Bayelsa, Rivers Wrangle over Ownership of Oil Field

3

Segun James writes that the recent decision of a Federal High Court that ceded ownership of the disputed Soku Oil Wells/Fields to Rivers state caught the Bayelsa state government by surprise

When people of the Kalabari Kingdom in Rivers state and their cousins, the people of Nembe kingdom started flexing muscle over ownership of an oil field located on the border of both states, discerning watchers of the politics of the Niger Delta region were saddened by the deteriorating relationship between the brothers.

What could have triggered such bitterness that made even the government of both states start beating the drums of war?
The answer lies in the contentious boundary area between both states that is generating bad blood between the otherwise friendly neighbours and brothers that have been balkanized to different areas as a result of state creation. And so it was with Bayelsa and Rivers states. The Soku oil field is located on the border region of both states.

While the community named Soku is in Rivers state, the Soku flow station where all crude from the field is processed is located in Oluasiri, a Nembe community in Bayelsa state.
Who owns the oil and where should the revenue accruing from the field go? This is the bone of contention that has pitched the government of both states against one other.

This was the contentious question that was answered by the Federal High Court sitting at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, declared Rivers State the rightful owner of the oil wells located in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, and accordingly ordered the transfer of ownership from Bayelsa State to Rivers State.

Delivering judgment in the suit with number: FHC/ABJ/CS/984/19, Justice Ekwo, held that all the documents from relevant government agencies and facts before the court proved that the Soku Oil Wells/fields belong to Rivers State.

The judge noted that the issue arose from an error in the boundary demarcation between the two states and ordered the National Boundary Commission to rectify the error in its 11th Edition of Administrative Map which designated San Bartholomew River as the boundary between the two states, instead of River Santa Barbara.

The error was said to have surfaced in the 11th Edition of Administrative Map produced by the NBC in 2002.
In its letter dated July 3, 2002, in response to Rivers State Government’s protest, the NBC was said to have admitted the mistake and promised to rectify it in the 12th edition of the administrative map.

However, following the failure of the NBC to rectify the mistake as promised earlier, the Rivers State Government filed a suit against the Attorney General of Bayelsa State and the Attorney General of the Federation before the Supreme Court in 2009.

Before the old Rivers state was divided into two, the people of Nembe and Kalabari had cause to go to the courts to determine the ownership of the Soku oil fields. But the military government, at the time could not solve the problem.

With the coming of democracy, the people once again called for a proper delineation of the borders. This prompted the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo government to set up a committee to look into the case.
The Deputy Governors of both states were co-opted into the committee that was set up to determine the borders and also determine who gets what.

The situation soon changed when the then Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Rivers state government cried that President Goodluck Jonathan may have vested interest in the ownership of the oil field.

Following the refusal of the state governments to find a political solution to the issue, the people took the case to the courts where it was decided in favour of Oluosiri (Nembe). That was the situation until the Rivers state government went to the Federal High Court to seek justice.

The decision of the first court made the Federal Revenue and Fiscal Commission to start paying the revenue from the field to Bayelsa state since 2007.
The Rivers state government had been seething with anger over the decision before the recent court decision, hence the decision to approach another court for justice.

The Bayelsa state government was also battle-ready following the initial ruling. The government insisted that there are so many oil fields and wells belonging to the people of the state which were named after communities in present-day Rivers state and that that does not mean that they belong to the communities so named.

Speaking through the then state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Markson Fefegha, the Bayelsa government noted, “This oversight did not matter then because both people belonged to the same state.” Fefegha said that it was the creation of new states that brought this anomaly to the fore as its neighbour is now using the name to claim what does not belong to it.

Besides the Soku field which Bayelsa now chose to call Oluasiri Oilwell/Field, Fefegha lamented that the Iduoli field which was named after another community in Ahoada in Rivers state when it was located in Biseni community in Bayelsa state.
In the same vein, Governor Seriake Dickson accused his Rivers state counterpart of not telling his people the truth over the problem. He described as baseless the Rivers state government claim, saying it was calculated to mislead the country and instigate crises.

Dickson accused then Governor Rotimi Amaechi of trying to ridicule the office and person of President Goodluck Jonathan by bringing his office to a problem that was based on greed.
Now, Bayelsa and Rivers states government are back on the warpath over the ownership of the disputed Soku oil field and flow station located in the boundary area of both states.
Angered at the action of its Rivers counterpart, Bayelsa state has accused it of abuse of judicial process over the disputed Soku Oil Fields/Boundary disputes.

It would be recalled that the Chiefs and Principal members of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area in Rivers State had in a suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/413/20 against the National Boundary Commission, (NBC) and Attorney General of Bayelsa State prayed the court to declare River Santa Barbara as the boundary between the Kalabaris in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State and the Nembes in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The plaintiffs, also sought the court declaration on the purported 11th Edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria, arguing that it was done in error and its adoption should be declared null and void.

However, the defendant, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Bayelsa state submitted that the plaintiff have no locus standi, arguing that boundary matter is an issue between the states and not LGAs or communities.

Describing the suit filed by the plaintiff as abuse of judicial process, the state legal officer submitted that the Supreme Court had adjudicated on the matter, adding that it was wrong for individuals, group or state to flout the order of the apex court.

Quoting copiously from the ruling of the Supreme Court as read by Justice Suleiman Galadima, the Attorney General said the boundary between the two states could not be determined until the National Boundary Commission completed its assignment as contained in the Supreme Court judgment on suit number 106/2009.

The judgment reads in part, “I have set out the function of the NBC above and from the provision of the NBC Act, it cannot be seriously suggested that before the jurisdiction of this court is invoked in a boundary dispute between states, the NBC should have determined the dispute or completed its exercise in delineating the disputed boundary.

“It is on account of the foregoing and because of the technical nature of the dispute and the claims of the parties, this court finds that the NBC as an authority vested with authorities and expert know-how in dealing with this matter should have once and for all conducted 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 the disputed boundary to finality. It will be futile and premature to determine the boundary of the two states in the present circumstances.”

As controversy continues to trail the ownership of disputed Soku Oil wells, the Bayelsa state government is likely to appeal the High Court’s decision.
Bayelsa views the recent victory scored against it by Rivers state government as fighting a lost battle over its insistence on the ownership of disputed Soku Oil well, arguing that the naming of the wells by the Shell Petroleum Development Company was not enough evidence to cede the wells to Rivers.

Faulting the argument of Rivers government and its representatives, the Bayelsa government said Rivers state government had thrown decorum to the wind by attacking the office of the then President, the government, saying that the oil well was named after Soku by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) for administrative convenience.

Bayelsa state insists on the ownership of the Soku Oil Field, arguing that the disputed field was located in Oluasiri in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa state against the submission of the Rivers State government.

Many Bayelsans think the initial nonchalance of the state government led to the recent victory scored by Rivers. With the recent decision of the Federal High Court, the Bayelsa state government may seek redress from higher judicial quarters, to demand a return of the oil wells and fields which contributes huge income to the state.

QUOTE:

The situation soon changed when the then Deputy Governor of Bayelsa state became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Rivers state government cried that President Goodluck Jonathan may have vested interest in the ownership of the oil field.

Following the refusal of the state governments to find a political solution to the issue, the people took the case to the courts where it was decided in favour of Oluosiri (Nembe).
That was the situation until the Rivers state government went to the Federal High Court to seek justice. The decision of the first court made the Federal Revenue and Fiscal Commission to start paying the revenue from the field to Bayelsa state since 2007. The Rivers state government had been seething with anger over the decision before the recent court decision, hence the decision to approach another court for justice