*Don’t blackmail President Jonathan – Traditional Ruler
By Sam Oyadongha
Though the issue of the rightful ownership of oil wells in the disputed area which predates the creation of Bayelsa State had been on ground, it was again brought to the front burner on Monday when the Kalabari National Forum and some monarchs went to Abuja to protest the alleged surreptitious moves by some Federal Government officials to excise five oil producing Kalabari communities of Rivers State with a view to dashing them to Bayelsa State for political reasons.
The protesters also accused President Goodluck Jonathan, an indigene of Bayelsa State, of interfering in a boundary dispute between the two states.
But in a swift reaction, the Bayelsa State Government dismissed the alleged move to forcefully annex any territory or people into Bayelsa, noting that Ijaw strategic interest demanded that Ijaws, wherever they were, should be supported and strengthened and not forced into Bayelsa.
The government, in a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa governor, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, described the purported claim as an attempt by detractors of the Ijaw nation to create unnecessary strife and hostility within the Ijaw ethnic family to Ijaw nation’s collective disadvantage.
The statement noted:“Firstly, we assure our Ijaw kith and kin in the Kalabari clan of Rivers State that there is no such move to forcefully annex any territory or people into Bayelsa State. We further wish to state that the Ijaw strategic interest demands that Ijaws wherever they are should be supported and strengthened and not to be forced into Bayelsa State. That the purported claim is an attempt by the detractors of the Ijaw ethnic family to our collective disadvantage.”
The state government then launched into what it described as the true state of affairs: ”That by the 11th edition of the administrative map of Nigeria published in 2000, Bayelsa State as a state was entitled to derivation and other claims from crude oil production in respect of oil exploration carried out within its territory as stated in the said map.
It is important to note that the claim of a state to derivation on account of oil production within its territory is different from ownership of land by families, communities and even clans. Whereas the claim of a state is based on territorial boundaries contained in the administrative map, that of a clan, family and community is based on traditional history, possession and other forms of ownership.
Therefore, it is very common in the Niger Delta, owing to the way and manner states were created, for communities or clans to be in one state while part of the ancestral land is in another. The family, clan or community does not cease to be traditional owners of such lands, while the state in which the land forms a part exercise administrative control over such land and therefore, entitled to derivation.
”By the said 11th edition of the administrative map of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dated 2000, Bayelsa State is entitled to derivation in respect of all the oil wells within the state territory. The government of Rivers State has been receiving derivation revenue over several oil facilities and installations which are clearly within Bayelsa territory from 1999 till date in spite of the clear boundary delineation in the said map. We acknowledge the long standing dispute between the Ijaws in Bayelsa in Nembe clan and the Ijaws in Kalabari clan in Rivers State over traditional land boundaries. The claims predate the creation of Bayelsa State. However, the present issue is not about Nembe people laying claim to Kalabari land or of people trying to annex Kalabari land and communities as part of Bayelsa State.
”Rather, the present claim is about the right of Bayelsa State like any other state, to derivation revenue in respect of activities within its territory as stated in the administrative map of Nigeria. Even if any land in question in Bayelsa State is found to be the ancestral land of any family, community or clan in Kalabari clan, it does not detract from the right of the state to receive derivation. In the same vein, it does not also detract from the ownership or title to such land by the family, clan or community which must be acknowledged and treated as such. Derivation revenue is not paid to families, clans or communities but to state governments, exercising administrative control over the territory where production takes place.
”The government of Bayelsa State has through its consultants verified and computed all such derivation monies wrongly paid to or received by Rivers State over the years.
”We condemn the deliberate and mischievous attempt to link the President to what is clearly an exercise of Bayelsa State Government’s right. The government of Rivers State itself has made several such claims of wrongful payments of derivation monies and has severally received refund in deserving cases.”
”The questions to be answered by Rivers State government are as follows: Is the Rivers State government saying that because the President is from Bayelsa State, it therefore means that the state should sleep over its rights and entitlements? Or was Dr. Goodluck Jonathan Vice President and President of Nigeria in 1992 and 2000 when these maps were produced? What about the refunds received by the Rivers State government from other states that such funds were wrongly paid to? Should we then associate the refunds with the Presidency?
