Cross River Losses Claim To Akwa Ibom`s 76 Oil Wells Again ...Seven Years Later in the Supreme Court
11 Jul 2012
In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 10, ruled that the 76 oil wells lying off the coastal waters of Akwa Ibom State indeed belong to Akwa Ibom State. The Court further reinforced Cross River State's status as a non-littoral state, declaring therefore, that it was not entitled to 76 offshore oil wells, as they were no longer part of the state's maritime territory.
A full panel of the court comprising seven justices headed by the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher, held that the 76 oil wells were rightly attributed to Akwa Ibom State by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC).
In the lead judgment written by Justice Olufunlola Adekeye, the court held that the agreement which initially allowed Cross River State to have the 76 oil wells had been frustrated by the handing over of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun, following the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2002. The court held that the 13 per cent derivation revenue from the 76 oil wells between Akwa Ibom and Cross River States must continue to be attributed to the state on whose maritime territory they were found to be located by the relevant government agencies.
According to Justice Adekeye, Cross River State no longer has any maritime boundary as it was landlocked. She held that the plaintiff not being a littoral state and not having a maritime corridor or abutting the sea, the 76 oil wells which lie offshore and within a maritime territory, which were the subject matter of the suit, could not be attributed to it, according to her: “The plaintiff has no maritime territory since the cessation of Bakassi Peninsula and the Cross River estuary which used to be part of the state prior to August 2008."
“The present position of the plaintiff cannot be blamed on any government agency, particularly the National Boundary Commission and the RMAFC. The two statutory bodies must perform their statutory duties based on facts and realities to compile the indices for the payment of the derivation revenues to entitled states.” Adekeye ruled that the agreement upon which Cross River based its claim for entitlement to the oil wells had been discharged by frustration, that is, the handover of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun.
On cross River’s complaint of accommodating Bakassi returnees, She said: “This court cannot because of the influx of refugees from Bakassi into Cross River State give a legislative judgment. The government of Nigeria has a means of providing for the social needs of the people of Cross River State faced with the social problems thrust on the state due to the cessation of Bakassi peninsula to the Cameroun,” she added. Adekeye advised the government of Cross River State to explore the avenue of getting the Federal Government to provide for the social needs of the people of the state.
Technical Issues on Which The Judgement Was Based
Cross River State has been in court against its neighbour and sister state, Akwa Ibom State, since 2008 on the erroneous assumption that Bakassi once belonged to it and as such should continue to share in the maritime resources of Akwa Ibom State. This became Cross River's position after agencies of the Federal Government with due consultation with Cross River State returned 76 oil wells that were arbitrarily expropriated to Cross River State in 2005 to Akwa Ibom State in the interest of equity and fairness. Such agencies as the National Boundary Commission (NBC) under a Presidential directive to carry out comprehensive consultation with the National Planning Commission (NPC) and Ministry of Energy (Petroleum), as well as Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) diligently provided delineations on which state resources in Nigeria were defined.
In October 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled the ownership of the Bakassi peninsula in favour of Cameroon; this was followed by the Greentree agreement. In the agreement, Nigeria recognised the sovereignty of Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula in accordance with the judgment of the ICJ and committed itself to the land and maritime boundary as delineated by the ICJ. Complete handover of Bakassi was made in October, 2008, foreclosing the claim of Cross River State to title on any part of Bakassi.
Akwa Ibom State has a 128Km coastal stretch all having contiguity and connectivity with the sea on the Gulf of Guinea. Cross River State on the other hand has no coastal area having contiguity with the sea. The estuary entering Cross River leaves the State helmed in and land locked without any contiguity to the sea. That being the case, Cross River’s connectivity, rather than contiguity, to the sea crosses maritime territory of Akwa Ibom State and Cameroon, thereby wiping off any claim to offshore oil wells.
