Following repeated and deliberate propaganda by the Governor of Rivers State against the Federal Government, the Government and good people of Bayelsa State, aimed at distorting historic and legal facts and designed to incite the people of Rivers State against their brothers in Bayelsa, it has become necessary for us to again reiterate some salient facts about the unfortunate boundary dispute between the people of Nembe and Kalabari clans both of the Ijaw Nation, which dispute started in the 1920s.
Ordinarily, further response to the recent media statements by the Governor of Rivers State on the Oluasiri (Soku) oil wells/Oil Field would not have been necessary since the Bayelsa State Government has made clear its position on the issues in previous media publications including the Nation Newspaper of Monday 5th November 2012. But in this season of absurd politicking and orchestration of LIES as the TRUTH, the Bayelsa State Government deems it fit to once again reiterate the valid points of the matter for due education and understanding of our Ijaw people in particular and the Nigerian public in general.
The said statement of the Rivers State Governor on the issue was obviously intended to create crisis amongst the peace-loving Ijaw people in Rivers and Bayelsa States and indeed attract undue public sympathy without regard to the security implications and the integrity of national institutions.
Contrary to what the Rivers State Governor is doing by way of promoting hatred and inciting violence, the Bayelsa State Governor on his part has been pursuing a peaceful and amicable resolution of the matter using existing constitutional channels.
Now, the HARD FACTS about Oluasiri (Soku) Oil Wells/ Field
1. With the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996, the Interstate boundary demarcation issues between Bayelsa and Rivers states resurfaced inevitably with both parties making claims and counter claims to appropriate agencies.
The Federal Government at the time also became so inundated with claims from other States with similar boundary issues. The Federal Government in October 2000 set up a Special Presidential Committee on Disputed Oil Wells headed by Maj. Gen. A. B. Mamman, mni (rtd) to verify the claims and counter claims of disputed oil wells and oil fields in all the affected States.
The composition of the said committee had representatives of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Nigerian Navy (NN), National Boundary Commission (NBC), Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation (OSGOF), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other notable public figures drawn from all works of life.
The committee members include key personalities such as Chief Ejiofor Onyia (RMAFC), Chief Olotu Frank Akpoebi (RMAFC), Chief Bayo Akinnola (RMAFC), Alhaji Bello Kware(RMAFC), Alhaji Yakubu Shehu(RMAFC), Barr. Ikechukwu Obiorah (RMAFC), Hon. Chief (Dr.) Peter Amadi Nwankwo(RMAFC), Hon. Alhaji Abu Gidado(RMAFC), Hon. Chief Abu King Shuluwa(RMAFC), Hon. Mohammed Lamin(RMAFC), Hon. Barr. Emeka Wogu(RMAFC), Surveyor F.A Kassim, (the then Surveyor General of the Federation), Surveyor J.O. Okafor (OSGOF).Capt. S.A. Akinbanmi (NN), Lt. Comdr. T. Dick (NN), Comdr. M.I. Olatunji(NN), Lt. Cdr. L.N. Ugwu(NN), Mr. O.J. Odogwu (DPR), Mr. I. Frank-Briggs(DPR), Surveyor M.O. Arowolo (OSGOF), Surveyor I.A. Adewola (OSGOF), Surveyor A.F. Ayeni(OSGOF), Dr. M.B. Ahmad (NBC) and Surveyor A. Umar (NBC).
2. It is not in doubt that Soku is a village in Rivers State. The dispute between the Kalabaris’ and Nembes’ primarily has to do with the traditional/native boundaries of both clans who are now in different States. The case of the Oluasiiri people of Nembe LGA is that the Oil wells/Oil Field which make up the facility named after Soku are in their ancestral territory. The Kalabaris of Rivers State hold a contrary view.
The issue therefore is not whether Soku Community is a Community in Bayelsa State. Without doubt, Soku is a Community in Rivers State but it is the location of the oil wells produced and recorded under that name, is what makes it the bone of contention prior to the final determination by RMAFC.
The name “Soku oil wells/oil field’ was arbitrarily given by Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd (SPDC) since Soku village was their nearest operational base at the time. This is not peculiar to Soku oil field. For example, the Idu oil wells/oil field is named after a town in Ekpeye land in Ahoada East LGA of Rivers State while the oil field is actually located in Biseni land of Bayelsa State. Prior to the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996, the above issue did not create a problem of derivation as both clans were in old Rivers State except that even then there were series of cases, panels and conflicts.
The arbitrary or misleading nomenclature of oil wells and facilities by Oil Companies also occurs within the same Local Government or State. For example the first oil well in Nigeria (Oloibiri) is actually located in Otuabagi village while the wells is named after Oloibiri town all in Ogbia LGA of Bayelsa State, which was Shell’s operational base at the time. So many of such examples abound in the Niger Delta area because these names were given arbitrarily without consultation with the locals. It is clear that the name given to an oil field does not confer ownership nor depict actual location.
