By Maduabuchi Efegadi
Rivers, the hydrocarbon-rich Nigerian sub-national, appears quite pleased with the Friday 5 May judgement of the nation’s Supreme Court, which gave it the 17 oil wells which were in ownership dispute with the neighbouring Imo State.
The oil wells are located in Akiri and Mbede, all border communities with the sister state.
The apex court ruled that the oil wells are in Ndoni and Egbema communities in Rivers State, rather than in Imo.
But Imo was already receiving N15 billion as part of its portion of 13 percent oil derivation revenue from the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) since 2019 pre-dispute vide a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari asking the agency to deduct same from Rivers and pass on to Imo.
Olukayode Ariwola leading other justices agreed with Rivers’ counsel, Joseph Daudu’s contention that historical evidence from 1927 till date, and 1976 boundary adjustment between the two states, indicated that the oil wells belonged to the state.
Daudu had disagreed with the attorney-general of the federation (AGF) in his claim that adjudication in the suit ought not to have originated from the Supreme Court, as oral evidence should have been taken from the locals.
The contention of the AGF was that the NBC, the surveyor-general of the federation and indigenes of the disputed areas ought to have been heard for the court to make acceptable findings.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State said the state was in court against its neighbouring Imo State, not to claim victory, but to defend its ownership rights of the oil wells. He stated the apex court delivered judgement on the subsisted boundary dispute between the two states over the affected oil wells.
“It bears repeating that the quest to defend our ownership rights through the courts over the Akiri and Mbede oil wells was not intended to claim victory over Imo or any other State,” Wike said.
He quickly roundly deplored the National Boundary Commission (NBC) for what he called “collusive actions” of the boundary agency; describing it to have “unfortunately become notorious as one of the most corrupt national agencies, which has functioned more in causing confusion than resolving boundary disputes.”
The Rivers governor said, “while the dispute lingered, the NBC did nothing in demarcating the boundaries to establish the proper location, and title to the disputed oil wells.”
Wike equally tongue-lashed erstwhile Imo governor, Emeka Ihedioha, saying the latter “repudiated the subsisted 50:50 percent sharing formula, and also made provocative claims as exclusive owners of the oil wells, instead of ensuring that NBC did its work.”
“Ihedioha stealthily wrote a letter dated 9th August, 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari, and requested for the refund of the sum of N15 billion from Rivers State to Imo State as backlog of accrued proceeds from the 13% derivation revenue of the said oil wells. Acting on Governor Ihedioha’s letter, Mr. President warranted a letter to be written to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) through his late Chief of Staff, Mr. Abba Kyari, to alter the status quo ante in favour of Imo State, without reference to the subsisting dispute and agreement between the two States,” Wike said.
He said the former Imo governor (Ihedioha) displayed acts of “betrayals and back-stabbing, in spite of the extensive support and goodwill he received from the government and people of Rivers State to become Governor (of Imo), led the onslaught and created a wedge between two brotherly states that have been living at peace and in friendship with each other.”
According to him, since 1999, Peter Odili and Achike Udenwa, both former governors of the respective states, had agreed to 50:50 percent sharing of derivative proceeds from the wells.
He said the state’s rationale for going to court was to, among other reliefs, challenge the president’s powers and authority to give directives to RMFAC, and or interfere in any manner whatsoever with the distribution of public revenues from the distributable pool account, including the federation account.
“In approaching the Supreme Court in this matter, we believed that the dispute between the two states and the contentious issues are such that the Court can judiciously, justly and expeditiously determine with the available facts and supporting evidence, including valid administrative maps, subsisting judgement, and other relevant documents.”
He called on Hope Uzodinma, incumbent governor of Imo, to “accept the outcome in good faith, while exploring ways to accommodate any possible compromise from Rivers State government.”