By Emma Ujah, JIMITOTA ONOYUME & Samuel Oyadongha
PORT HARCOURT—The battle for the ownership of five oil wells in Soku and Elem-Sangama communities, between Rivers and Bayelsa states, raged, yesterday, as both states talked tough. Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who fired the first shot warned Bayelsa to steer clear of the oil wells saying “we will not allow Bayelsa State Government to collect our oil wells.”
In his response however, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, declared that Rivers had already lost the battle in the law court and it would serve no useful purpose dissipating unnecessary energy over what has already been established as incontrovertible fact.
Already, both President Goodluck Jonathan and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had been dragged into the battle and they have made spirited efforts to extricate themselves from any involvement.
Tracing the genesis of the boundary dispute between the two states, Rivers State Deputy Governor, Engr Tele Ikuru said the problem started when the National Boundary Commission and RMAFC tactically ceded about 80 percent of the oil and gas bearing communities and settlements in Akuku Toru Local Government area to the old Brass Division in Nembe, Bayelsa State by shifting the boundary demarcating Degema Division from the old Brass Division to River Sombreiro, in the 12th provisional edition of the Administrative map of Nigeria.
Speaking yesterday at Government House, Port Harcourt while addressing traditional rulers and prominent chiefs of Kalabari kingdom who protested the sudden shift in the boundary between the two states, the deputy governor, who is also Chairman of the Rivers State Boundary Commission, said all efforts to correct the anomaly had consistently met brick wall. According to him, not even the court was willing to grant the state justice on the matter. “We have gone to court but the court is tight”, he said.
While appealing to the National Assembly to urgently step in to resolve the dispute, Ikurusaid all federal agencies the state had approached to help redress the problem had ignored them.
He said Soku, an oil rich community in the state, was suddenly ceded to Bayelsa State, adding that while the state was in court challenging the action, it was resolved that proceeds from oil and gas in the area should be paid into an escrow account.
The Deputy Governor said suddenly the money in the escrow account started going to Bayelsa State. He said so far, N17 billion proceed from Soku community in the escrow account had been paid to Bayelsa State.
“The issue of Soku has been known to be part of Rivers State. Suddenly we woke up to hear Soku does not belong to Rivers again. While we were challenging this, we asked that the whole money from there be paid into an escrow account. Suddenly they paid the money to Bayelsa State.”
Earlier, His Royal Highness, Disreal Gbobo Bob-Manuel II, Owukori IX, Amanyanabo of Abonnema, who spoke on behalf of others, said they were in Government House to register their protest against the sudden shift in the boundary between the two states.
He said the boundary that divided the two areas had been there for over 100 years, adding that the colonial masters recognized it. The monarch said with the sudden shift, they had moved over 90 per cent of AkukuToru Local Government Area to Nembe.
Amaechi talks tough
Talking tough on the issue, yesterday, Governor Amaechi called on officials of Bayelsa State Government to leave the oil wells of Soku and Elem-Sangama communities in Rivers State for Rivers people.
According to him, the oil wells have been in existence, even before the creation of Bayelsa State.
Declaring open a legislative capacity building programme for Rivers State House of Assembly on Monday in Calabar, Cross River State, Amaechi said Rivers and Bayelsa states had never had issues with boundaries, noting the boundaries were well known to all.
He also noted that since the creation of Bayelsa State, there had been no law or agreement ceding any part of Kalabari communities in Rivers State to Bayelsa State.
His words: “We will not allow the attempt by the Bayelsa State Government to collect our oil wells. I have read what the Bayelsa State governor said, that the 11th edition of the (administrative) map (of Nigeria) gave them the oil wells. “When? They didn’t talk about the 1st edition to the 10th edition, they chose to avoid that, and went to the 11th edition, but the question they should answer is why avoid the previous editions.”
He explained that the Federal Government had admitted in court to correct the mistakes in the 11th edition, saying the court documents were filed by their lawyers, who admitted the mistakes contained in the map of the 11th edition.
He said: “But the Federal Government came to court and said, ‘oh we made a mistake in the 11th edition, we will correct it’. “They should correct it, the documents were filed by their lawyers, not our lawyers. All we want is for the Federal Government to go back to the 10th edition and correct everything.
