Today, Monday 16 December, the dispute over the Soku Oil Fields between Bayelsa and Rivers States was resolved by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. It ruled that the fields located in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State that were ceded to Bayelsa State at the twilight of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration now belong to Rivers.
The disputed area is an ancient repository of oil and gas exploration and exploitation, which, as Anayo Onukwuga put it in Leadership, started since 1958 after Oloibiri. The community is host to three flow stations, Soku, Ekulama I and II, the Oil Ream Development project (ORD), and, according to the report, the over N25 billion Soku Liquefied Natural Gas Plant.
Onukwuga wrote: “The politics of Soku oil wells, which pitched former Rivers State governor, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, against each other was resurrected recently when Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike declared his readiness to go into dialogue with the federal government with the aim of having the oil wells returned to the state.”
Professor Nimi Briggs, in the following article published in nimibriggs.org states the history of the dispute, how the error occurred, which organ of government committed the mistake and the personalities involved.
THE SOKU OIL WELLS: OUR STORY – GOVERNMENT of RIVERS STATE
By Nimi Briggs
On Tuesday October 30, 2012, the Bayelsa State Government issued a press statement condemning a protest by the Kalabari National Forum, an interest group of communities from the Kalabari area of Rivers State against what they termed “ the malicious and unconstitutional intent to balkanize and excise oil producing communities in Kalabari Kingdom of Rivers State and annexing them to be part of Bayelsa State.”
Curiously, the Presidency through the Media Adviser to the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, issued a statement on the matter along lines that were more or less synonymous with the stance of the Bayelsa State Government.
The Government of Rivers State had refused to be drawn into the fray over a matter which, though quite grave, could be resolved using the appropriate channels and organs of state. It is, however, forced to respond to the grave and mischievous allegations made by both the government of Bayelsa State and the Presidency on the matter. This has become necessary in order to safeguard the interest of Rivers State and to protect the constitutional rights of the Kalabari people to seek redress in the face of an unfair expropriation of their natural resources.
The facts of the matter as even presented by the Government of Bayelsa State, indeed justify the protest of the Kalabari people. While the Bayelsa State Government admits that the communities in question are indeed Kalabari communities and clans, it however, would like the proceeds from these oil wells and resources that are located in these Kalabari communities to be paid to and appropriated by Bayelsa State, because of what Bayelsa state describes as ‘the way and manner states in the Niger Delta were created’. This is illogical as it means that Bayelsa State can be paid revenues from oil wells in Rivers State and vice versa.
While not refuting the fact that the settlements in question are part of Kalabari land, the Bayelsa Government statement admits, interestingly, “ even if any land in question in Bayelsa is found to be the ancestral land of any family, community, or clan in Kalabari clan, it does not detract from the right of the state to receive derivation. In the same vein, it does not also detract from the ownership or title to such land, by the family, community or clan which must be acknowledged and treated as such.” How incongruous! Is the Baylesa State government saying that while the land might belong to the Kalabari communities, the wealth accruing from these lands should belong to the people of Bayelsa? How then do the communities benefit from their God-given resources?
The position of the Bayelsa State Government is that “by the 11th edition of the administrative map of Nigeria published in 2000, Bayelsa state as a state was entitled to derivation and other claims from oil production in respect of oil exploration carried out within its territory as stated in the said map.” However, what the Bayelsa state government has conveniently left out is the fact that from colonial times up till the 10th edition of the administrative map of Nigeria, the boundaries between the Kalabari communities in Rivers State and the neighbouring Nembe communities of Bayelsa state had been clearly delineated with the boundary clearly marked as the Santa Barbara River.
The 11th edition of the administrative map, clandestinely prepared by the National boundary Commission and the Federal Surveyor General’s office in 1999, but published in 2000, strangely shifted the boundaries between Rivers and Bayelsa states from the initial boundary between Kalabari and Nembe, west of the Santa Barbara River, to San Bartholomew River, contrary to the delineation by all preceding administrative maps of Nigeria and all historical records.
