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Opinion > Opinion
76 oil wells: How Cross River State went to court and lost
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July 23, 2012 20:19:03pm GMT | Views: 39
Godswill Akpabio

By Ekpenyong Ntekim Esq-- It has become necessary for the Government of Akwa Ibom State to respond to the series of campaigns of calumny, blackmail, incitements, organized public discourse, including State broadcast all aimed at denigrating the Supreme Court of Nigeria and its processes and possibly inciting the good people of Cross River State against their kith and kin of Akwa Ibom State on account of purported controversy over revenue from 76 offshore oil wells and the judgement of the Supreme Court thereon delivered on 10th July 2012.

For the records, the good people of Cross River State must know that Akwa Ibom State people love them and could NEVER have contemplated a law suit against them. Case No. SC. 250/2009 decided on 10th July, 2012 by the Supreme Court of Nigeria was instituted by the Government of Cross River State on 14th September 2009 against the Federal Government of Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State Government.

Prior to the filing of this case by Cross River State Government at the Supreme Court, Governor Godswill Akpabio, CON, had undertaken series of peaceful overtures to Cross River State, including offers of possible monthly financial assistance to Cross River State from the revenue allocation due Akwa Ibom State. In fact, a state delegation led by Senator Anietie Okon was dispatched to the leadership of the Government of Cross River State, with a mandate to plead that it should not embark on a futile legal exercise that may strain the age-old brotherly bond between the peoples of the two States. Indeed, all efforts of the delegation, spanning over a period of time, were rebuffed by the political leadership of Cross River State which was resolved to seek final judicial determination on the ownership of the 76 oil wells within 200 meters water depth isobaths contiguous to Akwa Ibom State.

At a point a member of the state delegation Chief Assam Assam, SAN (now Ambassador to the Republic of Russia) reported that all efforts at peace were rebuffed and Cross River State Government was bent on going to the Supreme Court to seek final judicial determination on the ownership of the 76 oil wells.

It is recalled that preceding this case, Cross River State had sued Akwa Ibom State on the land boundary dispute (northern non-estuarian boundary) involving the 24 villages of Oku/Itu/Ayadehe ward of Itu Local Government Area and the southern estuarian boundary between the two States in suit No. SC.124/1999. The Supreme Court on 24th June 2005 delivered judgment in favour of Cross River State in respect of the claims relating to those villages but declined to grant in her favour a declaration of ownership of territory within which the 76 oil wells are located. The Supreme Court stated then as follows:

“In considering the merit of the plaintiff’s case, it is important to bear in mind, that the effect of the judgment of ICJ dated 10/10/2002 on the land and maritime boundary case between Nigeria and Cameroon is that it has wiped off what used to be the estuarine sector of Cross River State as a result of which the State is hemmed in by the new international boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon. That being the case, there seems to be no longer any estuarine boundary between Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State.

It can easily be seen from paragraph 17 of the above affidavit, that the revised boundary delimitation of the NBC dated 5/7/2004 which the plaintiff is urging this court to declare as the maritime boundary of the two States is predicated on the negotiations between Nigeria and Cameroon which negotiation is almost but not finally concluded. . . . . It also needs to be stressed that the NBC revised boundary map was made and allegedly approved by the President at a time when the boundary dispute was sub judice.”

Cross River State was granted, by executive Presidential fiat, attribution of and derivation revenue from, the 76 oil wells for the first time through the National Boundary Commission’s letter reference No. NBC.SEC28/1/142 of 24th January 2005 addressed to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.

For the records, Cross River State was regarded as a littoral State in 2005 on the basis of the assumption that Western Bakassi would remain in Nigeria in view of the then on- going negotiations between Nigeria and Cameroun. The basis for the letter of NBC of 24th January 2005, which ceded the 76 oil wells of Akwa Ibom State to Cross River State, was clearly stated as follows:

“. . . significant progress has been made in the President’s untiring efforts to secure for Nigeria and, particularly, Nigerians residing on the Bakassi Peninsula, administrative jurisdiction over the Western Peninsula. This development means that legally and administratively, Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State remains an integral part of Nigeria as a result of which that State has an outlet to the sea”.

