Governor Chibuike Amaechi
By Ernest Chinwo and James Emejo
The Rivers State Government has launched a spirited battle to stave off attempts to cede some oil wells in its territory to its neighbour, Bayelsa State.
The state governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, told Bayelsa to leave the oil wells alone, warning that any attempt to the contrary would fail.
Amaechi while declaring open a training workshop for members of the state House of Assembly in Calabar on Monday, said the bid would fail because the oil wells of Soku and Elem-Sangama communities in the state had been in existence even before the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996.
His deputy, Mr. Tele Ikuru, also Wednesday, accused some federal agencies of ganging up to cede parts of the state to Bayelsa State and also deny it of its revenue.
However, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) Wednesday waded into the crisis, in which President Goodluck Jonathan has been accused of being part of the plot to cede the oil wells to Bayelsa, his home state. The president has denied the claim.
It refuted allegations that it had connived with certain public officials to cede five oil communities in Rivers State to Bayelsa State for political reasons and defended the continued payment of the 13 per cent derivation fund for the oil wells in Soku to Bayelsa State.
Amaechi, in a statement Wednesday, wondered why the agitation was being placed on the front burner when the two states had never had issues with the delineation of boundaries as the boundaries are well known to all.
He also said since the creation of Bayelsa State, there has been no law or agreement ceding any part of Kalabari communities of Rivers to Bayelsa.
“We will not allow the attempt by the Bayelsa State Government to collect our oil wells. I have read what the Bayelsa State governor said. That the 11th edition of the (administrative) map (of Nigeria) gave them the oil wells. When?
“They didn’t talk about the first edition to the 10th edition; they chose to avoid that and went to the 11th edition. But the question they should answer is why are they avoiding the previous editions?” he asked.
He explained that the Federal Government had admitted in court to correcting the mistakes in the 11th edition, saying that the court documents were filed by Bayelsa lawyers who admitted the mistakes contained in the map of the 11th edition.
“But the Federal Government came to court and said, ‘oh we made a mistake in the 11th edition, we will correct it.’ They should correct it; the documents were filed by their lawyers, not our lawyers.
“All we want is for the Federal Government to go back to the 10th edition and correct everything.
“Bayelsa State was created so many years ago and there has been no law ceding that part of Kalabari kingdom to Bayelsa State. So when did it suddenly change? It changed in 2006, but I don’t want to join issues.
“I want the Kalabari people to represent themselves and I will stand behind them, and all what we are saying is that they should look from the first to the 10th edition (of the administrative map) and not an imaginary 11th edition.
“It won’t work; it will certainly not work. No matter how they try to intimidate the agencies of the Federal Government, we will continue to go to court and let our people know that the agencies of the Federal Government are being intimidated, that is what we are saying,” Amaechi stated.
He urged Rivers people to stand behind his administration to ensure that justice, equity and fair play are achieved in stopping Bayelsa from being given the oil wells.
“All we want is for Rivers people to stand by us; Soku community has been in Rivers State long before Bayelsa State was created. Elem- Sangama is not a ward in Bayelsa State, but they said, they don’t want territory, they want derivation. How can that work? Does oil come from the air?
“He (Bayelsa governor) has already answered the question for us, but we must struggle to get back our oil wells,” he said.
Speaking further, Amaechi expressed satisfaction that the retreat for the state lawmakers was holding in Calabar, saying that one of the benefits of the retreat was to acquire knowledge and challenge the lawmakers to come up with suggestions that would better the lives of Rivers people.
His Cross River State counterpart, Senator Liyel Imoke, while thanking the lawmakers for holding their retreat in Calabar, said no compensation was paid to Bakassi indigenes that are passing through hard times after their land was ceded to Cameroun in line with the 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“A whole local government area was collected and handed over to Cameroun and up till now, no compensation has been paid to my people. I think it is right for the Federal Government to look at this problem critically,” he said.
At another forum in Port Harcourt, Ikuru while receiving a delegation from the Kalabari kingdom that was protesting the transfer of five of their communities to Bayelsa State, said the RMAFC had paid N17 billion belonging to the state to Bayelsa State in the wake of the dispute.
Ikuru, who is also chairman of the state Boundary Commission, said the issue of the transfer of parts of the state to other states had become worrisome.
Earlier, the Amayanabo of Abonema and Chairman of Akukutoru Council of Traditional Rulers, Disreal Bob-Manuel, said the people would never accept the balkanisation of Kalabari Kingdom and would pursue the issue to the last.
Amid the raging controversy, the RMAFC, however, described as baseless, false and misleading, the allegations by the Kalabari National Forum that it wanted to give the oil wells to Bayelsa.
It also emerged yesterday that the much-awaited new revenue sharing formula among the three tiers of government might take longer than expected due to funding constraints.
RMAFC Chairman, Mr. Elias Mbam, at a news briefing in Abuja, said it was not the responsibility of the commission to adjust boundaries or determine location of oil wells.
According to him, “The commission does not act in isolation without reference to other relevant government agencies at all levels of government. In fact, the commission does not on its own generate data, demarcate boundaries or attribute oil wells to any state.”
However, he admitted that the Bayelsa State Government had recently forwarded a petition concerning the disputed oil wells to the commission.
He explained that the state, in the petition, had claimed some oil wells, which prompted the commission to constitute an inter-agency technical committee, comprising representatives from the National Boundary Commission (NBC), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Surveyor General of the Federation, and the surveyors general of both Rivers and Bayelsa States.
According to him, the technical committee at the end of its assignment will determine the boundary between the two states to know which area the disputed oil wells fall.
In addition, the DPR will determine the volume of production of each well so that the commission is well advised to take a decision on the issue.
Mbam also defended the attribution of revenue from the Soku oil field to Bayelsa, saying that the commission had relied solely on the decision of the Presidential Committee on the Verification of Oil Wells of December 2000.
He said: “Although, the Rivers State Government has since challenged this position in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in its judgment of Tuesday, July 10, 2012, stated that until the National Boundary Commission concludes its exercise of delineation of the disputed boundaries, it will be futile and premature to determine the boundary of the two states in the present circumstances.
“However, the appropriate order to be made in the prevailing circumstance is that of striking out the plaintiff’s (Rivers) suit.
“The Supreme Court ruling says that they cannot determine until the boundary commission concludes its work on the delineation of boundaries and that the status quo should remain.
“The question is what was the status quo? It was already being enjoyed by Bayelsa. So the issue of escrow doesn't arise. The issue was resolved in 2000, not now.
“It was because of the committee's report that Rivers State went to court. We are not doing anything different from what the Supreme Court said: it says return to the status quo.
“So we continue attributing it to Bayelsa until the Supreme Court determines the case when the boundary commission has completed its work.
“Accordingly, we are complying both with the Supreme Court directive and also the report of the presidential committee of 2000.”
On the recent agitation by oil communities that the 13 per cent derivation fund be paid directly to them, the RMAFC boss said although the Act establishing the commission does not allow it to release the money to communities, it has advised state governments that the fund should be used for the purpose it was meant.
He said: “It was meant to address the problems associated with oil production, so it is not for the development of the state capital. It is supposed to address the challenges that arose due to oil production.”
On the delay in arriving at a new revenue sharing formula, Mbam said: “In any assignment of this nature, the success and timing are subject to many other variables and these variables include funding.
“We have been having a lot of challenges with funding for this project. But we strongly believe that in 2013, the budget will make provisions for us to address the challenge.”