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76 oil wells: Attah, Akpabio and Imoke

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By Dominic Kidzu

THIS is the story of South- Eastern State, the story of old Cross River State, too. But more importantly, it is the story of the new Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. Two states, one people, one destiny, bonded by geography, history, heritage and blood. And also united so deeply by parentage, marriage, business and friendship.

Indeed, so much so that outside Calabar and Uyo, Nigerians are usually hard put to tell who is from Cross River or Akwa Ibom. They know us all as ‘Calabar people’. In fact, I recall that in 1987, when Akwa Ibom State was carved out, the venerable Dr. Olatunji Dare published an article in The Guardian titled:

“The disappearing Calabar man,” in which he pointed out that most of the people he knew in Lagos as Calabar men were now claiming to be Akwa Ibom people. His dilemma was that he could not tell an Akwa Ibom man from a Calabar man. I confess that I too, even I, cannot also tell who is who.

Two out of five people on the street of Calabar are Akwa Ibomites, two out of five are Atam (that is people from Central and Northern Cross River) while one out of five is a real Calabar man. The linguistic, cultural, and historical bonds are such that even a DNA test will reveal very little difference.

We ourselves simply rely on a stout and muscular frame to suspect that such a person might be of Akwa Ibom heritage. And even that is not fullproof.

Many electoral and appointive offices in Cross River State are held by people of Akwa Ibom heritage. Such people abound in Calabar Municipal Council, Calabar South, Akpabuyo and Akamkpa local government councils. This is a fact that cannot be controverted.

When the two states were together, the capital and headquarters of the civil service was in Calabar. Upon creation of Akwa Ibom, it was difficult for many civil servants to cut lose and return to Akwa Ibom, having probably lived here all their lives. As a result many stayed back.

Today, 22 years after, about 25 per cent of the civil workforce on the payroll of  Cross River State are of Akwa Ibom origin. They go back to Akwa Ibom to build their houses. They return there for marriages, burial ceremonies and town meetings. When they retire, their children take over in Cross River, while they return to Akwa Ibom to rest and to die.

Governor Akpabio could not have put it more succinctly when he said to the Cross River Executive Council which was having a conference in Uyo, that a good number of his House of Assembly and Executive Council members live in Calabar and go to work in Uyo.

There is no limit to the inferences that one could draw to point out the symbiotic connectivity between the two states. The point to make, however, is that, impoverish-ing one state is potentially dangerous to the other that is enriched. Clearly, it doesn’t pay the people of Akwa Ibom in Akwa Ibom and the people of Akwa Ibom in Diaspora (Calabar) to impoverish Cross River State.

Perhaps, the former governor, Obong Victor Attah, had this in mind when he wrote to President Obasanjo in 2005 on the oil wells issue. He stated inter alia, that “…the baseline used by Admiralty (Consultants to the National Boundary Commission) relied too much on micro-geographic features commonly described as local phenomena.

Such features are constantly changing because of coastal erosion”. He added that “…this heavy reliance on boundaries has taken 70 oil wells that used to belong to Cross River into Akwa Ibom State. Similarly, a number of wells have been taken from Akwa Ibom State into Rivers State”.

The governor added that using the historical principle and “…for justice and equity, Akwa Ibom State should give back to Cross River State (wells that belong to it as Rivers State) should give back to Akwa Ibom State wells that always belonged to Akwa Ibom State.”

On October 24, 2007 however, Governor Godswill Akpabio revisited the issue. Writing to the President under the heading: “Allocation of Oil Wells between Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers State”, the Governor stated that “…the only reason that Cross River State can enjoy the benefit of those wells today is through the application of Articles 15 and 7.1 of the UNCLOS 82 which canvasses respect for the preservation of historic titles. We insist that for fairness and justice, a similar application be made to the boundary between Akwa Ibom State and Rivers.”

Governor Akpabio then  complained that “…NBC in one of its briefing came up with options to resolve the contrived boundary disputes between Akwa Ibom and Rivers States on the one hand and Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers on the other…”.

The NBC quoted Articles 7.1 of the UNCLOS 82 which canvasses respect for the preservation of historic titles to support the return to status quo, that is, each state should keep the oil wells it had before the promulgation of the
onshore/offshore Dichotomy Law of 2004.

The Presidency accept-ed this recommendation and actually directed its imple-mentation as it affected Cross River State, but implementa-tion of the same application in the case of Akwa Ibom/Rivers states boundary has been pending. Instead the Presidency opted for a

political solution which compelled Rivers State to return only 50 per cent of the oil wells which were transferred from Akwa Ibom to Rivers State based on the disputed boundary lines.”

From the above account, it is clear that both the former and current Administrations in Akwa Ibom State clearly have no problem with Cross River State.

Mr.  Kidzu is the General Manager of Cross River State Newspapers Corporation.

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