”We take serious exception to the antics of the Rivers State government in its attempt to always blackmail the President in a bid to gain unnecessary advantage.
”We therefore request the government of Rivers State to tender an unreserved apology to Mr. President and the government of Bayelsa State over its unguarded, mischievous and misleading statements, which clearly are calculated to disparage the Presidency and incite violence between the two states.”
Governor Seriake Dickson said the law, as it is known, deals with facts and concrete evidence. On the issue of ownership and claims by the Rivers government to Soku Oil Wells, he said: “I believe it is no longer news that Rivers State Government took Bayelsa State Government to the Federal High Court on this same issue and lost.
“Instead of appealing the matter in the Appeal Court, the Rivers State government, invoked the constitutional provision and filed a suit in the Supreme Court in 2011 and this year the Supreme Court upheld Bayelsa State’s position.”
In the meantime, the paramount ruler of Oluasiri clan in Nembe council area, His Royal Highness, King Iyeritei Awululu, threw his weight behind the state government, saying the latter has the right to defend what truly belongs to her. He said the Bayelsa government position is backed by law.
In a related development, the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, has said the allegation that it moved five oil communities from Rivers State was misleading. Chairman of the commission, Mr. Elias Mbam, at a news conference in Abuja, said, “It is worth mentioning that the commission does not act in isolation without reference to other relevant government agencies at all levels. Indeed, the commission does not, on its own, generate data, demarcate boundaries or attribute oil wells to any state. Rather, the commission relies on data or information from relevant government agencies, including the Department of Petroleum Resources, the National Boundary Commission and the Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation.”
On the alleged revenue from Soku community being attributed to Bayelsa, he said the commission relied on the decisions of the Presidential Committee on Verification of Oil Well of 2000 to do its work.
The paramount ruler of Oluasiri in Nembe LGA of Bayelsa, HRH, King Iyeritei Awululu, has, in the meantime, urged the Federal Government to embark on immediate boundary demarcation in the disputed oil rich Soku enclave between Bayelsa and Rivers.
Awululu, in an interview in Yenagoa, said the call became imperative in order to avert possible bloodshed between the two sister states.
He described as misplaced claims by the Kalabari National Forum that the Bayelsa government was planning to annex five oil rich communities in Kalabari Kingdom in Rivers State. He said the Soku oil field, which is host to a gas plant and the bone of contention, is on Oluasiri territory in Nembe council area and not on Kalabiri land as being claimed by the Rivers people.
According to him, “Oluasiri is the 13th ward in Nembe council area and have boundary with Odua, Abua and Akuku-Toru. The Soku Gas Plant is at the centre of Oluasiri land. The place is far from Soku and it is a minimum of 22 minutes drive on the fastest speed boat.”
He said the instrument that created the Nembe district council in the then Eastern Region was in 1955/56 while the instrument creating Kalabari district was in 1960/61.
“If you look at the instrument creating the Kalabari district council in the then Eastern Region, you will not see Elemsangama in it but you will see Orusangama,” he remarked.
Awululu noted that the people of Bille have also cautioned the Kalabaris on this matter, adding that Mr. President should not be dragged into the matter which had been on ground long before he even delved into politics.
Awululu, who blamed former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Boundary Commission for dragging its feet over the boundary demarcation, called on the Federal Government to immediately commence the boundary demarcation to avoid crisis in the area.
The Nembe people, he declared, would not allow themselves to be intimidated by protest and that Bayelsa State would not back down from claiming what rightly belonged to her.
“The Supreme Court has decided the case in favour of Bayelsa State. It is therefore strange that the Kalabari people are saying they have communities there. They don’t have any community there,”the monarch said.
”They are just crying foul over nothing. This matter was on and the argument has been on before President Jonathan was even born. We have been fighting over this matter for years.
“If former President Olusegun Obasanjo had acted, they won’t be blackmailing Mr. President now. The best option out of this matter is boundary demarcation.
”The National Boundary Commission should act fast. They should not wait for any blood bath before they act. On this issue, we are not going to back down, we are equal to the task. Government should do their work, once they do their work, we would have peace.”