“Bayelsa State was created so many years ago, there has been no law ceding that part of Kalabari kingdom to Bayelsa State. Now when did it suddenly change, it changed in 2006, but I don’t want to join issues. I want the Kalabari people to represent themselves and I will stand behind them, and all what we are saying is that they should look from the 1st to the 10th edition (of the administrative map) and not an imaginary 11th edition.
“It won’t work; it will certainly not work, no matter how they try to intimidate the agencies of the Federal Government, we will continue to go to court and let our people know that the agencies of the Federal Government are being intimidated, that is what we are saying.”
Governor Amaechi then urged Rivers people to stand behind his administration until justice, equity and fair play were achieved over the sudden claims by Bayelsa State Government.
“All we want is for Rivers people to stand by us; Soku community has been in Rivers State long before Bayelsa State was created.
“Elem- Sangama is not a ward in Bayelsa State, but they said, they don’t want territory, they want derivation, how can that work? Does oil come from the air? He has already answered the question for us, but we must struggle to get back our oil wells,” Amaechi said.
The Amanyanabo of Kalabari kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Prof T Princewill, who re-echoed the position of his governor in his speech at the event, titled, “Clarion call for urgent intervention to prevent imminent crisis in the Niger Delta”, said “we make bold to say that our President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan is very well acquainted with the facts of this explosive matter, but has allowed it to fester. May be because, his native state is the beneficiary of this arrogance and outright wickedness against a people, who solidly stood by him more than any other group in the federation when he passionately sought help to ascend to the high office of President of our dear country”. The monarch who was represented by one of his Chiefs said President Jonathan had deliberately allowed the dispute to linger on.
We have made our stand known — Bayelsa Govt
Bayelsa State Government in its response, yesterday, said it has sufficiently made its stand known on the matter and is duly backed by law.
Governor Seriake Dickson, through his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson said the law as it is known, deals with facts and concrete evidence.
On the issue of ownership and the claim by the Rivers State 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.
“I do not think we should dissipate unnecessary energy over what has already been established as incontrovertible fact. Besides, we live in a country governed by laws and there are recognised institutions where people can go to seek redress, when they are in doubt.
“We should not belabour the issue any further. As far as this issue is concerned, I believe the fact speaks for itself.”
Allegation misleading — RMAFC
Meanwhile RMAFC yesterday, said that the allegation that the commission moved five oil communities from Rivers to Bayelsa was misleading.
The Chairman of the Commission, Mr Elias Mbam, made this known at a news conference in Abuja. The Presidency had on Tuesday denied a media report alleging President Jonathan’s involvement in ceding five Rivers oil producing communities to Bayelsa.
Mbam said: “it is worth mentioning that the commission does not act in isolation without reference to other relevant government agencies at all levels of government.”
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. It is not the responsibility of the commission to adjust boundaries or determine location of oil wells. The allegation against the commission is therefore, baseless, false and misleading.”
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.
Soku is one of the rich oil communities that hosts the Soku oil fields/oil well that produces about 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day in the Niger Delta.
The RMAFC boss said that although the Rivers Government had challenged the position, the commission would continue to work in line with the rulings of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court in its judgment of Tuesday, July 10, 2012, stated that until the National Boundary Commission concludes the delineation of the disputed boundary to finality, it will be futile and premature to determine the boundaries of the two party states in the present circumstance”, he said.
Mbam said that the appropriate order to be made in the prevailing circumstance was to strike out the plaintiff suit.
He added that media reports from the Kalabari National Forum was baseless and malicious and calculated attempts to misinform the public.
The revenue chief assured that the commission would continue to discharge its duties as an unbiased umpire and would not drag itself into unnecessary politics.
He urged all parties to allow peace to reign and allow the National Boundary Commission to complete its assignment on the delineation of boundaries between the two states.
On the new Revenue Allocation Formula, he said funding had hindered the process, but said that with inputs in the 2013 budget, the project would soon be completed.
“Any Assignment of this nature, the success and timing is subject to many other variables and these variables include funding and we have been having challenges in funding for this project.
“But we strongly believe that 2013 budget will make provisions for us to address this challenge,” he said.