Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, said, Wednesday , that in the interest of peace in the region, only a political solution can salvage the damages caused by the recent loss of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon and 76 oil wells to its neighbouring state, Akwa Ibom.
Imoke told Vanguard Newspaper exclusively in his office in Calabar, the state capital, that the precedent had been set in the Nigerian polity when former President Olusegun Obasanjo also devised a political solution to resolve the onshore/offshore dichotomy impasse between the littoral states and the Federal Government.
The governor said it was strange that his state was the only one in the South South region that was regarded as non-oil producing state, adding that it was the loss of Bakassi that made Cross River a non-littoral state.
He said: “Literally, we are the only state in the Niger Delta region, as it were, that is suffering from the consequences of a judgment without a political solution and making us the only state that is not producing when nothing has changed physically or geographically.”
Against this backdrop, he argued that the development required political solution. He said: “The political solution basically should be addressed for the interest of peace. The political solution is one that we have seen applied in the past. So it is not something new, it is something that the parties involved can come together and agree on.”
He added that “what this means is that it has revived the Bakassi agitation and since the Supreme Court acknowledged the International Court of Justice, ICJ decision, the consequence is the loss to the people of Cross River and the people of Bakassi.”
Imoke also recalled that it was a similar political solution that made Akwa Ibom, which lost out as an oil producing state following the Supreme Court ruling in 2002, on the onshore/offshore dichotomy, which vested offshore oil productions on the federal government.
As a result of the ruling, Akwa Ibom lost out from oil resource benefits because all its crude productions were offshore. But the governor remembered that the then former Akwa Ibom state governor, Obong Victor Attah led a powerful agitation against the Supreme Court ruling, which eventually culminated into the 13 per cent derivation fund for all oil producing states and once more, Akwa Ibom became an oil producing state and one of the highest beneficiaries of that political solution.
Imoke recalled, “What happened at the end of the day was that we arrived at a political solution. Even under an administration of someone like former President Obasanjo who said we needed to have peace in this region.
“There were several meetings and it was agreed that we must find a way to deal with the law which the Supreme Court had delivered because the judgment was strictly based on law. But there were social issues that were to be addressed, and in addressing these social issues President Obasanjo set up a committee to make recommendations and that committee was chaired by Chief Tony Anenih.
“They made some recommendations to abrogate the offshore/onshore dichotomy, and a two or three-paragraph legislation was drafted and sent to the National Assembly. What that legislation said was that states, littoral states will now benefit from offshore production, the 13 per cent derivation will be applied to them.
“What that meant was that more revenue will be accrued to them and the greatest beneficiary was Akwa Ibom State because they did not have any onshore production. So Alkwa Ibom today is an oil producer as a result of that political solution. So when there is a will, there is way and there is precedence. What I have just told you is something we can make reference to in trying to find a solution.”
Onshore/offshore dichotomy ruling
Notwithstanding that Cross River has lost its oil wells and with it the derivation fund accruable from them, Governor Imoke insisted that the ruling onshore/offshore dichotomy was a good one, which according to him, was “meant to bring about peace in the region and I think we need to sustain the law and the law should benefit all the players.”
However, he noted that one of the major injustices in the loss of Bakassi saga and the onshore/offshore ruling is the fact that even the Environment Impact Fund, which Cross River State is expected to keep enjoying, has also been denied it.
“I believe very strongly that we cannot ignore the consequences of oil production, and there is a serious environmental consequence from the offshore productions. I don’t think the solution is to go back to the onshore/offshore dichotomy, but I think that from my perspective we are also a state that is suffering significant consequences from oil production.”
He expressed optimism that President Goodluck Jonthan would find lasting solutions for the crises, which has created huge financial challenges for Cross River, as according to him, “Literally, we are the only state in the Niger Delta region as it were that is suffering from the consequences of a judgment without a political solution and making us the only state that is not producing when nothing has changed physically or geographically.”
Compensation for Bakassi loss
The Governor further maintained that part of the political solution would be for the Federal Government to pay compensation to the people of Bakassi for the loss of their land and oil and gas resources.
He said, “Bakassi people are now saying that they are not part of the ICJ’s agreement, they were not party to this and they were not asked where they wanted to settle. At the end of the day, the Bakassi people are being punished for what they had no hand in and they are calling out to Nigerians to respond to this.
“What we have done which is appropriate is taking the case to the Attorney General, we have met with the president and others on this matter, we have also made our presentation and we hope that with the support of Mr. President and others, there will be lasting resolution to this matter.
“If the territory is lost, then let the people be compensated and there must be a measure of compensation in place. All that the people are asking for is compensation.
He further defended that the state government has been quiet about the whole Bakassi issue because technically, Bakassi is now in Cameroon and states do not interfere in international boundary matters, a development he said is lost on the whole of Nigeria.
He noted, “When I’m asked about security in Bakassi and what I am doing about it. It has not dawned on the people that we have lost Bakassi. They are asking the governor of Cross River about security in Cameroun. That is the reality. Nigerians have not come to the terms with the fact that we have lost Bakassi, and that is because we do not understand why the Bakassi territory was lost.
According to him, “We are doing quite a lot; but as a governor, I understand for a fact that when it comes to issues of boundaries between nations and international diplomacy, regrettable, states cannot interfere. But what can we do is to restate our case at the highest level of government and listen to the Bakassi people and take their own case.”
He maintained that it is not out of place for the people to demand compensations, as it is their inalienable right as contained both in the Nigerian Constitution and the UN Charter