By Henry Umoru
ABUJA – THE Senate, yesterday resolved to invite the United Nations, UN resident team in Nigeria and the Nigeria Boundary Commission to brief it in the next four weeks on the status of Nigeria’s claim of her extended continental shelf project.
The Senate has also called on relevant government agencies to ascertain the current status of the project.
Also yesterday, the Senate mandates its committee on Marine Transport when constituted, to holistically do a follow up on the activities of the Nigerian extended continental shelf project and brief the Senate at all times.
According to the Upper Chamber, the briefing by the UN Team and the Boundary Commission on the claim of her continental shelf, would enable things to be unfolded properly.
Resolutions of the Senate yesterday were sequel to a motion entitled, “Urgent need to ascertain the status of the Nigerian Extended Continental Shelf Project.” It was sponsored by Senator George Thompson Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East) and 32 others.
The Senate also resolved to commend President Buhari for setting up the High Power Presidential Committee with the mandate to coordinate the activities of the Extended Continental Shelf Project.
The Upper Chamber urged the President not to relent in his efforts to fully support the project to its conclusion by defraying the outstanding financial commitment to the Nigerian office (the United Nation residents’ team) Set up for the Project at the United Nations and the foreign consultants to enable them concentrate effort to obtain a positive recommendation from the United Nations body (The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf).
Presenting the motion, Sekobo noted that on 7″ May, 2009, Nigeria made a formal submission to the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) stating its intention for an extension of her Continental Shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea was measured.
He explained that the extended continental shelf was a prolongation of the seabed and the subsoil of the marine area beyond the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state, adding that Nigeria’s claim for an extension of her continental shelf from 200 to 350 nautical miles was achievable and had set up an inter-ministerial technical committee in 2000.
He believes that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which has helped push the Project forward all along need to as a matter of urgency ascertain the status of the submission of the Extended Continental Shelf Project and make further deliberate effort for its completion before it is time barred.
Sekibo further explained that the submission is sequel to the provision of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which allows coastal states to make additional claim of between 200 nautical miles to a maximum of 350 nautical miles (650 miles) beyond their Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 Nautical miles (about 370km), if the coastal state is able to prove through scientific data and information that the seabed and the subsoil of the marine area of its territorial sea is a natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin.
According to him, Nigeria laid a claim of 8,000Km2 (approximately twice the size of Lagos State) in her first submission made in 2009 which could be improved upon if Nigeria’s submission was based on morphology supported by geology as against the evidence to the contrary used in gathering her technical data that was submitted in 2009.
He said that he is aware that the Extended Continental Shelf when achieved would be an additional seaward territory beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles over which the country already has sovereignty rights;
He said he knows further that Article 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has given exclusive rights with regard to exploration and exploitation of such resources to the coastal state that has been able to claim the territory as prescribed by the Convention.
According to him, he was aware that every coastal state has a seaward delimitation of its territorial waters and for the purpose of insight, it is as follows: the territorial waters; the contiguous zone and extended continental shelf.
Sekibo who noted that the United Nation’s Convention allows such additional claim to a maximum of 350 nautical miles, said that Nigeria’s claim for an extension of her continental shelf from 200 to 350 nautical miles is achievable and thus set up an inter-ministerial technical committee in the year 2000 which has been coordinated by the National Boundary Commission and has been in the forefront of the project.
Senator Sekibo who explained that he was aware that on the submission of her claim, Nigeria set up an office in the United Nation’s office with some Nigerian experts trained for that purpose and foreign consultants engaged for overseeing the day to day activities of the project.
According to him, he “understands also that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari set up a High Powered Presidential Committee (HPPC) on 5’“ November, 2015, being chaired by the Attorney General of the Federation for the purpose of a proper follow up to the successful claim of the submission.
The Senator who reminded the Senate that the committee recommended by the Senate in 2013.
According to him, the Senate had, in its Order Paper of 14″I February, 2013, “urged the Federal Government to urgently fund the Project, as the officers in the UN had not received their allowances for about two years at that time; so the Project went dormant. Thus the Project suffered hiccups of funding from Government, first for about eighteen months, then for about three years, till November 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari constituted the above committee and defrayed the outstanding financial commitments.”
Sekibo who told his colleagues that Nigeria has already invested a lot of taxpayers money in the project for the collection of geological, geophysical and hydrographic data, said that has not yet completed the process from its commencement in 2000 after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1997.
The Senator who noted that it would be economically unwise for the Federal Government to foot-drag on the project at this time, as this will also portray Nigeria in a bad light at the UN.
According to him, article 81 also gives an exclusive drilling right to the coastal state that has been able to claim its Extended Continental Shelf, adding that the Extended Continental Shelf was strategically important to any coastal state that is able to go through the rigorous process of approval.
He said that the most importance among other things include naval activities and national security both on the sea, the seabed and the airspace, as well as valuable resources as Sedentary fisheries, Bio prospecting of deep ocean diversity, diverse types of minerals, including diamonds, phosphorite, Sulphur, coal, iron and hydrocarbons.
Sekobo who noted that Nigeria would gain more as offshore oil well produced about 30% of the 85 million barrels of oil output per day in 2010, said, “This means that with enough oil and gas prospecting infrastructure on offshore exploration and exploitation, the country would harvest more oil and gas than what it currently being produced onshore.”
Sekibo said that he was informed that between August and September 2015, the United Nations Commission’s Subcommittee Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) met about twelve times in New York for the review of Nigeria’s submission and made certain recommendations that need to be rigorously followed up to conclusion.
According to him, after the release of the funds in 2016, Nigeria made an amended submission to the UN, based on the ’General Rule’ of morphology backed by geology and geophysics, and that the amended submission contained increased outer limits, making a claim for far much bigger area (about19km2 or 5 times the size of Lagos State) than the submission in 2009.