Court affirms Rivers ownership of Soku oilfields, orders Bayelsa to refund derivation funds

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The Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday ruled that the disputed Soku oil fields located in Akuku-Toru LGA belong to Rivers and not Bayelsa State. Accordingly, Justice Inyang Ekwo ordered transfer of ownership from Bayelsa State to Rivers State and directed Bayelsa State to refund the 13% derivation it has received over the years from the disputed Soku oilfield to its neighboring Rivers.

Delivering judgment in suit number, FHC/ABJ/CS/984/19, filed by the Attorney-General of Rivers against the National Boundary Commission and others, Justice Ekwo held after examining available documents from relevant government agencies and facts before the court, the Soku oilfields belonged to Rivers.

The judge said the “failure and refusal of the National Boundary Commission to rectify the admitted mistake in the 11th edition of the administrative map of Nigeria since 2002 which erroneously showed St Bartholomew River instead of River Santa Barbara as the interstate boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa states is a breach of the commission’s statutory duty and a flagrant disobedience of the order of the Supreme Court contained in its judgment delivered on July 10, 2012 in suit number: SC. 106 /2009.”

He explained that the continued reliance on the said defective 11th edition of the administrative map of Nigeria by the other government agencies/statutory bodies, particularly the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) and the Accountant General of the Federation in the computation of revenue accruable to Rivers State from the Federation Account had resulted in the age-long “unjust denial of derivation funds accruing from the Soku oil wells situate within Rivers State to the detriment of the state government.”

Justice Ekwo directed that the judgment be served on the RMAFC and the Accountant General of the Federation. He maintained that the boundary commission cannot unilaterally delineate boundaries between the two states after the Supreme Court judgment on the matter, dismissing an objection to the suit raised by the commission for lacking in merit.

The failure of the National Boundary Commission to obey the ruling of the apex court on the oil wells had spurred the Rivers Attorney General to file an originating summons for the enforcement of the declarative judgment on the disputed facility.

Counsel to the Rivers Government, Lucius Nwosu (SAN), described the judgment as a victory for the rule of law in Nigeria. Besides, the state Commissioner of Finance, Dr. Isaac Kamalu, told reporters that Rivers was already computing the sum accruable to it since the dispute began.

“The Rivers State government is already summing up what should be its entitlement from the period the crisis began up to this present day. And when we get that, we will be able to make public a statement categorically as to what we have and we are entitled to,” he stated.

In 2014, former Governor Chibuike Amaechi had accused the RMAFC of releasing the sum of N17 billion that had been paid into an escrow account pending the resolution of the issue to Bayelsa State. And ever since, Bayelsa has been receiving 13 per cent derivation for over 40 oil wells located in the disputed Soku.

The 11th edition of the administrative map, prepared by the commission and the surveyor general’s office in 1999, but published in 2000, had altered the boundaries from the initial point between Kalabari and Nembe, west of the Santa Barbara River to San Bartholomew River.