Wednesday, October 27, 2021

INVESTIGATION: How corrupt boundary officials ceded 64% of Nigeria’s maritime area to Ghana in continental shelf deal

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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By Jaafar Jaafar

The National Boundary Commission, NBC, has ceded 64 percent the country’s maritime area to Ghana despite spending millions of dollars on consultancy service for Extension of Continental Shelf, ECS.

DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that owing to the technical nature of the commission’s operations, its activities are hardly scrutinized by either the executive or legislature.

Basking in the technicality of the matter, the border commission deliberately prolonged the process of ECS in order to repeatedly make requests for funds from successive Nigerian governments.

Investigation revealed that in the year 2000, a decision was taken by the Nigerian government to seek approval of the UN to extend its continental shelf in order to get a sovereign right to explore and exploit the natural resources embedded in the resource-rich area.

The process was then segmented into three phases, consisting of gathering of all available scientific data and information for preliminary assessment of eligibility for ECS claim; acquisition of additional bathymetric, seismic and geophysical data to fill up identified gaps in Phase I; and data analysis, assemblage of legal evidence and preparation of submission for claim.

Nigeria’s submission

The project dragged for nearly a decade, before submission was finally made at the UN headquarters in 2009.

After submission of the request on May 7, 2009, a formal presentation was made on August 28, 2009 by Michael Aondoakaa, the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice; Aliyu Omar, a director at NBC; Joy Ogwu, the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations; Larry Awosika and a number of scientific, legal and technical advisers.

In reference to paragraph 2 (a) of annex I to the rules of procedure, Mr. Aondoaka said Nigeria’s submission was made without prejudice to maritime boundary delimitation with neighboring states with opposite or adjacent coasts.

Mr. Aondoakaa further informed the UN commission that Nigeria had held consultations with the government of its neighboring states, with a view to preventing obstacles to the implementation of Article 76 on the part of Nigeria.

He also made reference to a meeting held under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, in Accra, Ghana, between February 24 and 26, 2009, and attended by representatives from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.

According to documents obtained by DAILY NIGERIAN, Mr. Aondoakaa noted that Ghanaian government had transmitted such a “note verbal”, dated July 28 2009, and that no state presented “notes verbal” informing the commission about any maritime or land disputes relating to Nigeria’s submission.

What The Law Says

Article 76 Annex II of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, of 1982 allows a littoral state to extend its continental shelf from the conventional limit of 200 nautical miles up to the distance of 350 nautical miles, provided it can present scientific proof and postulations that the subsoil and seabed have natural elongation of its land territory.

By the provision of article 4 of annex II to the convention, Nigeria must make her submission for ECS claim on or before May 13, 2009 or forfeit the privilege offered by the Article 76 of the UNCLOS.

The Riff-off

Nigerian government awarded contract on October 27, 2004 to Messrs. GEMS of UK to acquire more data to strengthen Nigeria’s submission based on consultants’ recommendation after the first phase of training of NBC staff, familiarisation training of Nigerian government executives preparatory to the presentation before the plenary of UN CLCS.

Messrs. Seaforth Engineering and Seaforth Geosurvey Inc of Canada were engaged by the Obasanjo administration as the main consultants to the project, with Canadian Commercial Corporation standing as surety to the contract.

The services offered Nigeria by the consultant, according to its website, included project management, acquisition of essential bathymetric data (information about the shape) and seismic data (information about the composition of the seated), scientific and technical analysis in support of the preparation of Nigeria’s ECS submission to the CLCS.

Other services include maritime delimitation of outer limits of continental shelf and drafting of associated accompanying legislation, desktop study, and the turnkey solution for the complete submission to the CLCS at the UN.

On October 27, 2004 the federal government approved $3,716,114 for the acquisition of additional geological data from Bathymetric and geophysical surveys to carry out in the Gulf of Guinea specifically for the Extended Continental Shelf area.

But a few months before the end of President Jonathan’s tenure, he approved the release of $3million for the “Acquisition of Additional Technical Data for the enhancement of Nigeria’s submission” when evidently the nation’s submission had already been made and a sub commission was not constituted to make any observation. This is in addition to another payment of N300,000,000 by the ‘Yar Adua administration for the same service.

DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that the third approval by President Jonathan was “to provide funds, required to conduct the geographical surveys, which they said “were essential for the submission”.

Inside sources told our reporter that geological surveys, as against geographic surveys of the relevant maritime area, can easily be provided by the office of the Surveyor General of the Federation without need for consultancy payments.

Curiously, the surveyor-general of the federation, Ebisintei Awudu, was not part of the current “high-powered presidential committee” set by President Muhammadu Buhari.

A maritime expert, Richard Gyang, observed: “After all, the Scientific and Technical Guidelines for the establishment of ECS claim by a coastal state is given by the CLCS and geological data relating to bathymetric and seismic information of relevant area is required to establish evidence of continental shelf.

“The UN is assisting all developing countries with the requisite geological, geophysical and other spatial data required for ECS claim free of charge.

“All a coastal state needs to do is to formally request for the data from one or more of the participating institutions of choice.

“Continental Shelf is a physical feature beneath the sea bed and many nations have established their outer limits without the need for additional data other than what was obtained from donor institutions.

“Buhari should be wary of the antics of circumventing genuine probe on the matter in the past for the simple excuse that ‘confidentiality’ is needed on the subject.

“It’s not true as everything regarding the subject has been placed in the public domain by CLCS on its website,” Mr. Gyang added.

