Oil Well Dispute: Supreme Court Rules In Favour Of Rivers, Dismisses Imo’s Counter Claim
The Supreme Court on Friday partly resolved the ownership dispute in 17 oil wells ownership in favour of the Rivers State government.
In a judgement prepared by Justice Ellen Ogunwumiju but delivered by justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court dismissed the counter claim ownership put forward by the Imo State government.
According to Justice Agim, reliefs One, Three, Four, Five, and Six sought by the Rivers State government were granted by the court.
The court, however, refused to grant reliefs Two, Seven, and 10.
Among the reliefs granted include that oil wells within Akri and Mbede communities are all oil wells within the territories of Rivers State and form parts of the state only.
The court also agreed that the correct instrument, maps, and documents relied on determining the boundary, were those used by the Rivers State government in delineating the boundary line between both states.
It granted the relief that Rivers map showing boundary line between the state and Imo State represents the correct boundary between both states.
The apex court, however, refused the sum of N500,000 as a cost for the prosecution of the suit instituted by the Rivers State government.
It also refused an order directing the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to calculate and refund all revenues that have been wrongly denied to Rivers State or wrongly paid to Imo State.
Wike Extends Olive Branch
At the last adjourned date of February 7 when the parties adopted their final brief of argument, the AGF had prayed the court to dismiss the matter and direct Rivers State to go and file a suit before the Federal High Court.
In their grounds of argument, the AGF and Imo State said witnesses of the disputed area ought to be called to give evidence before the suit could be amicably resolved.
They demanded that the intervention of the National Boundary Commission would also be required to give evidence at the Federal High Court before any conclusion could be drawn.
But counsel to the Rivers State government, Joseph Daudu, opposed the demand of the AGF and Imo State and asked the apex court to dismiss it.
He argued that documentary evidence placed before the court were enough for the Supreme Court to resolve all issues in dispute in relation to the oil wells.
Before the matter got to the Supreme Court, there had been a political arrangement put in place by the administrations of former Governor Peter Odili of Rivers and former Governor Achike Udenwa of Imo for revenues from the disputed wells to be shared equally between the two states.
However, former Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo obtained a presidential memo when became governor in 2019, directing that all the revenues should be ceded to his state.
Displeased by the move, the Rivers State government approached the court to file a suit against the presidential directive.
In his reaction, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court on the dispute between the two states.
Governor Wike lauded the court judgement on Friday at a stakeholders’ meeting which also culminated in a reception for the victory at the Government House in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
He berated former Governor Emeka Ihioda of Imo State for jettisoning the political arrangement in what he described as a selfish move to acquire the entire proceeds from the wells in dispute.
The governor, who was addressing various leaders in Rivers at the meeting, also faulted the role of the National Boundary Commission in the dispute.
He, however, extended an olive branch to the Imo State government that his administration was open for talks without prejudice to the Supreme Court judgement.
Read the full text of a state broadcast by Governor Wike below:
My dear people of Rivers State
Today, 6th May 2022, the Supreme Court of Nigeria has delivered its judgment on the subsisting boundary dispute between Imo State and Rivers State over the ownership of some oil wells at the Akiri and Mbede Oil fields.
Let us recall that following the disputed claims to the location and ownership of some oil wells at the Akiri and Mbede oilfields between Imo and Rivers States in 1999, the Governors, Their Excellencies, Achike Udenwa and Dr. Peter Odili respectively, worked out a political settlement and mutually settled for a 50:50 percent beneficial sharing of the derivation proceeds accruing from these wells pending the proper demarcation of the boundaries between the two States by the National Boundary Commission (NBC).
While the dispute lingered, nothing was done by the NBC to demarcate the boundaries of the two States and establish the proper location and title to the disputed oil wells.
However, instead of instigating the NBC to do the right thing, Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State, shortly after assuming office, repudiated the subsisting 50:50 percent sharing formula and made provocative claims to the exclusive ownership of the entire Akiri and Mbede oil wells.
In order to actualise these spurious claims, he stealthily wrote a letter dated 9th August 2019 to President Muhammadu Buhari and requested the refund of the sum of N15, 000,000.00 (fifteen billion naira) from Rivers State to Imo State as a backlog of accrued proceeds from the 13% 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 against in favour of Imo State without reference to the subsisting dispute and agreement between the two States.
Surprised by the surreptitious plots and collusive actions of the Government of Imo State and the NBC to overreach the legal interest of Rivers State in the disputed oil wells, the Rivers State Government opted to approach the Court for a just and lasting resolution.
Accordingly, we first applied to the Federal High Court, Abuja and among other reliefs, successfully challenged the powers and authority of Mr. President to give directives to the RMFAC and or interfere in any manner whatsoever with the distribution of public revenues from the distributable pool account, including the Federation Account.
Not satisfied with the positive ruling of the Federal High Court, the Imo State Government appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost. We then proceeded against the Government of Imo State at the Supreme Court in a fresh suit for a final and conclusive determination of the boundary dispute between our two States.
In approaching the Supreme Court in this matter, we believed that the dispute between the two States and the contentious issues are such that the Court can judicially, justly, and expeditiously determine with the available facts and supporting evidence, including valid administrative maps, subsisting judgments, and other relevant documents.
And so, the Supreme Court has finally and conclusively resolved the dispute and granted full and exclusive ownership of all the disputed oil wells in Akiri and Mbede oilfields, to Rivers State much to everyone’s relief.
Although Governor Hope Uzodimma was not the mastermind of the impulsive trajectory that compelled us to seek the intervention and protection of the Courts, he nevertheless participated fully in the litigation process to the end without engaging the Rivers State Government for a possible a political solution.
However, his reactions to the judgments of the lower courts on this matter were clearly uncalled for.
Indeed, it was rather unfortunate that someone who became Governor through the instrumentality of the judiciary could turn around to castigate the very institution that made him ruler over the good, peaceful, and progressive people of Imo State.
Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, we hope Governor Hope Uzodimma will accept the outcome in good faith, refrain from his usual diatribes against the judiciary and explore possible pathways to accommodation and compromise from the Rivers State Government.
This, we may readily oblige, despite the betrayals and back-stabbing by Emeka Ihedioha, who in spite of the extensive support and goodwill he received from the Government and people of Rivers State to become Governor, led the onslaught and created a wedge between two brotherly States that have been living at peace and in friendship with each other.
We also deplore the collusive actions of the 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.
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 are therefore open to further discussions with the Government of Imo State on the best way forward without prejudice to the outcome of today’s judgment.
We appreciate the lawyers that prosecuted and secured this landmark success for Rivers State, and for their efforts, it is my pleasure to announce the conferment of State Honours on every one of them as the Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State (DSSRS).
Finally, I wish to reiterate our resolve to continue to fight for, advance and protect the best interest of Rivers State at all times and under any circumstances up to the end of our government, and we hope our successor would likewise continue in this courageous spirit and determination to make the desired positive difference for our State and our people.
Thank you and may God bless you all