Rivers wins ownership of 17 oil wells at Supreme Court

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From Godwin Tsa, Abuja And Tony John, Port Harcourt

The Supreme Court on Friday resolved the legal dispute between Rivers and Imo over the ownership of 17 oil wells in favour of Rivers State. In a unanimous judgment, the apex court specifically declared that the oil wells located in Ndoni and Egbema communities belong to Rivers State. Before the judgment, there was a political arrangement put in place by the Federal Government for the revenue from the disputed wells to be shared equally between the two states. However, when Emeka Ihedioha became governor in 2019, a presidential memo directed that all the revenue should go to Imo.

In the judgment which was prepared by Justice Helen Ogunwunmiju, but delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court dismissed the counterclaim ownership put forward by the Imo State government.

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While the apex court granted reliefs 1, 3 4 5 and 6 sort by Rivers State, it refused reliefs 2, 7 and 10 sought by the state.

Among the reliefs granted by the apex Court in favour of Rivers are a declaration that the boundary between River and Imo as delineated in Nigeria administrative map 10th edition, 11th, 12th, and other maps bearing similar delineation are inaccurate, incorrect, and do not represent the legitimate and lawful boundaries between Rivers and Imo states.

A declaration that the correct instruments, map and documents to be relied upon in the determining the boundary between Rivers and Imo state are those used by Rivers in delineating the boundary line between the two states, including Decree no. 14 of 1967, Decree no. 12 of 1976, the White papers/conclusion of the Federal Military government on the Irikefe and the Nasir boundary Commission/boundary Adjustment Commission, the Eastern Nigeria map, the Provincial map of Owerri province, Warri Province, Onitsha Province, Rivers Province, the Ahoada District map and Aboh Division map.

A declaration that all the oil wells within Akri and Mbede communities, including the oil wells identified on Rivers map showing the location of oil wells wrongly attributed to Imo State including Akri 012, Akri 009, Akri 010, Akri 004, Akri West 002, Akri 001, Akri West 001, Akri 003, Akri 002, and Akri South 001, Mbede 017, Mbede 010, Mbede 019, Mbede 018, Mbede 002, Mbede 009, and Mbede 005 are all oil wells within the territory of Rivers State and form part of Rivers State and that it is only Rivers State that is entitled to receive the full allocation of the distributable revenue derived from the oil wells based on the 13 per cent derivation principle as provided for under Section 162 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, among others.

Rivers State is in its suit marked SC/1037/2020, seeking a declaration that the boundary between it and Imo state, as delineated on Nigeria administrative map 10, 11 and 12 editions and other maps bearing similar delineations, are inaccurate, incorrect and do not represent the legitimate and lawful boundaries between Rivers and Imo State. The state sought a declaration that all the oil wells within Akri and Mbede communities are wrongly attributed to Imo State and that they are all oil wells within the territory of Rivers state. It maintained that only Rivers State is entitled to receive the full allocation of the distributable revenue from the oil wells on the basis of the 1390 derivation as contained under section 162 of the 1999 constitution. 

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Meanwhile, Governor Nyesom Wike said Rivers State was in court with its neighbouring Imo State, not to claim victory, but to defend its ownership rights of oil wells in Akri and Mbede communities.  The Rivers State governor made the clarification in Port Harcourt on Friday, in response to the ruling of the Supreme Court of Nigeria which delivered judgement on the subsisted boundary dispute between the two states over the affected oil wells.

He said: “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.

“We also deplore the collusive actions of the National Boundary Commission (NBC), which unfortunately, has become notorious as one of the most corrupt national agencies, which has functioned more in causing confusion than resolving boundary disputes,” he said.

Governor Wike pointed out that while the dispute lingered, the NBC did nothing in demarcating the boundaries to establish the proper location and title to the disputed oil wells. But instead of ensuring that NBC did its work, Governor Wike said the former Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha repudiated the subsisting 50:50 per cent sharing formula and also made provocative claims as exclusive owners of the oil wells.

“In order to actualise this spurious claims, he (Ihedioha) stealthily wrote a letter dated August 9, 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 per cent derivation revenue of the said oil wells.

“Acting on Governor Ihedioha’s letter, Mr President warranted a letter to be written to the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) through his late Chief of State, Mr Abba Kyari, to alter the status quo in favour of Imo State without reference to the subsisting dispute and agreement between the two states.”

Governor Wike said Rivers State government was surprised by that action because since 1999, Peter Odili and Achike Udenwa, both former governors of the respective states had agreed to a 50:50 per cent sharing of derivative proceeds from those wells.

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