June 23, 2009

Cross River and the 76 oil wells

By  Patrick Ugbe

THE  media has been awash of late with the news of the delisting of Cross River State from the oil-producing states league and the ceding of 76 of its oil wells to Akwa Ibom State.

I have followed the issue with very keen interest and after much reflection  have come to the conclusion that our practice of democracy is still very much a joke.  That decision, coming soon after the hand-over of Bakassi, a Cross River territory to the Republic of Cameroun, shows clearly that there is a grand design to decimate Cross River State from the face of Nigeria.

But why?  Why is there so much injustice in this country?  Even with 10 years of democracy, we still do not have an egalitarian society.  We are still living with the vestiges of military rule.

How else can you explain the unilateral decision to hand over the ancestral home of a people to another country, without the consent of the people, and now the ceding of what constitutes a large portion of the State economy to another state without any boundary conflict or boundary adjustments.

This singular act by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the National Boundary Commission, is a callous way of toying with the lives of over three million people.

But does Cross River State really deserve this?  Can this happen anywhere else in Nigeria, even Akwa Ibom State?
First, the decision to handover Bakassi to Cameroun was a national decision which Cross River State and the indigenes of Bakassi obeyed and submitted to, and a very peaceful handover (in the larger national interest) was effected in August of last year.

It was stated clearly when this was done that Nigeria will not be losing any maritime territory or oil wells.  Now all these (the maritime territory and oil wells) belonged to Cross River State.

The Chairman of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) was quoted recently by national media as saying that the boundary between Nigeria (Cross River) and Cameroun had not been fully delineated; that the exercise would not be completed until round about 2010 when all parties would have agreed to the new boundary.

Technically speaking, one is at a loss as to why having not lost our maritime territory or oil wells to Cameroun, Cross River State will now be said to have lost same to Akwa Ibom State, which was never in the picture.  To start with, there was no boundary dispute between Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State.

The judgement that handed Bakassi to Cameroun was delivered in 2002.  The current maritime boundary between Cross River and Akwa Ibom was established in 2005, and it was done then with the full knowledge and contemplation of the Bakassi handover.  So, the handover of Bakassi had already been factored in the delineation exercise of 2005, and as such there was nothing new to change these indices in 2008.

It is disheartening to read that the RMAFC is hell-bent on a technical decision in this case.  But they should realise that technically speaking, Akwa Ibom is not an oil- producing state because it does not have on-shore oil wells.

If we go by the verdict of the Supreme Court in 2002, in Attorney-General of the Federation V.S Attorney-General of Abia State and 35 others, which held firmly and without controversy that the maritime territories of the federating states in Nigeria do not extend beyond the low water mark of the shoreline in each state.

The territory and resources seaward of the low water mark belongs to the Federal Government and revenue from that territory should accrue to the  Commonwealth of all federating states.

This Supreme Court decision stated the law, and the jurisprudential basis for that decision has not been controverted.  But after that decision, President Obasanjo, in his wisdom, and in order to calm frayed nerves, took a political decision to apply derivation to offshore oil revenue up to 200 metre isobath from the low water mark of the shoreline of each littoral state.  This political decision is embodied in the Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy (Abrogation) Act, 2002, by the National Assembly.

The implication here is that non of the littoral states is entitled to offshore oil revenue as of right on the basis of natural endowment.  It is a political decision based on the need for stability and national cohesion.  How much each state gets from this offshore oil revenue is therefore a political decision which can change.

Akwa Ibom has no single oil well on shore, and by Supreme Court decision is not entitled to a single kobo from oil revenue on the basis of derivation.  The decision that has placed billions of Naira monthly in Akwa Ibom control, as can be seen is therefore based on politics and not resources.  Why can’t the same political decision apply to Cross River?

The RMAFC’s claim that Cross River is hemmed in is laughable.  Where-in lies the Cross River, which the State derives its name, and where does it empty into?  What about the great Calabar River which holds the Calabar Port Complex?  Where does it empty into, and how does it merge with the Atlantic Ocean?

It is a shame that we live in a society where conscience is no more a word nurtured by truth.  Conscience doesn’t mean anything to us anymore, so even when we toy with the existence of over three million people, we don’t care, as long as our selfish interest has been served over the common good.

And like Fela sang in his songs, they perform Government “Magic” and turn green into red.
The way and manner which the RMAFC and NBC have gone about this whole process smacks of petty jealously, which again is the shame of our nation.

For Cross River State to witness such massive development in the face of very limited resources (Cross River gets just about one tenth of what Akwa Ibom gets from the Federation Account monthly) would surely create envy.

Cross River today present a positive story for Nigeria, not just in terms of leadership and development, but on peace.  Would the Nigeria nation toy with this peace?  It would seen we haven’t learnt our lessons from the Niger Delta debacle, which we are battling so hard to contain today.

Angola just a few years back was embroiled in a civil war.  Then it wasn’t even an oil-producing nation, but today, after the war, and after their discovery of oil (Angola today produces more oil than Nigeria, and the bulk of it is offshore). Angola is ready to surprise the world when they host the African Nations Cup next year.

That is because they are not fighting over derivation and taking what belongs to one person to give to another, but are rather focused on development.  Can Nigeria and Nigerians grow beyond petty politics and allow the country to be a “nation” and take its rightful place?

Mr. Ugbe, is CPS to the Cross State Governor.