The long drawn controversy over the ownership of 76 offshore oil wells was on Tuesday laid to rest at the Supreme Court as it ruled that the disputed wells belong to Akwa Ibom.
Cross River lost her status as a littoral state after the Federal Government ceded the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon in 2008.
The seven justices of the court headed by the outgoing Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, in their ruling, submitted that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) was right in attributing the oil wells to Akwa Ibom at the inter-agencies meeting.
Before delivering the lead judgment, the court dismissed Cross River’s application, pointing out that the agreement which initially gave the state rights to the 76 oil wells was frustrated by the handing over of Bakassi to Cameroon.
Mrs Adekeye held that the 13 per cent derivation revenue on the 76 oil wells between Akwa Ibom state and Cross River State must continue to be attributed to the state that has the maritime territory.
“Cross River State no longer has any maritime boundary,” she said.
“It is landlocked. The plaintiff not being a littoral state and not having a maritime boundary, the 76 oil wells, which are the subject matter of the suit, which lie offshore and within a maritime territory, cannot be attributed to it.
“The plaintiff has no maritime territory since the cessation of Bakassi Peninsula, and the Cross River estuary, which used to be part of the state prior to August 2008. The present position of the plaintiff cannot be blamed on any government agency, particularly the National Boundary Commission and the RMAFC. The two statutory bodies must perform their statutory duties based on facts and realities to compile the indices for the payment of the derivation revenues to entitled states,” she said.
Mrs. Adekeye said the court could not close its eyes to the existing situation, which made Cross River to continue to enjoy the benefits and privileges of a littoral state when it was no longer one by virtue of subsequent legal changes. She added that it cannot be misled into giving a legislative judgment because of the influx of refugees from Bakassi into Cross River State.
“The government of Nigeria has a means of providing for the social needs of the people of Cross River State faced with the social problems thrusted on the state due to the cessation of Bakassi Peninsula to the Cameroon,” she said, adding that the state government should explore ways of getting the Federal Government to take care of the social needs of the people of the area.
In his reaction Akwa-Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, who described the apex court’s decision as bold, said the decision has lain to rest the controversy over the 76 oils wells, which almost resulted in acrimonious conflict between two sister states.
“Now that the issue has been resolved, we would continue to work together with our sister state to assist her continue to grow.
“We must try to run Nigeria on the basis of justice. I have always said that the deductions from the revenue allocations of Akwa Ibom state were illegal. Now that the judgment has been delivered, we can talk, as the people now know the truth,” he said.
Cross Rivers state government had dragged the Federal Government and the Akwa Ibom state to court on grounds that some of the oil wells ceded to her by virtue of the agreement reached at a meeting called by the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2006, were not released.
Counsel to the applicant, submitted that though the oil wells in dispute were located in Cross Rivers, Mr. Obasanjo, through a letter dated October 31,2006, had unilaterally shared them between the two states, giving 76 wells to Akwa Ibom and 14 to Cross River.
In his submission, counsel to Akwa Ibom state government, Bayo Ojo, submitted that the issue before the court was whether Cross River is a littoral state or not as at present, arguing that the handing over of the western Bakassi to Cameroun in August 14,2008 had made the state lose her status as a littoral state, and therefore cannot benefit from the oil wells.
“By the virtue of the handing over of that part of Cross River to Cameroun, the state cannot claim to be a beneficiary of any oil well,” Mr. Ojo said.