Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Monday ordered the National Boundary Commission (NBC) to transfer the ownership of Soku oil field/wells from Bayelsa State to its rightful owner, Rivers State.
Justice Inyang Ekwo made the order in his judgment in a suit filed by Rivers State against Bayelsa State and the NBC.
Justice Ekwo frowned at the attitude of the NBC in disobeying the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on July 10, 2012, which ordered the National Boundary Commission to rectify the error in its 11th edition of Administrative Map, which designated St Bartholomew River as the boundary between the two states, instead of River Santa Barbara.
He said rather than complying with the seven-year judgment of the Supreme Court, the NBC was busy holding meetings in an attempt to negotiate the decision of the Supreme Court, an act which he said was condemnable.
Before delving into the substantive issue, the court had dismissed the objections raised by the Commission challenging the competence of the suit on the grounds that it offends the provisions of Order 16 (2) of the rules of the Federal High Court.
While holding that the defendant did not meet with the requirement of Order 12(2), Justice Ekwo said the proper method of challenging the suit was not followed and therefore rendered the objections defective and incompetent.
On the substantive matter, the court held that while the defendant accepted its mistake as contained in the 11th edition of Administrative Map produced by the NBC in 2002, but failed to rectify it in breach of its undertaking to do so in the 12th edition of the document.
He held that non of the averments of the defendant has contradicted the case of the plaintiff, rather, “they only amounted to giving reasons why it has not complied with the judgment of the Supreme Court.
“All the defendant needs to do is to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court and this action would not have arisen.
“The continued failure to rectify its mistake in the 11th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria constitute a breach of the statutory duty of the defendant”, Justice Ekwo held.
The NBC was said to have in its letter dated July 3, 2002 in response to Rivers State Government’s protest admitted its mistake and promised to rectify it in the 12th edition of the Administrative Map.
Failure of the NBC to rectify the mistake as promised led to the Rivers State Government filing a suit against the Attorney-General of Bayelsa State and the Attorney-General of the Federation before the Supreme Court in 2009.
The Supreme Court in 2012 ruled in favour of Rivers State and ordered the rectification of the error. By August 2019, when the mistake had yet to be corrected, Rivers State Government instituted a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja solely against the NBC, seeking an order of mandamus compelling it to correct its error.
Granting the plaintiff’s prayers in his judgment delivered on Monday, Justice Ekwo ordered the Commission to immediately produce the 12th edition of the Administrative Map restoring River Santa Barbara as the inter-state boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa States, as it was in 1996 when Bayelsa State was carved from Rivers State.
He added that the Commission was duty-bound to obey the July 10, 2012 judgment of the Supreme Court, which had affirmed River Santa Barbara as the boundary between the states, by immediately correcting its self-admitted error of designating River St Bartholomew as the boundary.
He also ordered that the judgment to be served on the relevant statutory bodies, especially the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, for them to immediate recompute the amount of oil revenue accruable to it with the transfer of the Soku oil field to it.
Prior to 2006, derivation funds/proceeds from Soku Oil Wells /fields had always been paid to Rivers State and on the basis that Soku Oil Wells/ fields are located in Rivers State.
However, from 2006, the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) single handedly and unilaterally changed the existing order and have since been giving derivative funds/money accruing from Soku Oil Wells/fields to Bayelsa State to the detriment of Rivers State where Soku Oil Wells/fields are located.
The RMFAC based its decision on the 11th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria, which put the boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa as at St Bartholomew River.
The National Boundary Commission, admitted its mistake of changing the natural administrative and political boundary between Rivers State and Bayelsa State from River Santa Barbara to River St Bartholomew in the letter dated July 3rd, 2002 and undertook to amend it in the publication of its 12th edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria.
The NBC’s admission of error/fault was in reaction to the protest letter by Rivers State dated March 28, 2002 and June 20, 2002.
In a letter of September 15, 2008, addressed to the Surveyor General of the Federation and copied the NBC, the National Boundary Commission was reminded of the need to revise the 11th edition of the Administrative Map as promised its letters of July 3, 2002.