Akyala Ishaku, a social critic and thinker has sparked off a potentially hot controversy over alleged backstage moves by Muslim North to hijack the crude oil in the Niger Delta Region for their use.
Ishaku dropped the bombshell in reaction to the report of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Retructuring Committee by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State amid the ongoing agitations for restructuring.
He is a vociferous type from the Middle-Belt axis of Nigeria. But whenever he decides to join a debate or intervenes on any burning national issue, he does so pungently.
The social critic is alleging that Northern Nigeria through the instrumentality of the el-Rufai Committee report is scheming to claim the oil in the volatile Niger Delta, the country’s main gold pot.
According to him, a perusal of Page 30 of the Restructuring Committee’s report which deals with Resource Control, underlines an indirect re-introduction of the controversial Offshore/Onshore dichotomy.
Page 30 says oil in the territorial water shall belong to the Federal Government going by the resource control model recommended by the committee. When this allegation is related to an earlier claim of Northern elders about the ownership of the petroleum in Nigeria, Ishaku’s point tends to be credible.
The Northern elders simply claimed that they own the oil in the sea because they have 72 per cent of the land mass of Nigeria, and that the 200 nautical miles Nigeria has into the sea is based on their land. Logically, they are saying that the more the land mass, the more nautical miles one gets into the sea.
‘It is this thinking of the northern elders that is reflected in page 30 of the Restructuring Report. You can clearly see that the North wants to claim the oil in the Niger Delta. It should also be noted that some states like Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom have most of their oil, offshore,” Ishaku said.
This, perhaps, implies that the continental shelf controversy that greeted the Supreme Court ruling on the equally controversial resources control suit is far from being permanently resolved. The question of who owns the continental shelf is still begging for an answer as the country’s key political leaders are focused on capturing political power in 2019. In the Niger Delta area, some concerned persons are focused on how more oil revenue will accrue to the littoral states.
Oceanography experts are however, insisting that continental shelf is a natural extension of the coastline of the littoral state in facts and realities. According to geological oceanographers who are trained to reconstruct the earth’s history from examination of the ocean province characteristics, the earth has been changing since creation. Geological oceanography therefore claims that the present is the key to the future.
Effiong Antia, a professor of oceanography at the University of Calabar, UNICAL, says Nigeria’s oceanographic province is a classic case study of the provisions of the Law of the Sea. The law, according to him, provides that the continental shelf is a natural extension of the coastline (littoral zone\0 contiguous to it. To demonstrate this reality, be drew on seven scientific facts.
Firstly, he pointed out that the lithostratigraphy of the onshore and continental shelf general show correlatable sequences, as a result of reversing episodes of sea incursion and retreat over geological time frame. In a simple language, what this seems to mean is that the earth’s history is replete with phases of global (eustatic) rise and fall in sea levels brought about largely by alternating rise and sink in earth’s atmospheric temperature. Isotopic studies of ice cores in the polar region by glacial geologists have reportedly confirm dramatic atmospheric temperature variation over geologic time.
“At the present time, we are in the post-glacial period dating back some 6,000 – 7,000 years Before Present (BP) which is characterised by an initially rapid sea level rise followed by a slowly rising phase. During glacial maximum, the sea level was in the region of 100 – 200m below the present level, that is, below the continental shelf edge. The sea level has thus gradually risen to its present level, that is, inundated the earth’s exposed 50-150km wire Nigerian continental shelf to a depth of 100-200m,” he said.
He said the foregoing exposition provided the background for the evidences, which he found from studies of European and American continental shelves.
Secondly, he said relict (ancient) river valleys run transversely or at high angles across continental shelves. These valleys, which he claimed, are mostly sediment filled and recognised from geophysical mapping sometimes show traces of continuity with present onshore river valleys. What this implies is that these fluvial valleys incised the continental shelf during the glacial era when the shelf was subaerical or an onshore province.
His third fact was that shelf sand bodies or sand deposits are morphologic features, which were stranded on the shelf as the coastline retreated with the rising sea level of the last post- glacial period.
Such sand bodies, he said, are commonly ebb-tidal delta or river mouth bars “as we find them today at the seaward entrances of the Niger Delta rivers,” adding that as observed along the Dutch and German North Sea continental shelves, “these stranded sand bodies may be revoked into what we call the shore face-connected ridges. These enigmatic features, also prominent along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States engaged my research attention some years back in Germany.”
Fourthly, Antia said continental shelf sands have long been established to owe much of their provenance to the nearby continents (land or terrestrial) especially in a deltaic setting like Nigeria’s coastal environment where multiple rivers massively transport their on shore (terrestrial – derived) materials to the sea.
“As to be expected the characteristics of these offshore sands bear striking similarities with the onshore counterparts. As a matter of fact, the textural characteristics of the river-transport sediments are used as signatures of sediments dispersal pattern on the continental shelf,” he said.
Fifthly, the oceanographer assured that while the use of sediment textural analysis in identifying dispersal patterns of onshore sediments in the offshore (continental shelf) is a task that only the gurus can undertake with ease”. The use of mineralogical characteristics of the sediments as tracers is a rather simple approach. Clay mineralogy, heavy mineral suites, and quarts surface marks are just a few of the more common sources of information linking the coastal sediments to the continental shelf counterparts”, he said.
The sixth fact he advanced was that coastal geomorphology and continental shelf geomorphology are intricately related when viewed from the background of tectonic evolution of continental margins which comprise the shelf, slope and rise. “In the case of the US, the Atlantic – type continental shelf found along the East coast is considerably wider than the Pacific – type counterpart found along the West Coast. By the same implication, the adjoining onshore regions of the Atlantic-type continental margin, as also exemplified in Nigeria, are broad and gently sloping, while the Pacific – type counterparts are narrow and steep”, he explained.
Adding, he said, “the disparities in the extent of the continental shelves around the world, and the need for consistency, must have informed the proponents of the Law of the Sea Convention to make provision for offshore territorial rights of coastal nations to extend beyond the continental shelf edge that is 200 nautical miles.”
Lastly, he submitted that from the foregoing six points, “it is only normal to expect that the natural resources of the continental shelves especially those of the inner continental shelves, must be comparable to those found onshore”. This, perhaps, is the most glaring and easily understood basis for the Law of the Sea Convention concluding that the continental shelves are truly a natural extension of the coast.
Oceanography experts say they know that the earth’s surface consists of two main components– land (or continents) and water (or oceans). He said the term continent in the context of the geomorphologic provinces called continental shelf, continental rise, continental slope relates to land origin. “The present large depths of water over this geomorphologic province especially the continental shelf do not make them loose their identity as a previous land. Yam still remains yam whether uncooked, boiled, roasted, fried, pounded, or pulverised,” he said.
From their cursory reflection on the Supreme Court’s ruling on resource control, oceanographers are saying that there is nothing to clearly suggest that the apex court was unaware that continental shelves are natural extensions of the coastline or littoral zone. While this does not seem to be the crux of the matter from the court’s perspective, it however, appears that Nigerian earth scientists were not given the privilege to advice the Federal Government on the implications of the provisions of some international conventions such as the Law of the Sea, prior to government ratification.
For now, since Nigeria is a signatory to the Law of the Sea Convention and is bound by the provision contained therein, is it therefore legal for the Federal Government to continue denying the littoral states the full 13 per cent derivation for the offshore oil revenue?