Supreme Court strikes out Bayelsa’s Soku oil wells ownership suit against Rivers

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, struck out two suits filed by the Bayelsa State Government to reclaim ownership of Soku oil wells, which the Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered it to return to Rivers State.

The Federal High Court in Abuja had in a judgment delivered on December 16, 2019, ordered the return of the Soku oil fields from Bayelsa State to its rightful owner, Rivers State.

Delivering judgment in the suit instituted by Rivers State, Justice Inyang Ekwo, who presided over the Federal High Court in Abuja, ordered the National Boundary Commission to effect the transfer by rectifying the error in its 11th Edition of the Administrative Map of Nigeria which designated San Bartholomew River, instead of River Santa Barbara, as the boundary between the two states.

According to the judge, the error which was said to have surfaced in the 11th Edition of Administrative Map produced by the NBC in 2002, negatively impacted the oil revenues accruable to Rivers State from the FederatioAccount due to the loss of the Soku oil field.

But Bayelsa State had filed its suit at the Supreme Court to stop the Federal Government from further paying the monthly statutory allocation accruing from the oil wells to Rivers State.

In the suit marked: SC/SC649/2020, which had the Attorney-General of the Federation and Rivers State as Defendants, Bayelsa State urged the Supreme Court to among other things, bar the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee from deducting earnings due to it from the Soku oil wells.

It alleged that Rivers State Government surreptitiously obtained the Federal High Court judgment without the knowledge of Bayelsa State Government.

In another suit, Bayelsa State also prayed the apex court to restrain the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission from withholding its statutory allocation or deducting it in favour of Akwa Ibom State, with respect to the disputed oil wells.

In a judgment on Tuesday, a seven-man bench led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, struck out the suits after Bayelsa Stat’s counsel, Biriyai Dambo (SAN) and Kemsauode Wodu, applied to withdraw them.

Earlier, before the lawyer withdrew the suit, Justice Ngwuta had noted that the apex court lacked the powers to exercise jurisdiction on an appeal in respect of a judgment emanating from the Federal High Court without any prior pronouncement of the Court of Appeal.

Justice Ngwuta added that there was no way it could make a pronouncement on the suits without having to delve into the decisions of the Federal High Court which the Court of Appeal has the exclusive jurisdiction to consider first.

It held that it would amount to an abuse of judicial process for Bayelsa State to jump the Court of Appeal in its bid to set aside the High Court verdict.

Following the observations expressed by the court, the Bayelsa State’s lawyers withdrew the suits as they opted to approach the Court of Appeal to challenge the Federal High Court judgment.

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