Consequent thereto, the NBC concluded that the “further implications” of this assumption included the fact that:

“(ii) Cross River State WILL GAIN 75 Number of oil wells which implies that Akwa Ibom State WILL LOSE the same number of oil wells”. (capital letters supplied)

We need it clearly understood that the background to the avalanche of suits instituted by Cross River State against Akwa Ibom State is encapsulated by the Supreme Court judgment of 10th July 2012 in these words:

“By way of brief background, as at the time of the judgment of this court in A-G Federation v A-G Abia State (2002) 6 NWLR (pt. 764) pg. 542 was pronounced, only the Federal Government and not the littoral states could lawfully exercise legislative, executive and judicial powers over the maritime belt or territorial waters and sovereign right over the exclusive economic zone subject to universally recognized rights. The immediate effect of the pronouncement popularly referred to as the Resource Control judgment was the promulgation of the Allocation of Revenue (Abolition of Dichotomy in the Principle of Derivation) Act 2004. By virtue of sections 1(1) and (2) of the Act, as from the date of commencement in 2004 the 200 meters water isobaths contiguous to a State of the Federation was deemed to be part of that State for the purpose of computing the revenue accruing to the Federation Account from that State pursuant to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution or any other enactment.”

It should be emphasized that when the Supreme Court pronouncement on “low water mark” was made in April 2002, in the case which the Supreme Court referred to, the implication for Akwa Ibom State was clear. Over 95% of the offshore oil resources of Akwa Ibom State, including the 76 oil wells, were gone. Other littoral States also lost derivation revenues from offshore oil wells at that time. In a widely publicized reaction to this 2002 judgement, the Cross River State Government described it as excellent because she had nothing to lose! All the 76 oil wells were a loss to Akwa Ibom State in 2002, just as they were a loss after their expropriation to Cross River State in 2005. Had the wells been in Cross River State, the Government of that State would not have described the loss as excellent!

Pursuant to the said Allocation of Revenue (Abolition of Dichotomy in the Principle of Derivation) Act 2004, it became necessary for the maritime territory to be delineated between the coastline and the 200m isobaths for the littoral States.

Following protests by many States in 2008 over the arbitrary attribution of oil wells following the implementation of the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy Abrogation Act 2004 aforesaid, the National Boundary Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission had the Presidential directive to produce the delimitation of the maritime boundaries for the attribution of oil wells for Cross River and Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa, Delta and Ondo and Rivers and Abia States. This resulted in the Inter–Agency Meeting in Kano where the wrong attribution of oil wells was corrected across board. The agencies at that Meeting included the National Boundary Commission, the Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the Nigerian Navy and the Department of Petroleum Resources.

The recommendations of this Inter–Agency Meeting led to the return of the 76 oil wells which Akwa Ibom State earlier lost in 2005 and from which Cross River State had earned revenue for only three years, back to Akwa Ibom State. By then, with the complete handover of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, the status of Cross River State as a non-littoral State was established. It should also be noted that in the same exercise, oil wells were similarly returned to Abia State from Rivers State; to Bayelsa State from Rivers State and to Delta State from Ondo State.

It was against this background that the leadership of Cross River State further sought to establish its claim over the maritime territory of Akwa Ibom State where these 76 oil wells are located in another suit, No. SC.250/2009 at the Supreme Court.

Despite the insistence of Cross River State on judicial determination of the ownership of the oil wells, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, in considerable appreciation of the historical and cultural ties that permanently bind both Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, wrote a letter ref. No. GO/AKS/S/45 on 16th December 2010 to the President offering to pay a monthly grant of N250 million ex gratis to Cross River State.Regrettably this gesture at amicable resolution was, again, turned down by the Cross River State Government, which rather opted to continue court proceedings.

Rather than accepting the offer made by Akwa Ibom State Government, Cross River State Government continued to pursue her case at the Supreme Court and, rather surreptitiously, caused the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to arbitrarily deduct a total sum of N18, 481,913,454.69 ( Eighteen billion, four hundred and eighty one million, nine hundred and thirteen thousand, four hundred and fifty four naira, sixty nine kobo) from the derivation revenues of Akwa Ibom State for the period January 2008 to May 2012, the details of which are as follows:

