The aftermath of the Supreme Court verdict on the dispute between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states over 76 oil wells has brought into the fore the efficacy of political solution. The court has ruled that the oil wells belong to Akwa Ibom. In fact, by virtue of this victory in court Akwa Ibom has even reportedly claimed that Cross River is owing it N18.4 billion, being the derivation funds allegedly paid on the 76 oil wells before the judgment of the final court of appeal in the land. Although lawyers would readily say that this is the position of the law, it is clear that the matter cannot yet be said to be politically settled. Indeed the need for a political solution is urgent in the mutual interests of the two states.
It would be politically naive for this imperative to be dismissed by either side to the dispute. Those who do so are simply ignoring lessons of our recent history. It does not help cohesion and stability when any part of the federation nurses a grave sense of injustice. As they say, not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. Perhaps the most obvious proof of this assertion is that since the verdict of the Supreme Court last month, both state governments have, in a way, taken the matter to the court of public opinion. Akwa Ibom state government has put out advertorials massively to explain its position. Cross River is also stating its own case, although with fewer advertorials for obvious reasons of leaner resources. The implication of this spirited public discussions of the issues involved in the dispute is that the possibility of a political solution should not be ruled out. Doubtless, making it a matter of public debate is certainly healthy in political terms
Cross River and Akwa Ibom are not just neighbours, they are indeed sister states in every sense of the phrase because of the strong socio-economic and historical ties. The reality of the actual relationship between the people of the two states cannot be fully captured in any court judgement. This is a point the governments of the two states must ponder as they seek a definitive solution to the problem based on justice and not just judgement. Beyond the lines drawn by the National Boundary Commission or the formula employed by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the two states created from the old Cross River state share more in common that some gladiators might appreciate because oil wealth is involved now. The Supreme Court might have declared Cross River a non-littoral state, but the reality of the geography of the area is quite a different matter. There are human passions also involved that should be considered.
In the out- of- court statements of both sides, there some issues that are worth underlining for an efficacious solution to the problem. First, neither side should pretend that political solution is extraneous to the matter. After all, Akwa Ibom once faced the problem of offshore/onshore dichotomy and it eventually benefitted from a political solution. Today Akwa Ibom is deriving funds from over 1000 oil wells located offshore. The federal government of President Olusegun Obasanjo wrongly went to court to determine the littoral status of states. If the position of the law had remained that states should not be entitled to derivation from offshore oil, Akwa Ibom would have been effectively a non-oil producing state today. But such a position would be manifestly unjust. The ecological consequences of extraction of oil does not respect offshore/onshore dichotomy. Those who live a few metre isobaths to the extractive activities are not immune to the negative impact of the activities because of legal dichotomy. It was, therefore, in the interest of justice that a political solution was devised.
This was the basis of the making of the law that abolished the unjust offshore/onshore dichotomy. So it is not alien to this discussion to talk of political solution. As a matter of fact, Cross River state insists that it went to court to give effect to a political solution. For clarity, Akwa Ibom continues to stand on the legal terra firma of the court verdict. In the eyes of the law that is quite valid. However, Akwa Ibom should also remember that the gross injustice of the onshore/offshore dichotomy could have persisted if Abuja had chosen to be insensitively legalistic. The political solution, of course, would not be the tokenist offer of N250 million grant by Akwa Ibom to Cross River. For a state that is claiming ownership of 76 oil wells the offer is clearly insulting, to put it mildly. In any case, the fact that offshore/onshore debate is being reportedly reopened by some states even when an existing law has abolished it is another telling proof that ultimately the solution to this problem political.
Secondly, the role of the RMAFC and the boundary commission in the matter should be further interrogated. These agencies created by the constitution should perform their important duties in a way that would promote justice and peace among the states of the federation. Their job is not merely technical. They should pay due regard to the socio-political sensibilities in the milieu. It would not help the process of integration in the federation if such powerful agencies were to operate as if they were in a technical workshop.
Thirdly, the implication of the court verdict on the littoral status of Cross River for the management of security in the territorial waters should seriously considered. The human consequences for the Bakassi people should also be a central consideration in fashioning a political solution. These Nigerians should not be given the impression that they are being disowned by their country. The wounds of losing their ancestral land to the Cameroun are still fresh. Matters should not be compounded with the handling of the oil wells in the waters of what remains of the area they consider their own.
This dispute is squarely between the south-eastern states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom. However, it has implications for inter-governmental relations within the federation. That is why the President of the federal republic should give leadership in forging a political solution. Maybe, the fact that both Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River are both leaders of the party of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), could facilitate the process of this political solution.