So it is ridiculous for anyone to say that Soku Town has now been annexed to become part of Bayelsa State as the Rivers State Governor mischievously claims on a consistent basis.
The crux of the issue here is whether the said oil wells which bear the name given by Shell are within Bayelsa or Rivers states according to the administrative map of Nigeria and other delimitation instruments for purposes of derivation. It is instructive to note that not only are the survey coordinates of the affected areas lie within the geographical area of Bayelsa state, it is also in INEC Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) delineated electoral constituency as electoral ward 13 in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
3. The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in its report on the Familiarization/Verification visit to oil producing states, volume 1, Main Report, August 2006 in Chapter 3, page 30 also acknowledged the arbitrary naming of oil facilities when it stated as follows:
“The Bayelsa/Imo/Abia State Governments complained that the naming of oil fields was often done arbitrarily without any regard to the culture and particular environment of the people where the wells or fields are located. This has given rise to wrong attribution by relevant agencies”.
4. Incidentally, Soku village in Rivers State is about 10 km, as the crow flies, from the flow station while the Oluasiri / Soku oil wells/ field is completely surrounded by various Oluasiri communities such as Etukekiri, Ijawkiri, Fredkiri, Adokonikiri etc all in Nembe LGA of Bayelsa State.
5. The Special Presidential Committee on verification of disputed oil wells in volume one of its report on disputed oil wells of December 2000 (Pages; 25/26) after a painstaking field verification process and hearing from both states stated and recommended as follows:
‘‘4;5.6 Soku Oil Field
The team relied on the legal notice captioned “The Eastern Region Local Government Law, 1955 E.R. NO 26 of 1955. Instrument Establishing the Nembe District Council” tendered by Bayelsa State on Pages 40-41 of its submission. It should be noted that while the Kalabaris of Rivers State call the area Soku, the Nembe people of Bayelsa State call it Oluasiri which is one of the councils mentioned in paragraph 5 of the above mentioned instrument.
In the light of the above, it is recommended that the production from Soku Oil Field be attributed to Bayelsa State.’’
The said letter was dated 12th July, 2004 when President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State while Governor Amaechi at that time was the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, a position the latter occupied for eight uninterrupted years. Governor Ameachi ought to know this fact by virtue of his position then and now.
Unfortunately, in his rabid attempt to run down the President and every National or state institution, undermine our democracy, and subvert our cherished African values of respect for elders and institutions of authority, create crises in the country as well as incite violence, he prefers to peddle this terrible falsehood as an agent of blackmail and desecration of the Nation’s hard-earned democracy and our cherished ties of fraternity as a people.
6. Following the above letter, which conclusively decided that the above oil wells be attributed to Bayelsa State, the Rivers State Government instituted a suit at the Federal High Court Abuja in 2005 seeking to set aside the determination by RMAFC. During the pendency of the suit, all parties agreed to open an ESCROW account into which sums accruing to the disputed oil wells were paid. Following Bayelsa State Government’s legal objection to the said suit, the Rivers State Government realizing the futility of its case applied to withdraw whereupon the said suit was withdrawn and struck out at their instance.
Thus the ESCROW account arrangement put in place during the pendency of the case also lapsed. In that same year, Bayelsa State Government applied for the release of the funds based on the determination of RMAFC in its favour.
From July 2004, the Revenue Commission officially attributed the Oluasiri (Soku) Oil well to Bayelsa State and the amount of N7,292,218,892 was subsequently released from the ESCROW account to Bayelsa State on 19th March 2007 during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Again at this time and on this date, President Jonathan was not President or Vice President of the Country and Governor Ameachi was still Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
7. Concerning the refund to Bayelsa in 2012 which amounted to N17, 405, 702, 164.34, Bayelsa State Government in 2011 during the administration of President Yar’Adua, made a claim for reconciliation on Nimbe South oilfield in Bayelsa State and RMAFC verified it and found it to be true and approved the sum of about N17b as refund.
b. Meanwhile, the Rivers State Government made a similar claim on Nda and Okwori oil wells from Bayelsa, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Delta states. Again, RMAFC and other federal agencies verified these claims and found them to be true and authorized a refund from the above mentioned states to Rivers State of about N17.5b. Both claims were settled in 2012.