Another source familiar with the workings of the boundary commission said since it took Nigeria eight years to prepare, put up and make submission to UN without the need for a presidential committee, and definitely will not need one while waiting for the CLCS to make recommendation on the Nigeria’s submission.

“It is worrying that Ghana’s submission has been approved despite starting its process four years after Nigeria began,” said the insider.

With the coming of the Buhari administration, top members of the management team of the NBC, led by the director-general of the commission, Muhammad Ahmad, and an official of the UN commission of Continental Shelf, Laurent Awosika, visited President Muhammadu Buhari on November 5, 2015.

A statement by the president spokesman, Garba Shehu, however revealed the outcome of the meeting, showing President Muhammadu Buhari’s intension to make similar payment made in the past for the same purpose.

According to Mr. Shehu, “The president gave the approval after he was briefed by the commission’s Director General, Dr. Muhammad Ahmad, on the preparations for a submission by Nigeria to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf.

“Buhari had approved the Constitution of a Presidential Committee to Oversee the Conclusion of work on the Submission, which could lead to the expansion of Nigeria’s maritime boundaries from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles if approved by the CLCS.

“The president also directed the Ministry of Finance to provide the funds required to conduct the geographical surveys, which are essential for the submission.”

In the same statement, the DG of the commission was quoted as saying Nigeria would gain “additional maritime territory of up to 104,000 Kilometers” which is about one third of Nigeria’s landmass.

But documents available to DAILY NIGERIAN show that Nigeria only claimed 8,075.177 square kilometres of maritime area – about only 52 nautical miles beyond the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ.

After making mouth-watering presentation to President Muhammadu Buhari, citing oil-richness of the area, the president approved the release of $11 million for “enhancement of Nigeria’s submission with additional data”.

The UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea describes EEZ as a sea zone of about 200 nautical miles from the coastline, over which “a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of maritime resources”.

Sources said the president was not aware of the fact that Nigeria’s maritime neighbor, Ghana’s claim had already been approved and encumbered by 5,196.099 square kilometres of the area Nigeria is claiming.

By the UN extant rule, Nigeria’s submission must get to CLCS before May 13, 2009, and the country beat the deadline by making its submission of May 7, 2009.

A maritime expert, Nuhu Saleh, also disagreed with the boundary commission’s proposal to Mr. Buhari, saying “Nigeria had already made its submission since 7th May, 2009.

“The remark by the DG of NBC that Nigeria stands to gain 104,000 square kilometres, which is one-third of Nigeria’s land area, is not realistic.

“Nigeria cannot gain what she had not laid claim for. The statement was intentionally made to add colour to the package and win the mind of the President Buhari.

“What made the UN body to approve establishment of a commission on Ghana’s request and delay Nigeria’s request is purely corruption,” he said.

The subterfuge

DAILY NIGERIAN gathered that it was Nigeria’s application for extension that inspired Ghana, whose continental shelf claim had now been approved at the 35th Session of the UN commission.

According to documents available to this newspaper, on April 28, 2009, Ghana made her Extended Continental Shelf claim submission, consisting an area that overlapped Nigeria’s area of claim by 64 percent.

The final outer limits of Ghana’s ECS as approved and deposited with the UN Secretary General on September 5, 2015, shows Ghana automatically claiming 64% of the portion of the area Nigeria is claiming.

According to the documents, there is now only 2,879.078 square kilometres of Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf claim that is left unencumbered.

Sources said Nigeria’s mission in New York transmitted “No objection” in favour of Ghana’s submission on 29th June, 2009 without recourse to due process. The “no objection” was required to further process Ghana’s submission.

Corruption in Nigerian Boundary Commission

Some management staff of Nigerian Boundary Commission are accusing the director-general of the commission, Muhammad Ahmad, and a former director of Maritime Boundaries, Aliyu Omar, of using the Extension of Continental Shelf project to enrich themselves.

Mr. Omar, who retired since 2014, is still manning the US office against the civil service rule, and was last year appointed the secretary of the Buhari’s “high-powered presidential committee on continental shelf extension”.

Sources in the agency said Messrs. Ahmad and Omar latched on the non-familiarity of Nigerian leaders on the subject to repeatedly request for funds for the ECS project.

DAILY NIGERIAN investigations revealed that the director-general made several unilateral presentations to then vice president, Namadi Sambo, to retain Mr. Omar on contract.

But when the chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Joan Ayo, advised against the decision, the former Vice President Namadi Sambo, who supervises the commission, endorsed her position.

“Omar still remains in New York, where an office was opened in Nigeria’s Mission Building and millions of dollars of tax payers’ money unjustly spent without passing through the extant account process in the NBC.

“Despite the fact that is already retired, they came through the backdoor and convince government to appointment him as the secretary of a presidential committee on continental shelf extension.

“The procedure provides that only serving civil servants are made secretaries to presidential committees for keeping government records and signing of correspondence on behalf of government,” said a source who craved anonymity.

The Reactions

When contacted by DAILY NIGERIAN, the Director-General of NBC, Mohammed Ahmed, said he the “note verbal” given to Ghana by Nigeria was a mutual agreement among ECOWAS member nations not to scuttle each other’s efforts.

On whether the establishment of a presidential committee and an office in the US were necessary, he said it was a “presidential decision” and so he could not challenge it.

Asked why they received more payment from the present administration, the D-G said the question should be directed to the presidential committee, which received the money.

The minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who is the chairman of the new presidential committee, did not respond to calls and text message sent to him.

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