Nigeria: Cross River Loses Oil-State Status and Funds; Akwa Ibom Wins Case

July 21st, 2011

AllAfrica- A bitter struggle for the possession of 76 offshore oil wells between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states ended, last week, in the Supreme Court. The apex court ruled that all the oil wells belonged to Akwa Ibom, thus changing the status of Cross River to a non-oil-producing state.

In the judgement, which has grave implications for the people and government of Cross River, the Supreme Court declared that the state was no longer a littoral state and could not therefore claim oil wells offshore.

On point of law, the apex court cannot be faulted. Following Nigeria’s ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun in 2006 (after the ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 2002), Cross River lost its maritime territory.

Olusegun Obasanjo, under whose administration Nigeria thus became smaller, had given Cross River the 76 oil wells as compensation for the calamity that befell the state and the nation. Since then, both states have not been the best of friends, even though Akwa Ibom was created out of the old Cross River State in 1987.

The only political solution that would have settled the matter, apart from Obasanjo’s “illegal” move, would have been to reverse the creation of Akwa Ibom so that it would no longer be a landlocked state.

It is doubtful if the people of Akwa Ibom would gladly lose their state if only to benefit from the 13 per cent derivation paid to oil-producing states from the Federation Account every month. The state’s problem therefore highlights the danger of depending on one product – crude oil – and creating states without considering their viability. Indeed, Cross River has a reason to mourn.

While Akwa Ibom could be getting about N13 billion as allocation per month, Cross River could be receiving about N3 billion just like other non-oil-producing states. Governor Liyel Imoke’s statement (after the Supreme Court verdict) that “our spirit will never be broken” is nothing but a dose of empty optimism. We only hope his Akwa Ibom State counterpart Godswill Akpabio’s promise of friendship will be fulfilled.

The judgement, nevertheless, is instructive in more ways than one. Every other state should put itself in Cross River’s place and ponder life after oil. What would be the state of the states and Nigeria if crude oil dried up today? Because the nation and its component states have been living like fools since the advent of oil, they would all be doomed almost instantly.

If there were no N200-400 billion to be shared each month, there would be no salaries and allowances to be paid and no money to be stolen by public officeholders. The nation’s economy would collapse!

Every state in the country like Cross River has abundant natural and human resources that can make it rich. It’s time to seek other sources of revenue. That is the lesson Cross River must now learn and teach others.