of Okwuzi, Mgbede and Aggah the situation was the same as men and women were seen in clusters discussing the effects of the Ebocha fire on their communities.
Series of protests has been held by affected communities against Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited for ignoring the people’s demand for environmental justice.