12 January 2014, Port harcourt – WHo owns Soku and Etche oil wells? Rivers, Bayelsa, or Abia State. This was the poser raised by Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi after he claimed the oil wells belonged to his state but were unjustly allocated to Bayelsa and Abia states. So easy to read politics to the Amaechi claim especially since Bayelsa is the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan against whom the Rivers governor levelled the accusation at a time Jonathan and Amaechi are at daggers drawn over issues relating to the 2015 presidential contest.
According to the governor, the oil wells were ceded to Bayelsa and Abia states, a development he said contributed to why he dumped the ruling Peoples Democratic Party at the centre for the opposition All Progressive Congress, APC.
Amaechi, in his New Year broadcast, said he had told Jonathan that if the oil wells were returned to Rivers State, he would come back to the PDP, stressing, however, that he was sure Mr President would ignore his condition to return to the party.
The governor also lashed at His Royal Highness, Disreal Gbobo Bob-Manuel II, Owukori IX, Amanyanabo of Abonnema, the headquarters of Akuku Toru LGA, Rivers State, for saying the people of the area were satisfied with the way the Federal Government was handling the issues surrounding the Soku oil wells when he played host to the governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson.
Sources in the community said the oil wells generate over a thousand barrels of crude daily. In November 2012, chiefs of Kalabari came on the streets in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, protesting what they described as a shift in the boundary demarcating Degema Division from the oil Brass Division.
One of the placards they carried then read, “We say no to executive high handedness”. The peaceful march was led by the Amanyanabo of Abonnema. They later handed a copy of their protest to the state government through the Deputy Governor, Tele Ikiru..
The Kalabari chiefs said then that the alleged move to shift the boundary between the Degema Division and Brass Division in the 12th provisional edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria to River Sombreiro was an attempt to balkanise the Kalabari nation. According to them, the move would relocate about 90 percent of Kalabari communities in Akuku Toru to Nembe in Bayelsa.
They also called on the National Boundary Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to urgently address the issue, stressing that it could trigger off another round of crisis in the region.
According to the traditional rulers, River Santa Barbara had been the original boundary demarcating the two areas and known to even the colonial masters. .
As the contention over the ownership continued between the two states, Amaechi said he was shocked to discover that N17 billion that was paid into an escrow account pending resolution of the issue was suddenly released to Bayelsa State.
The Rivers government said that it was agreed among all parties in the dispute that monies accruing from the oil wells should be paid into the escrow account until the issue was resolved. But surprisingly the N17 billion was released to Bayelsa.
The state government said effort it made to seek redress in court were frustrated as documents needed to solidify its positions were not certified.
It was gathered that the state became suspicious when they noticed a shift in the 11th edition of the Administration Map of Nigeria where the alleged boundary was shifted from River Santa Barbary to San Bartholomew. Complaints were reportedly made and assurance secured that the alleged anomaly would be redressed in the next edition which was never to be.
Amaechi has continued to maintain that the issues around Soku and the 41 oil wells in Etche were part of ploy to rob Rivers State of its resources.
Dickson had sometime last year paid a similar visit to the people of Buguma in Rivers State with a call on the Ijaw to build bridges of unity across the country and speak with one voice in pursuance of their collective interests.
But the visit penultimate week to Abonnema where he fraternized with the chiefs and people of the area as part of his efforts at promoting Ijaw national integration rekindled the bitter feud between the two sister states over the ownership of the Soku oil field.
The Bayelsa governor at the palace of the Amayanabo, expressed gratitude to the people for their show of understanding and maturity in handling the oil field dispute.
Accompanied on the visit by the Supervising Minister of Education, Hon Nyesom Wike, Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, Rivers State chairman of the party, Mr. Felix Obuah, Secretary to Bayelsa State Government, Prof Edmund Alison-Oguru, among others, the Bayelsa State governor, according to a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said, “The first thing I will like to say is to appreciate you, your chiefs and indeed all the wonderful people of your kingdom for their show of maturity in handling some of the issues that have come between us as brothers. You are all aware of the long-standing unfortunate disagreement between our major Ijaw brothers here and those in the Nembe clan, which dispute predates even the creation of Bayelsa State. It is an unfortunate chapter in our history as Ijaw people.
