THISDAY

Kinsmen in Oily Fight

Segun James writes that the recent decision of a Federal High Court that ceded ownership of the disputed Soku Oil Wells/Fields to Rivers state caught the Bayelsa state government by surprise

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When people of the Kalabari Kingdom in Rivers state and their cousins, the people of Nembe kingdom started flexing muscle over ownership of an oil field located on the border of both states, discerning watchers of the politics of the Niger Delta region were saddened by the deteriorat­ing relationsh­ip between the brothers.

What could have triggered such bitterness that made even the government of both states start beating the drums of war?

The answer lies in the contentiou­s boundary area between both states that is generating bad blood between the otherwise friendly neighbours and brothers that have been balkanized to different areas as a result of state creation. And so it was with Bayelsa and Rivers states. The Soku oil field is located on the border region of both states. While the community named Soku is in Rivers state, the Soku flow station where all crude from the field is processed is located in Oluasiri, a Nembe community in Bayelsa state.

Who owns the oil and where should the revenue accruing from the field go? This is the bone of contention that has pitched the government of both states against one other.

This was the contentiou­s question that was answered by the Federal High Court sitting at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, declared Rivers State the rightful owner of the oil wells located in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, and accordingl­y ordered the transfer of ownership from Bayelsa State to Rivers State.

Delivering judgment in the suit with number: FHC/ABJ/CS/984/19, Justice Ekwo, held that all the documents from relevant government agencies and facts before the court proved that the Soku Oil Wells/fields belong to Rivers State.

The judge noted that the issue arose from an error in the boundary demarcatio­n between the two states and ordered the National Boundary Commission to rectify the error in its 11th Edition of Administra­tive Map which designated San Bartholome­w River as the boundary between the two states, instead of River Santa Barbara.

The error was said to have surfaced in the 11th Edition of Administra­tive Map produced by the NBC in 2002.

In its letter dated July 3, 2002, in response to Rivers State Government’s protest, the NBC was said to have admitted the mistake and promised to rectify it in the 12th edition of the administra­tive map.

However, following the failure of the NBC to rectify the mistake as promised earlier, the

Rivers State Government filed a suit against the Attorney General of Bayelsa State and the Attorney General of the Federation before the Supreme Court in 2009.

Before the old Rivers state was divided into two, the people of Nembe and Kalabari had cause to go to the courts to determine the ownership of the Soku oil fields. But the military government, at the time could not solve the problem.

With the coming of democracy, the people once again called for a proper delineatio­n of the borders. This prompted the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government to set up a committee to look into the case.

The Deputy Governors of both states were co-opted into the committee that was set up to determine the borders and also determine who gets what.

The situation soon changed when the then Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Rivers state government cried that President Goodluck Jonathan may have vested interest in the ownership of the oil field.

Following the refusal of the state government­s to find a political solution to the issue, the people took the case to the courts where it was decided in favour of Oluosiri (Nembe). That was the situation until the Rivers state government went to the Federal High Court to seek justice.

The decision of the first court made the Federal Revenue and Fiscal Commission to start paying the revenue from the field to Bayelsa state since 2007.

The Rivers state government had been seething with anger over the decision before the recent court decision, hence the decision to approach another court for justice.

The Bayelsa state government was also battle-ready following the initial ruling. The government insisted that there are so many oil fields and wells belonging to the people of the state which were named after communitie­s in present-day Rivers state and that that does not mean that they belong to the communitie­s so named.

Speaking through the then state Commission­er for Informatio­n, Mr. Markson Fefegha, the Bayelsa government noted, “This oversight did not matter then because both people belonged to the same state.” Fefegha said that it was the creation of new states that brought this anomaly to the fore as its neighbour is now using the name to claim what does not belong to it.

Besides the Soku field which Bayelsa now chose to call Oluasiri Oilwell/Field, Fefegha lamented that the Iduoli field which was named after another community in Ahoada in Rivers state when it was located in Biseni community in Bayelsa state.

In the same vein, Governor Seriake Dickson accused his Rivers state counterpar­t of not telling his people the truth over the problem. He described as baseless the Rivers state government claim, saying it was calculated to mislead the country and instigate crises.

Dickson accused then Governor Rotimi Amaechi of trying to ridicule the office and person of President Goodluck Jonathan by bringing his office to a problem that was based on greed.

Now, Bayelsa and Rivers states government are back on the warpath over the ownership of the disputed Soku oil field and flow station located in the boundary area of both states.

Angered at the action of its Rivers counterpar­t, Bayelsa state has accused it of abuse of judicial process over the disputed Soku Oil Fields/Boundary disputes.

It would be recalled that the Chiefs and Principal members of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area in Rivers State had in a suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/413/20 against the National Boundary Commission, (NBC) and Attorney General of Bayelsa State prayed the court to declare River Santa Barbara as the boundary between the Kalabaris in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State and the Nembes in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The plaintiffs, also sought the court declaratio­n on the purported 11th Edition of the Administra­tive Map of Nigeria, arguing that it was done in error and its adoption should be declared null and void.

However, the defendant, the Attorney General and Commission­er for Justice, Bayelsa state submitted that the plaintiff have no locus standi, arguing that boundary matter is an issue between the states and not LGAs or communitie­s.

Describing the suit filed by the plaintiff as abuse of judicial process, the state legal officer submitted that the Supreme Court had adjudicate­d on the matter, adding that it was wrong for individual­s, group or state to flout the order of the apex court.

Quoting copiously from the ruling of the Supreme Court as read by Justice Suleiman Galadima, the Attorney General said the boundary between the two states could not be determined until the National Boundary Commission completed its assignment as contained in the Supreme Court judgment on suit number 106/2009.

The situation soon changed when the then Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Rivers state government cried that President Goodluck Jonathan may have vested interest in the ownership of the oil field. Following the refusal of the state government­s to find a political solution to the issue, the people took the case to the courts where it was decided in favour of Oluosiri (Nembe). That was the situation until the Rivers state government went to the Federal High Court to seek justice. The decision of the first court made the Federal Revenue and Fiscal Commission to start paying the revenue from the field to Bayelsa state since 2007. The Rivers state government had been seething with anger over the decision before the recent court decision, hence the decision to approach another court for justice

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