Upon reconciliation, Bayelsa State got a net refund of about N15.3b after making its refund of N2, 071, 164, 678.46 to Rivers State through FAAC deductions. Rivers State got a cumulative refund of about N17.5b from all the aforementioned states.
d. It is worthy to note that these monies were not paid out of any ESCROW account but through FAAC deductions. So where is the source of the endless claims by the Rivers State Governor that President Goodluck Jonathan released money from the ESCROW account to Bayelsa when the account did not exist? The above reconciliations and refunds to Bayelsa, Rivers and other states were done consensually
8a. Upon withdrawal of the case at the Federal High Court based on the objection filed by the Bayelsa State Government, this time the Rivers State Government instituted a fresh suit at the Supreme Court of Nigeria , Vide Suit Number SC 106/ 2009, Attorney General of Rivers State vs Attorney General of Bayelsa/ Attorney General of the Federation. On the 10th of July 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously struck out the suit on the grounds that the national institution set up by law for the purpose of boundary demarcation be allowed to carry out its work of properly establishing the clear boundaries between the two states in order to ascertain who owns what. The Supreme Court further opined that the National Boundary Commission should conclude the on-going interstate boundary delineation exercise between Rivers and Bayelsa States to its finality before any justiciable claims could arise.
In other words, the Rivers State Governments court action was hasty and premature.
b. In compliance with the Supreme Court judgment, the National Boundary Commission and its related agencies alongside Rivers and Bayelsa States in January 2013 continued the boundary delineation exercise until the Rivers State government officially withdrew from the exercise in writing on the 30th of January 2013
9. The Governor of Bayelsa State who was Attorney General of the state in 2006 when Governor Ameachi was Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, had at a recent peace meeting brokered by former President Obasanjo and all PDP governors in attendance explained the issues and circumstances concerning the disputed oil wells and the fact that there was no operational ESCROW account at the time of the last reconciliations and payments in 2012.
That Governor Ameachi still went ahead spreading falsehood in spite of the explanations and clarifications by the Bayelsa state Government and even though there are available channels for peaceful resolution of the issues shows clearly that Governor Ameachi is being mischievous and his motive is to politicize and destroy all democratic institutions of Government in the country; be it the Presidency, judiciary, Legislature, the political system, traditional institutions, national security apparatus, RMAFC, National Boundary Commission, Office of the Surveyor General of he Federation, etc. We can also see this same attitude playing out in all institutions in his state.
The Government of Bayelsa State assures our brothers, friends and the Good people of Rivers State that our thoughts and prayers are with them at this trying moment in the life of our parent state, where a good number of our citizens still reside and call home.
10. We therefore urge all Nigerians particularly the good people of Rivers State to discountenance the frivolous and baseless allegations contained in the press interview by the Rivers State Governor as they are calculated to mislead the entire country and instigate crises amongst the Ijaw brothers in Kalabari and Nembe communities.
The government of Bayelsa State therefore urges the Rivers State Governor and his appointees to refrain from making inciting and inflammatory remarks capable of triggering inter-communal crises among our people with the intention to achieve cheap political gains by the Rivers State Governor.
The Government of Bayelsa State has been aware for a long time of plans and efforts made by the Governor and officials of Rivers State Government to create chaos and brigandage in Bayelsa State. In our usual maturity and focus as a government, the people and security forces have been able to put this trend under close watch and control.
Officials of Bayelsa State Government and senior Bayelsa State citizens residing in Rivers State have been targeted in the recent past and information at our disposal indicate that more of such attacks would take place. Those who have been victims include, Engr. Olice Kemenanabo, Special Adviser on Energy to the Bayelsa State Governor and Chairman of the state plastic company, Engr. Gabriel Warde, Youth Development Committee Executive (Nembe) Chief Irigha Edward Brigidi and even an attempted kidnap of the Attorney General of Bayelsa State and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister Francis Egele etc. Intelligence indicates that perpetrators of recent kidnap cases in Bayelsa are located within Rivers State.The objective of the above incidences is to paint a sense of insecurity in Bayelsa State.
Now that the Governor of Rivers State has formally joined the opposition party (which he is entitled to) he is free to support the opposition in Bayelsa State as he has since been doing but t= his must be done within the ambits of the law as the security machinery in Bayelsa will not hesitate to ensure that violations of the law in the state are dealt with accordingly. On our part we shall continue to stick to our well known policy of not encouraging or funding subversive activities in any state especially our neighbouring states irrespective of political differences.
As a responsible government, we would continue to do our best to provide security for our people and Nigeria in general. We would continue to support ongoing efforts at curbing criminality and brigandage along the waterways especially in border communities like Oluasiri/Soku areas.
We call on our fellow Ijaw brothers and sisters and indeed traditional rulers to refrain from being used by Governor Rotimi Amaechi as tools to cause disunity between the people of Rivers and Bayelsa States who have lived together as brothers and would always continue to co-exist and bond which will outlive anyone with political interest or career
We must all remind ourselves that we are one people. Our peaceful co-existence should be paramount and nothing should be done to hamper it.
LONG LIVE BAYELSASTATE GOVERNMENT
LONG LIVE THE IJAW NATION
LONG THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA.
DANIEL IWORISO MARKSON.
CHIEF PRESS SECRETARY TO THE BAYELSA STATE GOVERNOR.