Boundary Commission to Appeal Court Ruling on Rivers, Bayelsa Oilfield Row

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  • S’Court did not award Soku oilfield to Rivers, Bayelsa Insists

Alex Enumah and James Emejo in Abuja

The National Boundary Commission (NBC) thursday expressed its readiness to appeal a recent ruling of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which ordered the return of Soku oilfield from Bayelsa State to its rightful owner, Rivers State.

NBC acting Director General, Mr. Adamu Adaji, also told THISDAY in an exclusive interview in Abuja that the commission was not the producer of the Administrative Map of Nigeria as erroneously insinuated in some quarters.

Bayelsa State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Andrew Seweniowor, also clarified that contrary to claims at the Federal High Court, the Supreme Court never awarded the disputed oilfields to Rivers State.

Adaji and Seweniowor were reacting to Monday’s judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo, who had declared Rivers State as the rightful owner of the oil well located in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State.

The judge held that all the documents from relevant government agencies and facts before the court, proved that the Soku Oil Wells belong to Rivers State.

He accordingly ordered the transfer of ownership of the oil wells from Bayelsa State to Rivers State.
But Adaji faulted the court judgment, adding that it was the duty of the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation to produce the administrative map.

He said though the surveyor general had produced the provisional copy of the much-awaited 12th edition of the map, “because of certain discrepancies, they decided to withhold the final publication.”
“So, we don’t know when they are ready to publish that,” he told THISDAY.

Adaji also accused the court of usurping the functions of the boundary commission by defining the boundary in its ruling- when it had not been finalised by the commission.

He said such a function was an exclusive mandate of the commission.
“The high court ruled and we are going to study the ruling and react appropriately because the impression given by the ruling is something that we are not comfortable with and we want to appeal that,” he stated.
He also accused both states of complicating the resolution of the border dispute.

He said: “Because the impression is that the court seems to have defined the boundary and to the best of our own knowledge, we are yet to conclude work on the boundary- and it was because one of the states, particularly Rivers State, had declined to cooperate for us to make further progress since 2012 when the Supreme Court directed that they should await the conclusion of work by the National Boundary Commission before any further case on the matter.

“But the Supreme Court had decided on the boundary matter as far back as 2012 when it said they could not make any ruling on the matter until the boundary was decided by the NBC.

“So, we are yet to conclude that because Rivers State declined to cooperate with us to make further progress ever since. So, we are surprised that the high court delved into something that the Supreme Court had ruled on previously.”

He craved the indulgence of states to cooperate in order to fast-track the quick and final resolution of the boundary dispute.

However, commenting on controversial Soku oil wells, the acting DG said it was not a boundary matter.
“What the NBC is concerned about is showing the boundaries; once it shows the boundaries, the issues of where the oil wells belong to will be established,” he added.

According to him, an independent committee had based on their findings, previously made recommendations to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) on the matter, which was why the oil wells were credited to Bayelsa all these while.

“So, if the high court rules in favour of Rivers State, well as far as we are concerned, it is not…but when the same court was defining the boundaries, usurping the functions of the boundary commission is what we feel we need to set the records straight.

“Except that some of the boundaries shown on these maps are not quite exact and accurate and the surveyor general, in producing that map, always puts a caveat that the boundaries shown are not exact except the ones that have been finalised.

“And we know that the boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers had not been finalised and so, we expect that the lines shown are not exact perhaps that’s why it was thought that it was the boundary commission that may be responsible,” he added.

S’Court Did Not Award Soku Oilfields to Rivers, Bayelsa Insists

Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Andrew Seweniowor, yesterday stated that the Supreme Court never awarded the said oilfields to Rivers State.

He said contrary to the claim of Rivers State, the Supreme Court refused to grant the reliefs it sought in suit number: CS 106/2009.

“From Monday December 16, 2019, the media had been awash with reports that the Federal High Court, sitting at Abuja had delivered a judgment awarding the ownership of the said Oluasiri Oilfield/Oil wells to Rivers State purportedly pursuant to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Suit No. CS/106/2009 between Attorney General, Rivers State v. Attorney General, Bayelsa State & Anor.

“It was also reported that the judgment of the Federal High Court was made to give effect to the decision of the Supreme Court, and purporting to direct the NBC to fix the boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa State at Santa Barbara River.

“It is worthy of note that the Supreme Court in Suit No. CS/106/2009 struck out the action on the ground that it was futile and premature to determine the boundaries of the two states insofar as the NBC had not delineated the boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State. The Supreme Court never made a specific order directing the NBC to delineate the disputed boundaries”, the Bayelsa AG said in a statement.

Seweniowor added that the apex in the said judgment delivered by Galadima JSC held that because of the technical nature of the dispute and the claims of the parties, the NBC as an authority vested with authorities and expertise know-how in dealing with such matter should once and for all conduct an exhaustive exercise of delineating the disputed boundary.

“In the light of the observations I have clearly expressed above, I do not feel comfortable to grant the declarations sought until the NBC concludes its exercise of delineation of disputed boundary to finality.
“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 suit, and I so order accordingly. Each party to bear its costs”, the apex court was reported to have decided.

The Bayelsa AG said after the decision of the Supreme Court, the NBC in exercise of its statutory functions commenced the efforts to finally resolve the boundary dispute between Rivers and Bayelsa State with the constitution of Joint Technical Committee on the Bayelsa/Rivers Interstate Boundary, the Deputy Governors of both States leading their respective State’s delegation.

He said after meetings of the committee, the Rivers State delegation led by the then Deputy Governor, Tele Ikuru, had on January 30, 2013, formally announced the withdrawal of the state’s delegation from further deliberation and participation in the joint delimitation and demarcation until certain conditions he articulated are met.

One of the conditions is the payment of all revenue from the disputed oil wells into an Escrow Account under the Accountant-General of the Federation.

“Given the background and the state of affairs necessitated by the voluntary withdrawal of Rivers State from further deliberation and participation in the joint delimitation and demarcation exercise in respect of the disputed boundary, it is therefore surprising that Rivers State could resort to instituting the action at the Federal High Court, Abuja against the NBC and without the knowledge and participation of Bayelsa State, and proceeded to obtain a judgment to the effect that the Oluasiri Oilfield/Oil wells, belong to Rivers State on the same unchanged facts and issues as was the case before the Supreme Court in Suit No. SC/106/2009.

“This to say the least, is highly unusual, curious, and clearly untenable and cannot be allowed to stand despite the media frenzy orchestrated and sponsored by the Government of Rivers State”, the AG added.