Dozens of burnt bodies were buried in mass graves in Nigeria’s Imo state on Tuesday, as the stench of decomposing flesh hung in the air following the weekend explosion at an illegal oil refinery that killed more than 100 people.
A group of men, some bare chested and barefoot, dug three graves near the explosion site, a swampy open space surrounded by burnt out cars and palm trees.
Two local health officials fumigated the burial site and surrounding area prior to the burial.
Men used makeshift stretchers to dump bodies in shallow graves that quickly filled with water, with only plastic and flip flops covering their feet. There were no body bags used.
“Because of the explosion here the corpses cannot be identified. His excellency, the governor mandated us to make sure that we should bury those that cannot be identified by their relatives,” said Marcel Amadioha, a chairman of the Ohaji-Egbema local government area of Imo state.
Amadioha said some relatives had managed to claim some bodies and took them for burial but more than 50 were unclaimed.
A local chief, Ezechukwe Eze, poured gin on the ground, claiming it was to appease the gods of the land and prevent future disasters.
Following the explosion, the worst since October, President Muhammadu Buhari said he would tighten the crackdown on illegal refineries, which previous governments had done with limited success.
Due to unemployment and poverty in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, thousands of Nigerians continue to see illegal refining as a means of economic survival, often with fatal consequences. Crude oil is extracted from a network of pipelines owned by major oil companies and refined in improvised tanks.
The process has resulted in fatalities and polluted a region that has already been plagued by oil spills in farmland, creeks, and lagoons for decades.
Government officials estimate that Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer and exporter, loses an average of 200,000 barrels of oil per day, more than 10% of production, to theft or vandalised of pipelines.