Irked by this distortion of facts, the Rivers State Government under Dr. Peter Odili, petitioned the chairman of the National Boundary commission, His Excellency, Vice President Atiku Abubakar. In a letter dated July 3, 2002, the Director General, National Boundary Commission acknowledged the error and apologized, stating, “ I have discussed this issue with the Surveyor General of the federation and wish to state as follows: that the National Boundary Commission has taken note of the State’s observation on the INADVERTENT MISREPRESENTATION OF THE BAYELSA/RIVERS INTERSTATE BOUNDARY ON THE SAN BARTHOLOMEW RIVER AS SHOWN ON THE MAP.” The Director – General also promised that, “I am to assure your Excellency that your observations have been noted and necessary corrections shall be reflected on the 12th edition of the map currently under production. I am to assure you that the boundary line as reflected in the said edition of the map shall in no way have bearings on the current efforts.”
The Bayelsa State Government Press Release did not tell the public that the revenues from the disputed Soku wells were originally fixed in an escrow account to await the resolution of the boundary dispute and that this has been so until recently when the authorities decided to release the monies from the disputed wells to the Bayelsa State which unjust and unfair administrative decision resulted in Rivers State Government instituting Suit N0 SC/106/2009 Att. Gen of Rivers State State Vs. Att. Gen of Bayelsa State & Anor and in which the Court decided that it would be appropriate to await the final delineation of the boundary by the National Boundary Commission. For completeness, we quote the court: ’’It is on account of the foregoing and because of the technical nature of the dispute and the claims of the parties that the court finds that the NBC as an authority vested with authorities and expertise, know-how in dealing with this matter, should have, once and for all, conducted an exhaustive exercise of delineating the disputed boundary, hence the long awaited 12th edition of the Administrative Map when completed soonest would have been of tremendous assistance in settling the lingering dispute. In the light of the observations I have clearly expressed above, I do not feel comfortable to grant the declarations sought until the NBC concludes its exercise of delineation of disputed boundary to finality. It will be futile and premature to determine the boundary of the two parties in the present circumstance’’.
The Supreme Court Judgment is clear- that it could not decide the boundary based on the erroneous 11th Edition Map the Bayelsa State Publication is heavily relying on, but that it will await the final delineation to be heralded by the promised 12th edition of the Map.
In the light of the foregoing, the questions posed by the Bayelsa State in the publication are a red-herring as they do not properly address the issues. The proper questions are:
Why would the accruals from the disputed wells which have been kept in escrow all these years to await the final resolution of the matter be suddenly paid to Bayelsa state just recently?
Why place reliance and give effect to an Administrative Map whose authors have acknowledged its inaccuracy and promised to remedy?
Is it not unjust, even highly immoral, to allow a party to a disputed oil well to be drawing proceeds from the well when the matter is heavily disputed and in the face of an erroneous map to the detriment of the kalabari communities of Rivers State?
The Bayelsa Publication made reference to facts without addressing the facts but instead, chose to instigate the Presidency against the Government and people of Rivers State.
Worse still, the Bayelsa publication carefully avoided naming the location of these wells to be in Soku, a community it knows very well is in Akuku Toru Local Government of Rivers State.
The government of Bayelsa state in its press statement laden with innuendos has accused the Rivers State government of “ attempts to always blackmail the president in a bid to gain unnecessary advantage.” This assertion is unfounded and in bad faith.
The Rivers State Government wishes to state that it has and will continue to accord the highest respect to the person and office of His Excellency, the President, but will never ever submit to any attempt, as is being orchestrated now, to be intimidated in its responsibility of preserving the property and resources that rightly belong to the people of Rivers State.
Finally, the Government and people of Rivers State cherish the historic good neighbourliness it has enjoyed with the Government and people of Bayelsa State. We will work to preserve this cordial relationship in the context of mutual respect and observance of the rights of each state.
-Nimi Dimkpa Briggs is a Nigerian academic, scholar and Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He published this piece on nimibriggs.org