Imoke's Broadcast of Falsehoods
“As a political leader, Senator Imoke should learn to always speak like a statesman. He needs to borrow from the guarded statement of Chief Godswlll Obot Akpabio, his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, who did not allow the legal victory to swell his head”
Before now, I had always counted Senator Liyel Imoke, Governor of Cross River State, as one of the few honest and mature politicians Nigeria has produced. But that perception of him has since changed after I read the text of his broadcast to the people of the state on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. That broadcast titled: "Loss of Oil Wells Was Not a Death Sentence," was puerile, inciting and in very bad taste. It was the governor's reaction to a Supreme Court judgement on the ownership of 76 offshore oil wells which had been in dispute between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. The Supreme Court had, in a unanimous judgement earlier in the day, dismissed the ownership claim of Cross River State for lack of substance. It said Cross River State could no longer lay claim to the oil wells because it had ceased to be a littoral state following the ceding of Bakasi peninsula to Cameroon by the federal government. Justice Olufunlola Adekeye made it very clear in her lead judgement that with the execution of the judgement of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, especially the ceding of Bakasi to Cameroon, Cross River State can no longer lay claim to oil wells in the high sea since its boundary with the sea had gone with Bakasi, she emphasized: " A non-littoral state cannot claim oil wells offshore as it has no maritime boundary."
These were some of the incontestable facts highlighted in the Supreme Court judgement which governor Imoke chose to close his eyes to in his broadcast. Instead,' he preferred to peddle calculated falsehoods in order to destroy the age-old relationship that had existed between the people of the two states. He started his broadcast by selling to Cross Riverians the impression that they are a persecuted people who can never get justice anywhere in Nigeria. According to him, “Today marks another watershed in our struggle for justice in Nigeria; our burning desire to be treated as equal members of the great union , deserving of fairness and equality with our brothers across the country ... With today's Supreme Court judgment, our hope has just been differed."
He continued: "The commonsensical, logical and legal background of our case were such that we had expected the Supreme Court to once again give fillip to the saying that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man via a judicial pronouncement restoring those oil wells to our state. We expected a judgement grounded on equity. Alas, that was not to be."
The governor was merely playing to the gallery by creating the impression that the Supreme Court judgement was unfair to Cross River State because it was not grounded on equity, equality, common sense, logic and the legal background of the case. He must have had his own weird interpretation of those words outside what we know. 'Would the judgement have served his own interpretation of fairness, equality, common sense, logic and legal background if it had been given to Cross River State, now landlocked, in spite of the overwhelming proof of evidence in favour of Akwa Ibom State: on whose maritime territory the oil wells are located? How would he describe that type of judgement?
When the governor chose to play with such words as fairness, commonsense, logic and legal background, has he so suddenly forgotten the history of the disputed oil wells which were initially the bona fide property of Akwa Ibom State? Akwa Ibom people still believe that they were transferred to Cross River State by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 as a punishment for Chief Victor Attah, the then governor of Akwa Thorn State, who was identified as the arrowhead in the campaign for resource control. But painful and unjust as that decision was, the people of Akwa Ibom State never carried placards or resorted to violent protests. Instead, they took their case to God and sought His intervention for justice to be done. Divine intervention came three years later at a time they least expected it.
After the handing over of Western Bakasi which, hitherto, was the maritime boundary of Cross River State to Cameroon, the oil wells were returned to their original owner in 2008 without any prompting from Akwa Ibom State. So, nobody can accuse the state of going to war in order to claim back the oil wells. The ownership was duly returned to it when the National Boundary Commission, NBC, and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, carried out their statutory functions consequent upon Nigeria's implementation of the ICJ judgement on Bakasi. It is therefore unbecoming of Imoke
to resort to blackmail and provocative utterances meant to give Cross Riverians the impression that Akwa Ibom people are their greatest enemy and that it was for this reason that they stole their 76 oil wells in order to deprive them of the needed revenue for development. One may ask here: Who is the thief in this case? Is it the bona fide owner or the pretender?
Perhaps, by his unwarranted posturing, the governor was trying to free himself from blame for taking the state on an avoidable wasteful ego trip. He ignored the advice of some elders within and outside the state who wanted him to pursue a political solution on the ownership dispute instead of a legal option which would surely fail for lack of substance. He also ignored the age-old maxim that in God's judgment, there is no appeal. The facts of the case on which divine judgement was based are incontestable. But in spite of that, the governor still carried his appeal to the Supreme Court and backed it up with a state- sponsored media propaganda of blackmail designed to intimidate or mislead the justices, the NBC, RMAFC and the National Assembly to upturn God's judgement in favour of his state. We thank God that the Supreme Court justices were never swayed by such propaganda into giving a judgement they can hardly defend.
Now, by his unguarded post-judgement utterances, the governor has made it almost impossible for the two states to reach a political solution on the matter. As a political leader, Senator Imoke should learn to always speak like a statesman. He needs to borrow from the guarded statement of Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, who did not allow the legal victory to swell his head. He simply said both states and Nigeria were the winners.
Mike Akpan writes from Lagos