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RIVERS/BAYELSA DISPUTE: A Quest For Justice, Equity And Fairness

When on Wednesday, January 30, 2013, at the Joint Meeting of officials on Rivers/Bayelsa Inter-State Boundary in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, the Rivers State Government declared that it is withdrawing from the ongoing boundary delineation exercise between it and Bayelsa State until certain conditions are fulfilled many were left wondering what led to this impasse.

This was more against the backdrop of the essence of the meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital being the peaceful resolution of the dispute associated with the allotment of oil wells situated in Soku, Kula, Idama, Abissa, and other areas in Rivers State along the geographic corridor that represents the age long boundary between the two Sister States.

The Rivers State government’s action was, perhaps, informed by the lethargy and inability of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) to find lasting solution to the issues arising from the boundary disputes that have been lingering over the years and moreover, the perceived interest of certain persons at the “centre of power”, thereby hampering the sincere commitment of the Rivers State Government to a transparent and cordial resolution of the dispute. This was predicated on its position that the dispute in the first instance becomes unnecessary.

It is imperative to state here that the issue of the boundary demarcation between the two States dates back to October, 1999, following a request submitted to the National Boundary Commission (NBC) by the Bayelsa State Government claiming that “the boundary between the Brass (Nembe) people of Bayelsa State and the New Calabar (Kalabari) people of Rivers State was the San Bartholomew River.”

Thus, in a swift response to the submission made by the Bayelsa State Government, the Rivers State Government through its Boundary Committee submitted two volumes of Memoranda and delineation documents on the 20th and 30th of March, 2000 to the National Boundary Commission, hence, a joint meeting of officials comprising the National Boundary Commission, Federal Surveys and Officials of Rivers and Bayelsa States was held on 29th and 30th March, 2000, during which a Joint Field Team (JFT) was constituted to carry out the field tracing and provisional demarcation of the boundary. The Team Leader was the then incumbent Surveyor General of the Federation (SGF).

Suffice to say that the Joint Team met in Abuja on 4th and 5th May 2000 and studied the delineation documents submitted by the two States to be used on the field. As a follow up, officials of the National Boundary Commission, Federal Survey and two States, met again in Port Harcourt on 16th October 2001 and constituted a Screening Committee to screen all delineation documents.

However, various Committees was set up by the NBC at different intervals and it is instructive to note that while a Technical Sub-Committee headed by the Chief Project Surveyor (a staff of Federal Surveys) were working out modalities for the smooth operation of its assignment in 2002, it was discovered by the Rivers State Government that there was already in circulation the 11th Edition of the Administration map of Nigeria, which was totally at variance with the last edition, as the existing Boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa States was surreptitiously altered by the shifting of the well known boundary from Santa Babara River to San Bartholomew River.

Records have it that the Rivers State Government through its Boundary Commission promptly protested the anomalies contained in the 11th edition of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) vide its letter No. RSBC/002/37 of 20th June, 2002. Our findings further revealed that the NBC in its response letter of July 3, 2002 and addressed to the Rivers State Governor admitted thus’ “we have noted the inadvertent misrepresentation of the Bayelsa/Rivers State inter-State boundary at the San Bartholomew River as shown in the map (11th Edition). The error was as a result of the delay in the inputs from Rivers State during the production of the Edition and pressure to quickly publish the long overdue 11th Edition of the Administrative map of Nigeria,” assuring the State Government “that necessary corrections shall be reflected on the l2” Edition currently under production” and “that the boundary line as reflected on the said (11th) Edition of the Administrative map shall in no way have any bearing on the current efforts of the National Boundary Commission to determine the correct boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers State”.

Sequel to this development, precisely on 6th November, 2002, members of the Joint Field Team met with the Joint Meeting of Officials in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. After hours of brain storming and verification of documents, it was resolved at the meeting “that the 11th edition of the Administrative map of Nigeria shall not be in the demarcation exercise of the boundary because of the observed defects in the placement of the boundaries and that status quo shall be maintained by all parties until the determination of the final boundary dispute”.

Over the years, it is sad to note that the several meetings held at intervals by various Committees set up to proffer solutions to the boundary brouhaha, has not yielded any meaningful result, and what is worse is that the controversial and erroneous 11th Edition of the Administrative Map is now being used by various Agencies of the Federal Government, including the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. An act that has resulted into the ceding of the Soku and Kula oil fields and it’s accrued revenue allocation to Bayelsa account, thereby “robbing Peter to pay Paul” a clear show of injustice and detrimental to the economic wellbeing of the people of Rivers State.

It is therefore, not surprising when the Rivers State Government decided to temporarily pull out from the joint meeting until there is sincerity of purpose on the side of the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and political will on the part of the Federal Government to address the situation without bias or prejudice.

Obviously, the Rivers State Government came well prepared for a dialogue. This was clearly captioned in the address presented by the State Deputy Governor and Chairman of the State Boundary Commission, Engr. Tele Ikuru, which read in part “As we settle down to the business of the day, let me quickly observe that virtually all of us on the saddle today  the Director General of NBC, the Surveyor General of the Federation, Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, who chairs the State Boundary Committees and of course the Surveyor General/Permanent Secretary of Rivers State – are attending this meeting for the first time in our respective capacities. The implication is that we shall prepare our minds to learn from one another and accommodate one another, as we are addressing the matter in the most professional, peaceful and transparent manner.”

Engr. Tele Ikuru and his members of team sought solution to resolve the impasse but the meeting turned out to be a ground for somewhat “horse trading”, an exercise in futility and in a like manner with other previous meetings.

Given this development, the Rivers State Deputy Governor, Engr. Tele Ikuru, had to, on behalf of his State, declare the pull out of the State boundary team from the delineation exercise citing very glaring miscarriage of justice. It submits to the discretion of the Federal Government through its agencies to provide the right atmosphere for a transparent, just and fair approach to the resolution of the dispute. All factors necessary to restore confidence in its avowed stance that the interest of all parties concerned would be accommodated should now be put in place. ###

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