On Monday, December 16, 2019, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ruled that the disputed oil wells in Soku community of Akuku-Toru local government area of Rivers State, belong to Rivers State and not Bayelsa State.
Soku is an ancient repository of oil and gas oil exploration and exploitation, which started since 1958 after Oloibiri.
The community is host to three flow stations, Soku, Ekulama I and II, the Oil Ream Development project (ORD), and the over N25 billion Soku Liquefied Natural Gas Plant.
Right from colonial times up till the 10th edition of the Administrative map of Nigeria, the boundaries between the Kalabari communities in Rivers State and the neighbouring Nembe communities of Bayelsa State have been clearly delineated, with the boundary clearly marked as the Santa Barbara River.
The genesis of the dispute over the ownership of the Soku oil wells began during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo when the National Boundaries Commission (NBC) published the 11th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria.
The 11th edition of the Administrative map, prepared by the NBC and the Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation, in 1999, but published in 2000, shifted the boundaries between Rivers and Bayelsa States from the initial boundary between Kalabari and Nembe, west of the Santa Barbara River, to Saint Bartholomew River, contrary to the delineation by all preceding administrative maps of Nigeria and all historical records.
Apparently worried by this distortion of facts, the Rivers State government, under former Governor Peter Odili, petitioned the then NBC Chairman, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
In a letter dated July 3, 2002, NBC director general, acknowledged the error and apologized, stating, “I have discussed this issue with the Surveyor General of the Federation and wish to state as follows: that the National Boundary Commission has taken note of the state’s observation on the ‘inadvertent misrepresentation of the Bayelsa/Rivers interstate boundary on the Saint Bartholomew River as shown on the map’.
“I am to assure your Excellency that your observations have been noted and necessary corrections shall be reflected on the 12th edition of the map currently under production. I am to assure you that the boundary line as reflected in the said edition of the map shall in no way have bearings on the current efforts.”
Also worried by the ugly development, the Rivers State government, under the administration of former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, through the Attorney-General of Rivers State, in 2009, instituted a suit against the Bayelsa State government.
Ruling on the suit, “SC/106/2009, in 2012, the Supreme Court decided that it would be appropriate to await the final delineation of the boundary by the NBC.
The Court said: ’’It is on account of the foregoing and because of the technical nature of the dispute and the claims of the parties that the court finds that the NBC as an authority vested with authorities and expertise, know-how in dealing with this matter, should have, once and for all, conducted an exhaustive exercise of delineating the disputed boundary.
“Hence, the long awaited 12th edition of the Administrative Map when completed soonest would have been of tremendous assistance in settling the lingering dispute.
“In the light of the observations I have clearly expressed above, I do not feel comfortable to grant the declarations sought until the NBC concludes its exercise of delineation of disputed boundary to finality. It will be futile and premature to determine the boundary of the two parties in the present circumstance’’.
The Court ruled that the revenues from the disputed Soku wells should be fixed in an escrow account to await the resolution of the boundary dispute.
However, the decision of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to release the N17billion accruing from revenues from the Soku oil wells to Bayelsa State in 2013, in total disregard to Supreme Court ruling sparked off the face-off between Amaechi and former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In August 2019, the Rivers State government, through the Attorney-General of the state, filed a fresh suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, challenging the ceding of the Soku oil wells to Bayelsa State.
Delivering judgement on the matter on Monday, December 16, 2019, the Federal High Court, presided over by Hon. Justice Inyang Ekwo, declared that Rivers State owns the disputed Soku oil wells/fields located in Akuku-Toru local government area of Rivers State.
Ekwo declared that after examining all the documents from relevant government agencies and facts before the court, the Soku Oil wells/fields belong to Rivers State.
The Court made an order compelling the NBC to rectify forthwith in the 12th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria, the erroneous interstate boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State as contained in the extant 11th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria.