Seven Years Ago In The Same Supreme Court
It is instructive to note that seven years ago in the same Supreme Court on the same 76 oil wells, in a case instituted by Cross River State in an attempt to obtain judicial title to oil wells expropriated from Akwa Ibom State, the Supreme Court delivered judgment on 24th June 2005 rejecting the claim of Cross River State for administrative control over the maritime area within which those oil wells were believed to be located. The non-littoral status of Cross River State at the time was further confirmed vide judgement of the Supreme Court.
The judgement reads, "the effect of the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dated 10/10/2002 on the land and maritime boundary case between Nigeria and Cameroon is that it has wiped out 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. If the 'median line' or 'thalweg' principle is adopted drawing the boundary line along the Cross River between Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, the line must intersect the new maritime line between Nigeria and Cameroon with the result that Cross River no longer has a seaward boundary."
The Supreme Court pronounced that the decision of January 2005 to transfer 76 oil wells which has always belonged to Akwa Ibom State to Cross River State was made at a time the prevailing issues were awaiting judicial decision. The purported transfer of the 76 oil wells from Akwa Ibom State to Cross River State was based on a faulty assumption that Cross River State shall access the sea through the administration of Western Bakassi.
Build-Up To Judgement Day
In the build up to the July 10 judgement day Cross River State sought to postpone the judgement, the State applied to the Supreme Court not to proceed to deliver judgment in the case it filed against Akwa Ibom State. In an application it filed July 5 by its lawyer, Yusuf Ali, SAN, Cross River alleged that the map submitted by Akwa Ibom State to the Supreme Court was doctored and did not represent the true position of Nigeria-Cameroun Joint Commission. The state said the map which is the likely premise for the court's verdict is an illegality which should not be relied upon to decide the dispute between the two states.
On June 21, a group of people reportedly staged a peaceful demonstration in Calabar, Cross River State Capital, over the disputed 76 oil wells that the Supreme Court was billed to deliver judgment on July 10, 2012 with intention to sway or cow the decision of the court.
Besides, Cross River State took the matter to the National Assembly, claiming that Nigeria could lose more territories to other countries in the Gulf of Guinea, and that the Nigerian Navy can no longer operate freely around the Eastern Naval Command.
Several write ups on a daily basis penetrated the media claiming ownership of the oil wells by Cross River State. The propaganda this time is similar to the spirit of the 2-weeks fasting in 2008 by Cross River State members of the National Assembly at the twilight of Cross River ownership of the same 76 oil wells.
Akwa Ibom State Governor’s Trailing Reaction To The Judgement
Reacting to the judgment, Akwa Ibom State governor His Excellency, Chief Godswill Akpabio, commended the apex court for refusing to be intimidated by blackmail. He added that he was ready to pursue peace with Cross River State because of the common history which the people shared, while urging Cross River State to apologise for spreading lies and divisive propaganda and for deliberately filing papers that were capable of impugning the integrity of Supreme Court justices and officials of the National Boundary Commission.
He described the judgement as, “Justice for Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, and indeed Nigeria,” and expressed the belief that it would strengthen the bond of friendship between the two sister states. He however added that he had explained to the leadership of Cross River State the futility of going to court as the state not being a littoral state could not have had oil wells in the sea.
Akpabio also said that contrary to the claim by Cross River, Nigeria had not lost any territory and would not lose any territory because of the Supreme Court judgment. He said: "The Supreme court today gave judgment on the lingering oil well controversy. I want to applaud the justices of the court for not allowing themselves to be intimidated. The last few days have been full of propaganda which could have caused acrimony between two sister states.”
"The judgment has laid to rest the controversy over the 76 oils wells which were originally taken from Akwa Ibom State. The oil wells have been in Akwa Ibom and had always been in Akwa Ibom." Akpabio also said that, "I want to assure Nigerians that there was no loss of territory as the judgment has nothing to do with any single loss of territory. On our part, we are always going to work with our sister state. I will continue to assist them so that the state can continue to grow."
On what Akwa Ibom could have been without the 76 oil wells Akpabio had this to say "Let me state here that, even without derivation, I would still be performing. So governors must begin to imbibe innovations to shore up their internally-generated revenue and attract investments to their states."