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Abuja Court washes hands of 76 oil wells case

By Ise-Oluwa Ige

ABUJA—A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, yesterday, threw out a request by the Government of Rivers State to pronounce on the legality of the cession of about 76 oil wells, allegedly belonging to it, to Akwa Ibom State for want of jurisdiction.

The trial high court judge, Justice Adamu Bello, in a comprehensive ruling that lasted about two hours, yesterday, held that given the subject matter of the lawsuit and the parties involved in the case, it was only the Supreme Court that has the exclusive jurisdiction to hear the case.

He said that although the case has some trappings of lawsuits which fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, he however said, yesterday, that looking at the parties involved in the case and nature of the dispute submitted for determination which involved questions of law and facts on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends, it was clear that by virtue of Section 232 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, only the Supreme Court had the jurisdiction to entertain the case.

‘Justice must be visible’

Justice Bello who cited a plethora of authourities to support his position yesterday, said that “jurisdic-tion is never conferred in obscurity.”

He said it must be so visible that no microscopic eyes would be required to see it.

“I had observed in a sister case between Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State that going ahead with their case would amount to struggling jurisdiction with the Supreme Court and I had to direct parties in the case to address me on jurisdiction  and that case has since been struck out based on that application.

“If this court were to determine the case of the plaintiff (Rivers State), which dispute qualified as one only triable by the Supreme Court, the lack of jurisdiction would be enough to nullify the entire proceedings of this  court.

“I am not prepared to conduct a proceeding that will be nullified. I need not go into the other grounds of the objection let alone the merits of the substantive case.

“This case is hereby struck out,” Justice Bello said, yesterday.

The judge did not examine the merit of other grounds of the objection filed by both Akwa Ibom and the Federal Government agencies to challenge the hearing of the case on its merit.

The other grounds of the objection which the judge did not go into include, the argument that the suit lacked reasonable cause of action and that it was statute barred.

The Court said that having established that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the case, examining other grounds would amount to a waste of time.

He explained that it was so because jurisdiction is the life-wire, the blood and the essence of the entire suit before the court.

Both the plaintiff, Rivers State Government, and all the defendants, yesterday, applauded the ruling of the high court as well researched, sound and comprehensive.

But the Rivers government said that it was yet to get justice in the case owing to the fact that the court held that it came to a wrong forum.

It said that it would go to the proper court to ventilate its grievances.

Legal battle starts afresh

According to the State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr Ken Chikere, the govern-ment of Rivers State will, as soon as possible, file the case before the proper court so as to get justice in the case.

It would be recalled that the Rivers State Government had commenced the consti-tutional suit before the Abuja Federal High Court through an originating summons filed on 5 September 2008.

The defendants in the suit included the Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General; Attorney-General of the Federation, National Boundary Commission, Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, Depart-ment of Petroleum Resources and Accountant-General of the Federation.

In the plaintiff’s originating summons, its lead counsel, Mohammed Bello Adokie SAN, asked the court for the determination of, among others, whether the 3rd Defendant can lawfully purport to demarcate, delineate or verify the maritime boundaries between Littoral States through the office of the Surveyor General of the Federation.


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