By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Supreme Court, yesterday, stopped the Federal Government from ceding 17 disputed oil wells to Imo State.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-man panel of Justices led by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, partly resolved the ownership dispute of the oil wells in favour of Rivers State, even as it dismissed a counter-claim that was filed by Imo state. It held that the oil wells located within Akri and Mbede communities, belong to Rivers state, same being within its territory.
It further held that the correct instrument, maps, and documents relied on in determining the boundary, were those used by the Rivers State government in delineating the boundary line between both states.
According to the apex court, a map of Rivers state adduced before it, which showed the boundary line between the state and Imo State, represented the correct boundary between the two states.
However, the court declined to award the sum of N500million to Rivers state, to cover the cost it incurred while litigating the matter.
Likewise, it rejected prayer by Rivers state for the Accountant-General of the Federation, AGF, to be directed to calculate and refund to it, all revenue that were wrongly paid to Imo State in respect of the disputed oil wells.
Specifically, the apex court, granted reliefs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8, in favour of Rivers State, while it refused reliefs 2, 7 and 10 in the suit.
Rivers state had through its counsel, Mr. Joseph Daudu, SAN, insisted that historical evidence from 1927, showed that the oil wells in dispute belong to it.
Daudu drew the attention of the Supreme Court to a boundary adjustment paper of 1976, wherein he maintained that Ndoni and Egbema were confirmed to belong to Rivers state.
He argued that the apex court had the original jurisdiction to not only entertain the case, but to conveniently use all available historical documents, even from the colonial era, to determine the real owners of the oil wells.
On the other hand, Imo state, through its own lawyer, Mr. Olusola Oke, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss the suit for want of competence.
Oke argued that Rivers state ought to have filed the matter at the Federal High Court to enable both parties to adduce both oral and documentary evidence from indigenes of where the disputed oil wells are located.
Similarly, counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation AGF, Dr. Remi Olatubora, SAN, aligned himself with the position of Imo state and urged the apex court to dismiss the suit.
AGF’s lawyer insisted that witnesses, including officials of the National Boundary Commission, NBC, Surveyor General of the Federation, SGF, and indigenes of the disputed areas, ought to be heard before the court could be able to make appreciable and acceptable findings in the matter.
Although Olatubora claimed that the AGF was neutral in the case, he, however, argued that historical evidence must be considered alongside open court hearing, before the legal dispute could be settled.
Earlier in the proceedings, the Federal Government, in processes it filed through the AGF, prayed the apex court to vacate an order of injunction that stopped the process of ceding the oil wells located at Akri and Mbede, to Imo state.
The court had in a chamber ruling it delivered on July 14, 2021, ordered FG and its agencies to halt actions pertaining to alleged plan to cede the oil wells to Imo state, pending the determination of the suit by Rivers state government.
It restrained the AGF and the Attorney General of Imo state from taking any further action on the ownership of the disputed 17 oil wells, pending resolution of legal issues surrounding its ownership.
It further barred the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and the Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, and the office of the Accountant General of the Federation from approving, implementing, or giving effect in any manner to a letter from RMAFC office, with reference number RMC/O&G/47/1/264, dated July 1, 2021, which canceled the equal sharing of proceeds from the 17 oil wells by Rivers and Imo states.
Rivers state had in its suit marked SC/1037/2020, sought a declaration that the boundary between it and Imo state, as delineated on Nigeria administrative map 10, 11 and 12 editions and other maps bearing similar delineations, were inaccurate, incorrect and did not represent the legitimate and lawful boundaries between Rivers and Imo State.
The Plaintiff, sought a declaration that as far as Nigeria’s administrative map 10, 11 and 12 editions and other maps bearing similar delineations, relate to the boundaries between Rivers and Imo, the said maps were unlawful and void, could not be relied on to determine the extent of the territorial governmental jurisdiction of Rivers state and to determine the revenue accruing to Rivers state from the federation account, including the application of the principle of derivation and other revenue allocation principles as contained in the 1999 Constitution.
It applied for a declaration of the Supreme Court that the correct instrument maps and documents to be relied on in determining the boundary between Rivers and Imo state, were those used by the Plaintiff in delineating the boundary line between Rivers and Imo state.
Besides, the Plaintiff, applied for a declaration that all the oil wells within Akri and Mbede communities were wrongly attributed to Imo state and that they are all oil wells within the territory of Rivers state.
It maintained that only Rivers State was entitled to receive the full allocation of the distributable revenue from the oil wells on the basis of the 1390 derivation as contained under section 162 of the 1999 constitution.
The Plaintiff, urged the court to issue an order of mandatory injunction, directing the AGF to calculate, to its satisfaction, and refund to it, all revenue that have been wrongly attributed to or paid to Imo state on account of the limit or extent of their territories, including earnings due to it from revenue derived from Akri and Mbede oil wells.
It wanted an order of injunction directing the AGF to withdraw from circulation, its administrative map 10,11 and 12th editions and to refrain from relying on any of the said maps for the purpose of determining the boundary between Rivers and Imo state.
It also prayed for an order of mandatory injunction directing AGF to produce administrative map bearing the correct boundary between Rivers and Imo State.