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Soku oil field: Politics, law of who owns the land

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By Sonny Atumah

oil field

Palestinian born U.S. writer and educator, Edward W. Said (1935-2003) who was an outspoken advocate of the cause of Palestine believes that maps are always instruments of conquest; once projected, they are then implemented.

That may be the case of the 11th Administrative map produced by the Nigerian Boundary Commission that made San Bartholomew River the boundary between Bayelsa State and Rivers State instead of Santa Barbara River.

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The imbroglio between Rivers State and Bayelsa State is about who owns the rich oil field of Soku. It was indeed projected, implemented and the result until now looked like an invitation to anarchy.

Some may not believe that the ‘Port Harcourt Boy’ phrase that radiated from whoever lived in Port Harcourt would fade into oblivion. That is the nature of man.

Soku, is in the Akuku Toru Local Government of Rivers State. Soku is the new face of oil politics of who gets what, when and how in the application of the derivation principle to allocate federally collected mineral revenues in Nigeria. Analysts believe that the old Rivers State as constituted was one of the states that were persistent with pressures for a new state to be created.

The state then comprised about ten ethnic groups, with the Ijaws constituting a demographic majority. And fears of political domination from other groups were rife. The creation of Bayelsa State in 1996 by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha’s regime was perceived to be a relief for non-Ijaws in Rivers State that allegedly felt marginalised.

Would that dream have been realized? The frenzied situations have made erstwhile historic friends and good neighbours of political persuasions or beliefs become archrivals when states are created. It has happened in several states created with no love lost among communities that hitherto saw themselves as one. It happened in 1987 when Katsina State was carved out of Kaduna State. That same year Akwa Ibom State was created out of Cross River State.

Between Cross River and Akwa Ibom States it has never been the same since the Olusegun Obasanjo administration returned some oil wells that were for Cross River to Akwa Ibom State. States in Nigeria get the bulk of their revenue from what is shared monthly from the Federation account. It is worse when the sharing is from natural resources like oil. The nine Niger Delta states get 13 per cent from the derivable fund as oil producing states in Nigeria.

The faulty 11th administrative mapping that delineated the boundary between the two states that gave Soku oil fields to Bayelsa State might have compounded what would have enhanced good neighbourliness. The Soku case has got history and politics behind it. Analysts believe that from colonial times, the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996 up till the 10th edition of Nigeria’s administrative map, boundaries between the Nembe communities in Bayelsa State and the Kalabari communities in Rivers State had been the Santa Barbara River.

The 13 per cent derivation meant for Rivers State has over the years been wrongly paid to Bayelsa State. The reason was that in the 11th Edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria, the boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa States was wrongly relocated from Santa Barbara River to San Bartholomew River.

The issue is who would have authorized the release of the accrued revenue that was deposited in an excrow account to Bayelsa State when the resolution of the boundary dispute was yet to be concluded? Would there be refund for the illegality? Would there be sanctions?

And one agrees with the Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike that having exhausted the political option that he canvassed in the 2015 electioneering with little success, he took to the courts.

After priests in the justiciary temple severally canvassed views on the Soku oil fields, the gavel was used last Monday December 16, 2019, by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja to put a stop to the illegality that had been perpetrated since 2002 when the National Boundary Commission and the Surveyor General of the Federation admitted that it was an error to have to handed Soku oil fields to Bayelsa State.

The failure of the National Boundary Commission to obey the Supreme Court order led to the enforcement of the declarative judgment. Justice Ekwo ordered the commission to produce the 12th edition of the administrative map restoring River Santa Barbara as the interstate boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State, as it was in 1996 when Bayelsa was carved from Rivers State.

As a repository of oil and gas the Oceania communities host three flow stations, Soku, Ekulama I and II and the Oil Ream Development, ORD project. OML 23 in this geographical location is part of the NNPC/Shell Joint Venture, JV producing field, Soku. Soku has substantial reserves of gas and liquids.

The N25 billion Soku gas processing plant is a vital feeder plant for the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG Plant. Soku is located in a coastal swamp zone about 40 kilometres southwest of Port Harcourt. The field facilities are mounted on piled platforms in the swamp, which can only be reached by boat or helicopter. The people should not be abandoned for their geography not to become the art of war.

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