Ekwo declared that the continued failure and refusal of the NBC to rectify the admitted mistake in the 11th Edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria since 2002, which erroneously showed San Batholomew River, instead of River Santa Barbara as the interstate boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State is a breach of its statutory duty and a flagrant disobedience of the order of the Supreme Court contained in its judgment delivered on 10/7/2012 in Suit Number SC. 106 /2009.
Ekwo also declared that the continued reliance on the said defective 11th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria by the other government agencies/statutory bodies especially the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the Accountant General of the Federation in the computation of revenue accruable to Rivers State from the Federation Account has resulted in the continued unjust denial of derivation funds accruing from the Soku oil wells/fields situated within Rivers State to the detriment of the state government.
The Court also ordered that pending the formality of compliance by the NBC deeming the administrative boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State to be River Santa Barbara in accordance with the admission of the National Boundary Commission as per letter of 3/7/2002 and the definitive order of the Supreme Court made on 10/7/2012.
Ekwo granted the two reliefs and directed that notice be served of the decision of the Court on the RMAFC and the Accountant General of the Federation.
The Court said that the NBC cannot unilaterally delineate boundaries between Rivers State and Bayelsa State after the Supreme Court judgment on the matter.
The Court also dismissed an objection to the suit raised by the NBC, which it said is lacking in merit.
To Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Rivers State government will continue to fight and defend the interest of the state in order to promote the welfare of her people.
Wike said it is a known fact that the Soku oil wells/fields belong to the Rivers State, before they were illegally appropriated by the Federal Government for Bayelsa State.
He said: “The judgment is very proper. I have said it severally whatever belongs to Rivers State, its in our interest to fight for it collectively. That is what we are doing.
“Everybody knows that it is wrong that the Federal Government collected our oil wells and ceded same to Bayelsa State. So, we took the right step by going to court.
“We sued the National Boundary Commission. By interpretating the Supreme Court judgment that for now since you are unable to demarcate the boundary, then let the oil wells be in Rivers State where it used to be, pending when the National Boundary Commission is ready to implement the Supreme Court judgment.
“We are happy for what happened today.
We don’t believe in fighting. We only believe in following due process. Thank God the Federal High Court has affirmed and they should pay us our money which they have collected. The revenue derivation should continue to be paid into Rivers State coffers. We are happy.”
However, a citizens’ advocacy group, the Inter-ethnic Network for Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Buhari (INCRAB), described the Federal High Court ruling on the Soku oil well dispute between the Rivers and Bayelsa States, as the triumph of truth over falsehood and a vindication of the former Rivers State Governor and Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi.
A statement signed by Achor Omodu, on behalf of INCRAB’s interim management committee, reads in part: “Recall that sometime in September 2012, former Governor Amaechi lamented over the unjust ceding of the Soku oil wells belonging to Rivers State to its neighbouring Bayelsa State by the Federal Government through the National Boundary Commission with over Seventeen Billion Naira realized from oil and gas in the disputed communities transferred into the Bayelsa state government account.
“Irked by the development, Amaechi fought tooth and nail to reclaim the oil wells belonging to Rivers State, but his efforts came up against a brick wall due to the prevailing political gang-up against him which saw some prominent Rivers sons, including Governor Wike, who was the then Minister of State for Education, backing the Bayelsa State and Federal government to take over Soku oil wells despite Amaechi’s insistence that the oil wells belonged to Rivers State and its Rivers people.
“Today, Governor Wike, dramatically turns around to fight for the return of the same Soku oil wells to Rivers State after betraying the state and its people by deliberately supporting the ceding of the oil wells to Bayelsa State previously, following his ambition to become governor in 2015.
“Fortunately, in what is considered a historic victory for Rivers people, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, vindicated Amaechi when it ruled that the Soku oil wells in dispute belong to Rivers State.”
“Clearly, unfolding events indicate that Amaechi has always been on the side of Rivers people and puts the interest of the State above his personal pursuits or gains. How much more longer do we have to wait just before we realize that Amaechi’s insistence on a riverine governor is politically correct, morally just and serves the best interest of Rivers State? Only time will tell.”
