By Paul J. Lysinge
A massive explosion rocked one of the giant storage tanks at the SONARA oil refinery in Limbola, Limbe Fako State on May 31, 2019, at 11:30 pm, amidst suspicion and tension between the predominant Francophone Cameroon workforce and their minority anglophone Ambazonian counterparts. The oil refinery is in Ambazonia’s Rio del Rey oil basin.
Eyewitnesses accounts have told AmbaNews24 that they heard a big explosion coming from inside the refinery, followed by large plumes of smoke and flames that engulfed a section containing a large storage tank. Limbe residents, especially in the Sokolo neighborhood areas, took to their heels for safety. Many escaped towards Mile 4 in fear of toxic gas and extension of the fire beyond the confines of the refinery.
AmbaNews24 preliminary investigation has revealed that the immediate cause of the fire was a short circuit in Unit 10, the production unit of the Refinery. Cameroon’s electricity company ENEO Cameroon S.A. abnormally interrupted electric power supply to the oil refinery multiple times during the day. Standard operating procedure required that under blackout conditions, Unit 10 be temporarily shut off. However, workers left it on, causing an electrical short circuit that set the old Unit 10 into flames.
AmbaNews24 is still investigating whether there was an intentional proximate and coordinated cause between the unusual electric supply interruptions to the company, the failure of standby electricity backup system, and the failure to put off operations in Unit 10.
The explosion has put the refinery completely out of production. The Director-General of SONARA, Jean-Paul Simo Njonou has declared today a major termination of all production activities in the refinery for an indefinite period. Work had begun to construct an alternative unit, but construction engineers have said it will take about a year to complete construction.
Residents from towns as far away as Batoke are evacuating their town for fear of a reprisal attack from the Cameroun military as everyone is worried that this might be an attack by the separatist Ambazonia Defense Forces and its ally forces such as the Swords of Ambazonia in what is now dubbed in the Ambazonia independence cause as the “Contender Force”.
SONARA oil refinery has been one of the thorniest and vexing issue of wealth inequality between French Cameroun citizens and the Ambazonian population. Whereas, petroleum that accounts for over 40% of Cameroun’s GDP comes from Ambazonia territory, over 80% of the more than 1000 workers are from French Cameroun. The refinery located in Ambazonia’s City of Victoria (Limbe) pays its taxes in and to French Cameroun’s City of Douala. The majority French Cameroun workers at the refinery live in a special prestigious quarter reminiscent of segregated neighborhoods in South Africa’s apartheid era. Their children go to special privilege schools at the chagrin of the majority Ambazonian population of the city of Victoria.
This open discrimination and injustice have over the years been at the center of tension between the indigenous Ambazonian population and the regime of French Cameroun that has promoted this spoils system. It is this injustice that recently provoked the Ambazonian Defense Forces (ADF) to issue a statement about corruption in SONARA. The ADF recently got intelligence information about the widespread injustices and issued a serious threat of reprisals report if this state of affairs continued. In their report, the ADF uncovered a list of personnel of Cameroun origin working at the Oil Refinery who over the years have intensified the deprivation, marginalization, and victimization of Ambazonians working in SONARA. These agents of Cameroun extraction have taken fully the refinery as their personal property to milk and destroy.
Some of the persons who have led this ring of oppression in SONARA whom the ADF identified in a report to AmbaNews24 correspondent in Victoria (Limbe) include Ahmadou Oumarou (on the potential Assistant General Manager list), Bouba Mohamadou, Tiako Ngandjui Louis-Marie, Elo Mango Savio Salvador, Amidou Chetima, Baba Gabriel, Onanena Mepouli Renette, Tagne Tebou Severin, Bikoi Bikoi Parfait, Beyene Zibi Antione, Bouba Abdoul Aziz, Nkenne
Veronique, Betchem Boungoula Mirabelle, Monyenga Richard, Essassanoho Appolinaire, Moustapha Abdallah, Messina Ngosso Adelin, Bikok Andre Ludovik, Hagbe Kendeck Claude, Vondou Martin, Fouda Bella Ludvine, Bilong II Louis Antione, Mame Paul, Mininyem Betrand, Bakinde Arnaud, Nguelle II Michel, Biyong Simon Clement, Njock Jean Baptist, and Nguene Louis. The economic consequences of the discontinuation of production in the refinery will be far reaching. Cameroun’s economy depends principally on cocoa production by farmers; rubber, bananas and palm oil production by the Cameroon Development Cooperation (CDC); and oil from SONARA. Economic sabotage in the Ambazonia liberation struggle has essentially halted 60% of cocoa production and exportation and brought activities in CDC to a halt. The indefinite termination of oil production in SONARA adds to the woes that now put Cameroon on the path of total economic collapse.