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Nigeria Oil Resources - 2002-06-04

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Nigeria on the question of ownership of offshore oil resource has stirred debate in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Akwa-Ibom State, one of Nigeria's largest oil producing states, is particularly hard hit. It stands to lose more than 70 per cent in revenue from oil sales as a result of the court ruling. Last weekend, a prayer session was held in the capital, Uyo, to ask for God's intervention. The court judgment says offshore oil in Nigeria belongs to the federal government, and not the coastal States. This means they can no longer claim a share of revenue from offshore oil sales. Akwa-Ibom State officials say that for a state like theirs, which depends largely on oil revenue, this is a huge setback. Akwa-Ibom does not have an industrial based economy. Governor Obong Victor Attah says their are implications from the Supreme Court ruling. "It will suggest that all of the money accruing from oil production," he says, "will go into the federation account where states that have larger population than we do and states with larger land mass than we do". Governor Attah adds, "because these are the two major indices for sharing money in the federation account". Such states will benefit far more from this oil revenue than we would and yet we are the ones left with the pollution and degradation and in fact the responsibility of providing safe passage, if you wish, for the oil operators." On the streets of Uyo, the sense of frustration and outrage over the court's decision is obvious. Sunyiekekere Iwokon is a young lawyer and one of the aggrieved residents of Uyo. "The Supreme Court ruling as it regards the resource control issue and with particular reference to Akwa-Ibom state, we view it as being politically biased."

Meanwhile, a three-day fasting period for God's intervention ended at the weekend with a prayer service in Uyo. Thousands of deeply angry people attended the service. The Catholic bishop of Uyo, Charles Etokudoh, set the stage for the five-hour long prayer session with the assurance that God will come through for them. He said God had done good things for other oppressed people. "As Akwa-Ibom people have assembled for prayers, God will pity us and deliver us from this condemnation that the Supreme Court brought about through the presidency." The oil-rich Niger Delta region has witnessed relentless violence in recent times as agitation for a greater share of oil revenue continues. Governor Attah says oil-rich states may ultimately face a drastic reduction in their share of the oil revenue due to the changing profile of oil production in Nigeria. "If you look at the oil map of Nigeria, it's fast changing, fast shifting onto the waters. When we started this government the president was right to estimate that 60 per cent of oil was onshore and 40 per cent offshore. By the time we met in Asaba to look for a political solution, already it was 40 per cent onshore and 60 per cent offshore - not because the volume onshore has reduced but more and more are being found offshore. And this is going to increase until it is 100 per cent offshore."

The federal government has pledged to find a political solution to the problem. But states like Akwa Ibom are adamant that nothing short of a reversal of the Supreme Court ruling will be acceptable. Radical groups in the region have threatened to attack oil installations and personnel if the federal government does not make an urgent decision to reverse the Supreme Court's ruling. Most people of Akwa-Ibom who believe that a peaceful resolution of the dispute is possible and they have intensified their prayers and supplications to God. Their conviction was that God is with them.