January – May 2008 — N3, 544,768,893.42

June - November 2008 — N4, 853,788,604.62

December – February 2009 — N2, 136,562,290.58

August – December 2010 — N1, 621,773,282.58

January – May 2011 — N1, 889,734,369.69

June – December 2011 — N2, 659,416,739.93

January – May 2012 — N1, 775,869,273.87

TOTAL — N18, 481,913,454.69

It should be stressed that the entire sum of over N18 billion paid to Cross River State during the said period was not sourced from any ecological funds as erroneously represented by agents of the Cross River State Government, but from the statutory derivation revenue of Akwa Ibom State. It is instructive to note that the amount arbitrarily and illegally deducted for the period stated above accounts for more than twice the value of the derivation revenue from the 76 oil wells for the same period. These deductions of the statutory derivation revenues of Akwa Ibom State in favour of Cross River State contravene section 162(2) of the1999 Constitution. It also negates the brotherly gesture in the proposals canvased in the letter of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State Ref: No. GH/AKS/S/87 dated 28th January 2011.

As events turned out, the insistence of the leadership of Cross River State to have a judicial pronouncement on its claim to the 76 oil wells ultimately came to an end on 10th July 2012 with a dismissal of the said claim in its entirety. As a Government we are alarmed and shocked by the highly temperamental pronouncements of the leadership and agents of the Cross River State Government over the said judgment aimed at causing a frosty relationship between the peoples of the two States and demeaning the judicial officers of the Supreme Court.

Addressing the Court on the same date after the judgment, Chief Paul Erokoro (SAN), lead counsel to Cross River State, accepted the Supreme Court judgment in good faith and regretted the opprobrium the Court was subjected to in the build-up to the judgment by the other agents of Cross River State in the media. It is regrettable that this commendable conciliatory position of her Counsel was not maintained in the official statement issued by the Cross River State Government which essentially questioned the integrity of the Supreme Court and described the 76 oil wells as “stolen”. It is a cardinal principle of law that Cross River State cannot approbate and reprobate nor accept only the benefit of a decision of court and reject the burden; having accepted the aspect of the same Supreme Court judgment of 2005 in suit No. SC. 124/1999 which ceded Oku/Mbiabo/Ayadehe villages of Itu Local Government in Akwa Ibom State to Cross River State, she cannot now question part of the same judgment and that of 10th July, 2012 in suit No. SC.250/2009 which confirmed Cross River State as a non-littoral State, with no claim to any maritime territory.

Why shun peace? Is history repeating itself? We recall that Cross River State rejected an earlier attempt by Akwa Ibom State Government to have the issue of the 24 villages of Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State ceded to Cross River State in the judgement in Suit No. SC.124/1999 politically and amicably settled. Infact, in a letter dated 27th March, 2006 entitled ‘Re: Proposal By The Akwa Ibom Government For A Political Solution To The Boundary Issues Between Cross River And Akwa Ibom State At The Mbiabo Axis’, the then leadership of Cross River State stated emphatically:

" Beyond this position, Council further called on the two State Governments of Cross River and Akwa Ibom to endeavor to abide by the terms of the Supreme Court judgment and equally encourage their indigenes to respect the judgment. ”

The current propaganda against both the Supreme Court and Akwa Ibom State has degenerated to a ridiculous level of denouncing the map of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) which Cross River State tendered and relied upon at the Supreme Court in Suit No. SC.124/1999 decided in June 2005. Cross River State leadership, seven years after, now allege that the NBC map they earlier relied upon is doctored and fraudulent.

As a law-abiding State, we have an abiding faith in the sanctity of judicial processes and pronouncements. In 2005 we lost 24 villages of Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State to Cross River State in a Supreme Court judgment; we did not vilify the Supreme Court or the Cross River State Government. In 2011 the Supreme Court gave judgment in favour of Rivers State over revenue derived from 86 off shore oil wells attributed to Akwa Ibom State; we did not attack the integrity of the Supreme Court nor did we incite the people of Akwa Ibom against the good people of Rivers State.

As a responsible Government, we shall continue to maintain due process in matters of both law and government and refrain from actions capable of destroying ancient bonds or intimidating and/or weakening the administration of justice, irrespective of the occasion or euphemism.

Akwa Ibom sons and daughters who passionately love their Cross River State counterparts should note for the records that Suit No. SC.250/2009 was instituted by Cross River State against the Federal Government of Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State Government. The citizens of both States are enjoined to continue to embrace peace.

*Ekpenyong Ntekim Esq. Is the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Akwa Ibom State

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