Monday, July 20, 2009

Resolving the Oil Wells Issue

The on-going dispute between Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State over the ownership of 76 oil wells (another account puts the figure at 75) should be resolved before it gets out of control. Already, the issue is generating too much heat in the media.
The process of settling the maritime boundary disagreement between the two states was initiated and completed during the last administration, with the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo presiding over the meetings attended by the respective governors. Technical, political and historical options were all considered by the National Boundary Commission (NBC) before arriving at the proposal it tabled before the parties. Eventually, both states were satisfied with the resolution as their boundary was adjusted to ensure that each of them still possessed enough wells that would qualify them as oil producing states and, by implication, beneficiaries of the derivation fund of the federal purse.
But, in August last year, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) met and, based on the loss of Bakassi, a former local government area in Cross River State , to Cameroon , ceded the oil wells located in the Bakassi area to Akwa Ibom. As a result of that action, Cross River has been losing billions of naira in revenue since March this year. The case is in the Federal High Court but the situation has sparked off agitation among Cross Riverians.
Akwa Ibom has put up an argument in support of its claim of the ownership of the contentious wells. In advertorials published in several dailies last week, the Akwa Ibom Elders Forum put its position thus: “For centuries, the Bakassi Peninsula had been variously administered as part of the present Akwa Ibom State through Eket Division, then Oron, and then Mbo local governments as administrative units became created. By the time the Peninsula was expropriated from Akwa Ibom to Cross River State under General Sani Abacha’s administration only in the 1990s, records of effective control and governance of the Peninsula resided in Akwa Ibom.…Prior to January 2005, all the 75 oil wells were never in Cross River State but were rightly within Akwa Ibom territory.…The 75 oil wells were confiscated from Akwa Ibom State and arbitrarily handed over to Cross River State by the then federal government.”
Cross River also has its side of the argument. In its presentation to the presidential committee on the matter the other day, the state government stated: “When in 2008 RMAFC requested NBC to produce maps of maritime territories of the states based on strict technical demarcation of the maritime boundaries ignoring all other considerations, the NBC, being well versed in this matter, was aware of the dangers that this method portends and the injustice and confusion it can bring. In a memo dated 2nd June, 2008, the NBC stated in Paragraph 5 as follows: ‘Maritime boundaries are subjected to United Nations laws of the seas articles which provide technical solutions but with modifications for equitable results….This gives Cross River State chances of historical circumstances to retain its previous maritime boundaries prior to the handing over of Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon.’ “
Expectedly, both sides have been churning out updated facts to back their arguments. But from experience, technicalities alone cannot settle sentimental subjects like this. In trying to mend the fences of the two brother states, there is an important issue about the positions of the RMAFC and the NBC, which is constitutionally empowered to define boundaries, after going through due process that includes the enactment of an Act of the National Assembly.
Federal Government should now, as a matter of national interest, seek political solution to this potentially combustible scenario. The Niger Delta region, theatre of this brewing misunderstanding, is already overheated.