To the people of Soku community in Akuku-Toru local government area of Rivers State, there is the need to commend Wike for his dogged struggle that led to the Federal High Court judgment that returned the Soku oil wells/fields to the state.
Addressing newsmen in Port Harcourt, Chairman of Soku Council of Chiefs, Chief Telema Imoh said: “We the Council of Chief, Elders, CDC (Community Development Committee), Youth, Women and entire people of Soku community in Kalabari-Ijaw ethnic nationality in Akuku-Toru local government area of Rivers State do hereby address the press and state as follows:
“Express our immense thanks to God almighty for life on the victory surrounding the disputes of Soku land, oil wells/field and associated rights.
“We thank the executive governor of Rivers State, His Excellency Chief, Barr. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON, GSSRS, POS (JP) for his doggedness, in securing the return of the illegally ceded Soku oil wells/field to Rivers State. We appreciate and identify with his developmental strides in the state.
“The whole issue of recent started with the illegal ceding of Soku Oil Wells/Field from Rivers State to Bayelsa State; with the issuance of the defective administrative map (11th edition) wherein the age long inter-state boundary line was unilaterally shifted from Santa Barbara River to Saint Bartholomew in favour of Bayelsa State by the National Boundary Commission (NBC).
“Efforts by the Government of Rivers State to correct the wrong constitutionally and constructively proved futile. This was even with the written admission and firm promise by the said NBC to correct the error in the administrative map of the (12th edition).
“The National Boundary Commission equally reneged on their assurance to all Parties not to apply the defective 11th edition of the administrative map in any official dealings. These are contained in their letter vide NBC. SEC.4/575/25 dated 23/07/2002, this led to the Rivers State government going to Supreme Court in suit no. SC106/2009 for justice.
“The Supreme Court in its judgment on the 19th of July, 2012 stated the Rivers Case as premature. It ordered the NBC being the statutory body on the matter to complete its demarcation having admitted their errors earlier.
“Dissatisfied by this ugly scenario, the Rivers State Government under the leadership of His Excellency Chief, Barr. Nyesom Wike approached the Federal High Court Abuja, in suit no. FHC/ABJ/CS/984/19 to effect the enforcement of the declarative judgment.
“Today the entire people of Soku community are elated to thank God almighty, and the “Dike Oha Ikwerre” the Executive Governor of Rivers State His Excellency Chief, Barr. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, for his fighting spirit to bring back the illegally ceded Soku oil wells/field to Rivers State.
The people of Soku cannot thank His Excellency enough for this declarative judgment delivered on the 16th December, 2019. We wish to express our unalloyed support to the administration of Governor Wike. We call on the Federal Government to also act on this court judgment.”
However, the Bayelsa State government seems to have a strong faith that the judgement of the Federal High Court that returned the Soku oil wells to Rivers State would be upturned.
The state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Andrew Arthur, said the application by the Rivers State government was cunningly hidden from the Bayelsa State government, adding he only got to know about it on the judgment day.
Arthur said although he would restrain from making further comments until he received a copy of the judgment, Rivers State had brought similar applications on about four occasions but lost all.
The commissioner urged the people of Bayelsa State to remain calm since the government would challenge the order of the court at the appeal.
He said: “Don’t forget that we were not party to the said action that was brought by the Rivers State. We were not even aware of the pendency of the action up to the stage of this morning.
“I had to call the governor to intimate the governor of the fact that there was a judgment. I have not seen the hard copy of the judgment apart from what I read from papers. I can’t be making a comment on the basis of what is written in papers.
“But I will be in Abuja and I can assure you that Bayelsa State will have a robust defence by way of an appeal as an interested party. It is quite unfortunate. Rivers State had brought similar applications on about four occasions before the Federal High Court.
“Bayelsans should remain calm. We understand that this government is almost at its terminal point, but we still owe a duty to protect the interest of Bayelsa State and the government will not shelve that responsibility at this stage.”