“But the important thing is when disputes, which are inevitable in the course of human interactions, take place, it is important that we have the right frame of mind and show understanding and maturity to move for an amicable settlement.”
He said in line with his administration’s policy in ensuring peaceful co-existence among the Ijaws, the Bayelsa State government would do everything within its reach to achieve amicable resolution of the dispute and emphasized the need for leaders in the region to close ranks and utilize the resources of Ijaw land to develop the region rather than cause disaffection among its kith and kin.
Responding, Bob-Manuel noted that the visit would go a long way in strengthening the bonds of unity between the people of Rivers and Bayelsa states.
Commenting on the dispute, the Amanayabo expressed satisfaction with the way the issue was being handled by the president and urged other stakeholders to address the matter dispassionately.
Though the issue of the ownership of Soku oil field predates the creation tration of Jonathan, the state government has continued to maintain that its Rivers counterpart was fighting a lost battle.
The Bayelsa government argued that the naming of the disputed area Soku oil field by the Shell Petroleum Development Company was not enough evidence to cede the wells to Rivers.
While berating the Rivers government for attacking the office of the president, it said the oil well was named after Soku by SPDC for administrative convenience.
According to the Bayelsa government, the disputed oil field was located in Oluasiri in Nembe local government area of the state against the submission of the Rivers government.
Also, it warned Rivers State against denigrating the office of the president. Public office holders, according to another statement signed by the state Commissioner for Information, Markson Fefegha, must at all times protect the sanctity of public institutions.
The ownership of Soku oil f ield, the statement added, is not contentious as being presented by the Rivers State government, arguing that several suits filed by the Rivers government over the issue were determined in favour of Bayelsa.
“Soku is a village in Rivers State while the oil wells/oil field and the flow station are located in the Oluasiri Clan in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. The name Soku oil wells/oil field was wrongly given by Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd (SPDC) since Soku village was their operational base at that time,” the commissioner stated.
“This is not peculiar to Soku. For example, the Idu oil wells/oil field is named after a town in Ekpeye land in Ahoada East LGA of Rivers State while the oil field is actually located in Biseni land of Bayelsa State. Similarly, the Omoku west oil field is in Biseni land of Bayelsa State but Omoku is a town in Rivers State.
“Incidentally, Soku village in Rivers State is about 10 km, as the crow flies, from the flow station while the Oluasiri/Soku oil wells/ field is surrounded by various Oluasiri villages of Nembe LGA in Bayelsa State.”
Buttressing the argument, the statement said the Rivers government had in the past filed suits at the High Court and Supreme Court over the subject matter but lost.
“However, the Bayelsa government has urged the Rivers State governor and his appointees to refrain from making inciting and inflammatory remarks capable of triggering off inter communal crises among our people.“We also urge our fellow Ijaw brothers and traditional rulers to refrain from being used by Governor Amaechi as tools to cause disunity between the people of Rivers and Bayelsa states over the derivation matter because derivation is purely a state matter and not a matter between communities.”
Commenting on the issue, the paramount ruler of Oluasiri in Nembe LGA of Bayelsa, HRH, King Iyeritei Awululu, urged the Federal Government to embark on immediate boundary demarcation in the disputed oil rich Soku enclave between Bayelsa and Rivers.
Awululu, in an interview, said the oil field, which is host to a gas plant and the bone contention, is on Oluasiri territory in Nembe council area and not on Kalabari land as being claimed by the Rivers government.
“Oluasiri is the 13th ward in Nembe Council Area and has boundary with Odua, Abua and Akuku-Toru. The Soku gas plant is at the centre of Oluasiri land. The place is far from Soku and it is a minimum of 22 minutes drive on the fastest speed boat”, the monarch said.
He said the instrument that created the Nembe District Council in the then Eastern Region was in 1955/56 while the instrument creating Kalabari District was in 1960/61. “If you look at the instrument creating the Kalabari District Council in the then Eastern Region, you will not see Elemsangama in it but you will see Orusangama,” he remarked.
Awululu noted that the people of Bille have also cautioned the Kalabaris on this matter, adding that Mr. President should not be dragged into a matter which had been on ground long before he delved into politics.
*Samuel Oyadongha and Jimitota Onoyume, Vanguard