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75 oil wells of contention in perspective

They also offer us a lesson or two; namely, that in spite of it all, brothers are still brothers. Thus, unlike the bellicose, belligerent and…

They also offer us a lesson or two; namely, that in spite of it all, brothers are still brothers. Thus, unlike the bellicose, belligerent and bile-driven outpourings of some commentators/agitators on both sides, Governors Godswill Akpabio and Liyel Imoke have restrained themselves to the issues, and not resorting to threats like the Orok Dukes and Bassey Ewa-Henshaws of this world have done in the media.

As a fall out of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) retreat held in Kano in August 2008, at which both contending States were absent, the Commission de-listed Cross River from the oil power elite club, plummeting the State’s oil revenue by at least N400m monthly. This decision, the Cross River State has described as illegal and unacceptable, while Akwa Ibom says this is done on the side of the law, and by extension, justice.

It is curious that both States that were one until1987, are today arguing over this matter. If our made-by-Britain country had known and respected its boundaries, carving out a new State or LGA from an existing one would pose no problem. The LGAs that were excised to form Akwa Ibom had their boundaries. If they were respected, what was later called Bakassi would not have been donated to Cross River before it went to Cameroun. Up till the Sani Abacha days, what we call Bakassi (a corrupted version of the Effiat Oro greeting of “abak-osi” (you’ve risen early!) today belonged to Oro people of Akwa Ibom State. This is the verifiable truth!

Atabong in Bakassi, for instance, from where Senator Florence Ita-Giwa hails, (her mother was an Efik woman), was a creation of Atabong people of Oro. Her father’s remains are laid in Atabong Okobo. The paramount ruler of Bakassi, a true Effiat son, rightfully became paramount ruler because of this truth. So, those who say that Bakassi was an Efik settlement, citing alleged historical documents as proof, need to answer if Efik ever belonged to Cameroun; and how the bandied documents did not proof Bakassi is not Cameroun’s? Actually no pre-1994 Nigerian map has Bakassi on it, because its owners, the Oro people, or Nigeria never called it Bakassi. We need this bit of history, as it would help better understand the issues at stake.

Clearly, therefore, the letters written by Governors Attah and Akpabio on the 75 oil wells were clearly written in error. The Supreme Court’s decision of 24th June 2005, in a case Cross River State was the plaintiff, bears this out. In its decision [made in the existing circumstance) the Supreme Court, in Suit No. SC. 124/1999, observed that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision dated 10th October 2002, on the land and maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroun, “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.” It added that going by the “median line” principle in drawing boundaries, “Cross River no longer has a sea ward boundary.”  The oil wells in this contrived controversy are located offshore, off the territory of Cross River.

For a state to have a seaward boundary, or be considered to be littoral, goes beyond having rivers, creeks or tributaries. It must abut the open sea. Contiguity is not the same thing as connectivity. While contiguity indicates adjacency, connectivity indicates access. By the ICJ decision, Cross River has remote connectivity, but not contiguity.

The current misunderstanding is, therefore, clearly a product of political arbitrariness. The letter dated, 24th January, 2005 and addressed by the National Boundary Commission to the chairman of RMAFC, entitled, “Akwa Ibom Cross River interstate maritime boundary”, is one case in point. It said in part 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.” This means that without Bakassi, that State has no outlet to the sea. But then, this was at a time the case was still in court.

It added that as corollary, it was “compelled to review its earlier delineation of maritime boundary between Akwa Ibom and Cross River States.” This was in line with the DNA of the Obasanjo government’s of lack of respect for the rule of law. Here a boundary matter was being treated like a yo-yo. He simply ordered the transfer of 75 oil wells from Akwa Ibom to Cross River. His advisers had forgotten the boundaries that existed at the creation of Akwa Ibom in 1987.

The Cross River State government had in a letter dated 27th March, 2006 hailed the same Supreme Court judgement, especially as it upheld that Stae’s retention of some 20 communities and settlements in Itu LGA (now in Akwa Ibom) unilaterally transferred by the then Cross River State government to Odukpani (in Cross River) in 1983. When former Governor Attah appealed for a political solution to get around the Supreme Court’s decision as it affected the retained villages and settlements, then Governor Donald Duke firmly shut the door against it, and wrote to Obasanjo asking him to advise Akwa Ibom accordingly.

The genesis of the current problem arose when the National Boundary Commission, upon the coming into effect of the Offshore/Onshore Dichotomy Abrogation Act, 2004, emerged with controversial new maritime boundaries among the three states of Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. The three States did not fully accept this, yet the controversial maps transferred oil wells from Akwa Ibom to the other two sister states. Agitations to reverse the situation met a Pilate sitting over the affairs of the Medes and Persians!

Vice President Goodluck Jonathan as Chairman of the NBC, was to, last May, take another look at the matter. This resulted in the return of the 75 oil wells taken from Akwa Ibom in January 2005 to her. This was based on the facts of technical relevance of the location of the oil wells, which should not have been given to Cross River in the first place. This much is admitted by the Cross River national legislators’ 2nd July, 2009, press conference tex.

Bazee Uloh, a public issues analyst, writes from Abuja.