FROM CHUKA ODITTAH
POORLY delineated and manned maritime boundaries between Nigeria and its West African neighbours account for the increase in illegal oil bunkering, piracy, kidnapping, among other vices committed in the periphery of the country‚Äôs international waters, investigations by The Guardian have shown.¬†
Nigeria shares international maritime boundaries with coastline countries like Equatorial Guinea, Cameroun, Benin Republic and Ghana.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has described the draft oil reform law that is before the National Assembly for approval as a vibrant document which would remain relevant to the industry long after President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan‚Äôs administration.
Nigerian states that share boundaries with the coastline neighbouring countries include Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta, and Rivers states in the South-South zone, and Ondo, Ogun and Lagos in the South-West zone.
Akwa-Ibom, which is an oil bearing state, shares maritime boundaries with Cameroun. Until recently, the issue of the exact proportion of maritime areas that belonged to either of the two countries was a subject of international debate, leaving the area, especially from the Nigerian side vulnerable to oil thieves and vessel hijackers.
Prior to now, there had been lingering controversies regarding the exact land and maritime boundaries between Cameroun and Nigeria. The maritime boundaries between the two countries were earlier known to cover a distance of 1700 kilometres. But new discoveries by experts and surveyors of the United Nations, Cameroun and Nigeria, have indicated that the distance is actually 2300 kilometers from the North of Ubeji to the Atlantic Ocean in the South.
Investigations showed that this contention, due partly to the specific type of technology used in carrying out the measurement, in addition to the lack of political will to cede the richly endowed areas have wide implications for Nigeria‚Äôs maritime revenue and the effective policing of her Cameroun-linked international waterways.
Bayelsa State, which is one of the nation‚Äôs leading oil producing area, also shares maritime boundaries with Equatorial Guinea; Cross Rivers shares with Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea while Delta and Rivers states share lone maritime borders with Equatorial Guinea.
According to reports, Equatorial Guinea‚Äôs maritime borders with Nigeria has steadily witnessed high levels¬† of illegal bunkering, vessels hijacking and others vices because of its access to key oil bearing states in Nigeria.
Investigations also showed that foreigners and local oil thieves use this vulnerable route to ferry out several thousands of barrels of Nigeria‚Äôs crude because it is poorly delineated and policed by relevant institutions.
In the South-West region, Lagos and Ogun states share international maritime boundaries with Benin Republic, whereas Ondo State shares one with Equatorial Guinea.
The Guardian gathered that the exact measurement of Nigeria‚Äôs maritime boundary with Ghana which is believed to stretch up to eight nautical miles is still at the thresh hold of being fully and correctly determined.
According to investigations, the Ghanaian government had been initially hesitant to have any part of its boundaries ceded to Nigeria under any guise, but constant diplomatic talks have, however, opened the way for¬† ongoing negotiations for fine-tuning of who gets what of the vastly rich maritime resources linking the two West African countries.
One of the reasons for the rift between Nigeria and Ghana in promptly capturing the precise measurement of their maritime boundaries, reports say, is because of disparities in figures computed from separate surveys conducted by governments of the two countries. The Federal Government, it was gathered, adopted the United Kingdom Hydrological charts of number 594 and 3118, placed on scale 1:1000 with Mercator projection (The charts are Geo-referenced with same datum). However, the Ghanaian government insisted on using two methods, the United Kingdom Hydrological charts of scale 1:350,000 and three Russian large scale charts of 1:150,000, using¬† 0.5m resolution Orthophotos at scale 1:2500 in determining¬† the exact measurement.
Nigeria and Ghana are signatories to the United Nations convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, in which both countries agreed to abide by its clauses for amicable settlement and determination of the two country‚Äôs maritime boundaries.
Speaking to journalists at the weekend after the two-day Senate Public Hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Mrs. Alison-Madueke,¬†¬†enjoined stakeholders in the oil and gas sector not to politicize or personalize its provisions, stressing that the draft legislation was not proposed or written with any administration in mind.
Speaking against the backdrop of fears in some quarters that the proposed law vests too much discretionary powers in the President and Petroleum Minister, she explained that the responsibility for the exercise of same by the duo will ultimately rest on any administration in office at the time and so should not be personalized.
‚ÄúBy the time the PIB is fully articulated and implemented the current President and Minister of Petroleum Resources may no longer be in office. This Bill takes a while before it is operational,‚Äô‚Äô she stated.
Drawing a parallel between the PIB and the Power Sector Reform Act of 2004 which was passed over eight years ago and is currently being implemented by the Jonathan administration, Alison-Madueke argued that it was important for the law to sufficiently empower any administration to act in the best interest of the Nigerian people.
She stressed that the proposed transition period after the passage of the bill was at least three years.
‚ÄúNote, there are over 80 regulations to be made for this Bill to be operational, she remarked.‚Äù
According to her, ‚Äúwhile we take best practices from other developed regions, we should also work within the understanding of our own socio-economic and social-cultural norms and create entities and policies that will work and are not destined to fail‚Äù ab initio.
On the reported enormous discretionary powers granted to the petroleum minister in the PIB, Alison-Madueke explained that they are not different from those vested by oil laws on such counterparts in the United kingdom, Malaysia and Norway. She emphasised that the powers granted the Nigerian Minister by the PIB were less than those of her counterparts in the laws of advanced petroleum producing countries.
Alison-Madueke stated that the PIB establishes a flexible fiscal regime that would increase government revenues and yet encourage investment in the petroleum sector, noting that it allows for production based incentive system which in the long run will accommodate every player in the industry.
Addressing concerns on the provisions for multi-faceted regulatory bodies in the PIB, the minister said this was basically as a result of the complex nature of the industry, adding that an unwieldy, mammoth entity that hosts two separately run organisations is not a mode of efficiency and that the disaggregated regulatory system would enable speedy response to variety of issues that may arise from time to time.
On the issue of the host communities, she noted that it was established to mitigate the human and environmental conditions in the region and to assuage the feelings of the host communities towards oil and gas companies.
‚ÄúThe issue of host communities should not be personalized or politicized. Bear in mind that we expect to find oil in other parts of the country especially in the inland sedimentary basins in the years ahead. And the provision will take effect wherever oil is found. So it is totally unfair to suggest that the HOSTCOM Fund is designed to favour a particular part of the country. Don‚Äôt forget that the host community fund has been in the Bill from the beginning, we did not create it,‚Äù Alison-Madueke¬†said.
The Minister stated that the PIB seeks to establish a legal, fiscal and regulatory framework that will revolutionize the Petroleum industry in Nigeria stressing that it is designed to create a standard business practice, protect health, safety and environment in the course of petroleum exploration and enhance exploration and exploitation of petroleum in Nigeria.
Open the public hearing, the Senate President David Mark said the National Assembly was anxious to pass the PIB and urged all the stakeholders to make objective submissions that would create a win-win situation for the Federal Government, the International Oil Companies and other operators in the petroleum industry.
The PIB is based on the report of the Oil and Gas Reform Implementation Committee (OGIC) set up by the Federal Government thirteen years ago to carry out a comprehensive reform of the oil industry.