Tragedy struck on Friday in Ovelle-Nvakaohia village, Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, when a fire outbreak at an alleged oil theft site roasted over 20 persons to death.
Women, hired to package the stolen product, were most affected, and were paid N1,000 per drum.
The fire was said to have gutted a pit used by some persons for oil bunkering activities.
Although the Rivers State Police Command had noted while confirming the development that 12 people died, a source in the community claimed that more than the number confirmed by the police in the state were involved.
It was gathered that about five cars, four tricycles and some motorcycles used for transporting stolen crude oil were destroyed in the incident.
The source who pleaded anonymity revealed that the vehicles were loaded with the stolen product packaged in sacks.
Reacting to the development, the spokesperson of the police in Rivers, SP Grace Iringe-Koko stated that the victims were scooping crude oil from the pipeline when the fire ignited.
She said: “Preliminary investigation by the Police Command indicates that the victims were scooping crude product when the site caught fire.
“So far, about 12 persons are believed to have been burnt to death. The identities of the victims are still unknown.
“Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police in the state has again admonished members of the public to stay away from illegal oil bunkering.”
Meanwhile, a youth leader in the community, Uchechukwu Loveday, disclosed that more women died in the incident than men.
According to him, women were the ones used by oil thieves in scooping the crude oil into bags for transportation. He added that women have abandoned their farms to face the illegal dealing in petroleum products.
Loveday said those women were paid up to N10,000 at the end of every successful day.
“Women are the ones that got burnt more because they are the ones doing the kegging. The oil thieves pay them per drum and one drum is one N1000. So, all the women that were there doing the kegging were the most affected. Before now. women don’t do this kind of work.
“However, since the bunkering business came up, all the women got involved because they make up to N10,000 in a day. About seven persons died inside the pit where they were scooping the crude. Many of them outside died also while some are in the hospital”, he explained.