12 July 2012

Nigeria: 76 Oil Wells - Akwa Ibom Allays Fear of Tension With Cross River

Photo: Africa Undisguised
Oil rig in Nigeria

Following Tuesday's landmark ruling by the Supreme Court which declared that Cross River State is a non-littoral state, the Akwa Ibom State Government Wednesday debunked insinuations that tension was brewing between indigenes of the state and Cross River State.

While the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) commended Akwa Ibom and Cross River States for resorting to legal action to resolve the ownership of the disputed 76 oil wells between both states, the Head of the Department of International Law and Jurisprudence and Chairman, Office of International Relations and Partnership, University of Lagos, Prof. Akin Oyebode, said the judgment would have far-reaching implications on the country.

The Supreme Court had in its ruling ceded the 76 disputed oil wells to Akwa Ibom State, a development which meant that Cross River State, which had been in court over the ceding for four years, had lost its status as a littoral state.

Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Aniekan Umannah, denied insinuations making the rounds to the effect that some persons were instigating tension between indigenes of the state leading to a possible mass exodus from either side, saying that such a development would be disingenuous.

He said: "You listened to the governor after the Supreme Court ruling when he said the people are one and that there is no tension. Nothing will keep the people divided because they are one. Why would the governor be moving indigenes of Akwa Ibom State from Calabar because of the ruling? What will he be doing with them? Is he to be building houses for them or what?"

Umannah noted that these are people, who are living peacefully in their places of abode, saying: "Nobody should do anything to divide our people as the issue of oil well is something between two governments."

Sources had said in Abuja that some forces appeared to be stoking tension between indigenes of the two states over the apex court ruling but it was also gathered that the long history of togetherness between the people would make it difficult to create a big wedge at this time.

"Over 45 per cent of landlords in Calabar are from Akwa Ibom and the University of Calabar is highly populated by indigenes of Akwa Ibom and the South-east. So, there is no basis for decision between the people of the two states," an elder from Akwa Ibom stated.

Reacting also, the PDP in a statement after its NWC meeting Wednesday, said the resort to legal action over the ownership showed a great sense of maturity by the two states.

The statement, which was signed by the party's National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, said: "The PDP wishes to commend the Governors and governments of both Cross River and Akwa Ibom States for the maturity in which they have handled the dispute from its beginning up to this time.

"The resolve of the two PDP Governors to seek legal interpretation and adjudication on the matter instead of resorting to other unconventional means is worthy of commendation."

Also, the party commended the people of the two states for following the footsteps of their worthy governors by resisting the temptation to resort to self help which have the potentials to erode the peace and brotherly relationship existing between the two governments and their peoples.

"We make bold to declare that Cross River and Akwa Ibom States are one and the same. The brotherly relationship existing between their peoples are as historical as they are biological.

"It is on the strength of this therefore that the leadership of our Party is appealing to the Governments of the two States to accept the Supreme Court judgment in good faith and encourage activities that would lead to greater cooperation amongst them," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Ojebode while reacting to the judgment, said though he was yet to see or read the judgment to know the circumstances upon which the decisions were reached, it would certainly have far-reaching implications on the country.

"Until I see the judgment, so I cannot make any comment now. But on the face value, I think the judgment would have seriously implications on the country," he said.

Arguing that while the loss may not be that of the state as it were, Oyebode said the development would have severe security implications for Nigeria.

He said once a state within a federation loses its littoral status, the security burden was no longer that of the federating state but that of the federation as a whole.

According to him, "The right of Egress and Ingress by the Nigerian Navy into the international waters would have been curtailed. In other words, Nigeria would need to seek clearance from Cameroun for its naval ships to patrol the coastal waters formerly in the territory of Cross River State."

He further hinted that "with the issue of Green Tree Agreement yet to be fully resolved, the loss of the state's littoral status would have serious security consequences for Nigeria should Cameroun decide to play god over the coastal territory ceded to it by the International Court of Justice."

Oyebode said he did not think, however, that Cameroun would attempt to deny the Nigerian Navy access to the coastal waters under its sphere of control, as according to him, "to do so is to dare Nigeria to unleash it military might, an outcome that might not be palatable Cameroun."

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