Senate Invites NBC, UN Team over Status of Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Senate has invited the United Nations Resident Team in Nigeria and the Nigeria Boundary Commission (NBC) to brief it on the status of Nigeria’s claim of her extended continental shelf.

The upper legislative chamber has also directed its committee on Marine Transport when constituted, to diligently follow up on the activities of the Nigerian extended continental shelf project and regularly brief the lawmakers.

The briefing by the UN Team and the NBC on the claim of Nigeria’s continental shelf, the Senate said, should take place within a month.

The Senate also resolved to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for setting up the high-powered presidential committee with the mandate to coordinate the activities of the Extended Continental Shelf Project.

It urged the president not to relent in his efforts to fully support the project to its conclusion by defraying the outstanding financial commitment to the Nigerian office – the United Nation residents’ team – set up for the project at the United Nations and the foreign consultants to enable them concentrate efforts to obtain a positive recommendation from the United Nations body – UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The resolutions were sequel to the adoption of a motion sponsored by Senator George Thompson Sekibo (Rivers East) and 32 others on the “Urgent need to ascertain the status of the Nigerian Extended Continental Shelf Project.”

Sekibo in the lead debate noted that on May 7, 2009, Nigeria made a formal submission to the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), stating its intention for an extension of her Continental Shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

According to him, the submission is sequel to the provision of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which allows coastal states to make additional claim of between 200 nautical miles to a maximum of 350 nautical miles (650 miles) beyond their Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 Nautical miles (about 370km), if the coastal state is able to prove through scientific data and information that the seabed and the subsoil of the marine area of its territorial sea is a natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin.

The senator said he was aware that every coastal state has a seaward delimitation of its territorial waters, adding that for the purpose of insight, “it is as follows: the territorial waters; the contiguous zone and extended continental shelf.”

He said the United Nation’s Convention allows such additional claim to a maximum of 350 nautical miles.

Sekibo added that Nigeria’s claim for an extension of her continental shelf from 200 to 350 nautical miles is achievable.

According to him, the country had set up an inter-ministerial technical committee in the year 2000 which has been coordinated by the NBC and has been in the forefront of the project.

He stated that he is aware that on the submission of her claim, Nigeria set up an office in the United Nation’s office with some Nigerian experts trained for that purpose and foreign consultants engaged for overseeing the day to day activities of the project.

“I understand also that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari set up a High Powered Presidential Committee (HPPC) on November 5, 2015, being chaired by the Attorney General of the Federation for the purpose of a proper follow up to the successful claim of the submission.

The committee, he said, was as recommended by the Senate in 2013.

He explained that the Senate had, in its Order Paper of 14”I February 2013, “urged the federal government to urgently fund the Project, as the officers in the UN had not received their allowances for about two years at that time; so the Project went dormant. Thus the Project suffered hiccups of funding from Government, first for about eighteen months, then for about three years, till November 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari constituted the above committee and defrayed the outstanding financial commitments.”

Sekibo observed that Nigeria has already invested a lot of taxpayers’ money in the project for the collection of geological, geophysical and hydrographic data but has not yet completed the process from its commencement in 2000 after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1997.

He said it will be economically unwise for the federal government to foot-drag on the project at this time, as this will also portray Nigeria in a bad light at the UN.

According to him, Nigeria laid a claim of 8,000 kilometre squared approximately twice the size of Lagos State, in her first submission made in 2009, which could be improved upon if Nigeria’s submission was based on morphology supported by geology as against the evidence to the contrary used in gathering her technical data that was submitted in 2009.

Sekibo said he is aware that the Extended Continental Shelf when achieved would be an additional seaward territory beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles over which the country already has sovereignty rights;

He added that he knows further that Article 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has given exclusive rights with regard to exploration and exploitation of such resources to the coastal state that has been able to claim the territory as prescribed by the Convention.

Similarly, he said Article 81 also gives an exclusive drilling right to the coastal state that has been able to claim its Extended Continental Shelf.

He said the Extended Continental Shelf is strategically important to any coastal state that is able to go through the rigorous process of approval.

According to him, the importance among other things include naval activities and national security both on the sea, the seabed and the airspace, as well as valuable resources as Sedentary fisheries, Bio prospecting of deep ocean diversity, diverse types of minerals, including diamonds, phosphorite, Sulphur, coal, iron and hydrocarbons.

These are in addition to abundant energy resources of oil and gas which have been estimated to account for about 90 per cent of exploited seabed minerals, he said.

He added that Nigeria would gain more as offshore oil well produced about 30 per cent of the 85 million barrels of oil output per day in 2010.

“This means that with enough oil and gas prospecting infrastructure on offshore exploration and exploitation, the country would harvest more oil and gas than what it currently being produced onshore,” he said

Sekibo said that he was informed that between August and September 2015, the United Nations Commission’s Subcommittee Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) met about twelve times in New York for the review of Nigeria’s submission and made certain recommendations that need to be rigorously followed up to conclusion.

He said that after the release of the funds in 2016, Nigeria made an amended submission to the UN, based on the ’General Rule’ of morphology backed by geology and geophysics, and that the amended submission contained increased outer limits, making a claim for far much bigger area, about19km2 or five times the size of Lagos State, than the submission in 2009.