ABUJA, Nigeria — At least 100 people were killed Thursday in a vehicle crash involving a fuel tanker in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region. Authorities say locals who rushed to gather fuel as it spilled from the tanker were killed in the fire that followed.
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency says the fuel tanker tipped over after swerving to avoid a collision with another vehicle. As the tanker began to leak, locals rushed to the scene to scoop up as much fuel as possible, only to be caught in the fire started by igniting fuel.
Anthony Chigbo, the CEO of Gallop Polls Nigeria Limited, says Niger Delta residents are aware of the dangers of oil fires. Chigbo says this did not stop the rush of people to the scene in Rivers State, just to make a few naira, Nigeria’s currency.
“Their desire to make that naira clouds the reality that that thing can ignite and kill them,” says Chigbo.
In 1998 a gas pipeline exploded in nearby Delta State, killing over a 1,000 people. Many victims were collecting fuel from a massive leak when it exploded and their bodies were found with plastic cups or cans still in their hands. Locals say this kind of accident continues to happen once or twice every year.
Chigbo says accidents like this one demonstrate the level of desperation and deprivation in the region.
“It’s unfortunate that people will put their lives on the line for peanuts. It just shows the level of poverty,” says Chigbo.
In the Niger Delta, most people live on a few dollars per week while the government and international oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron export 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.
Niger Delta residents have long demanded a greater share of the oil wealth, and many tap illegally into oil pipelines to get it. Oil companies say they lose as much as $1 billion a month to oil theft.
Illegal refiners say the black market fuel business now drives the economy of the Niger Delta, since oil spills and pollution from gas flaring has destroyed the fishing and farming industries.
Hilary Uguru contributed to this report.