How Nigeria Added Territory Without War, Litigation or Purchase

By Garba Shehu

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With the important announcement of the accession of the United Nations to the nation’s request for the extension of the country’s Continental Shelf recently, no one should be in doubt any longer about the rising capacities of Nigeria in the emerging geopolitical equation, globally.

Adnan Rashid Nasser Al-Azri, Chairman of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), who disclosed the development, said following a successful submission, Nigeria’s continental shelf had now been extended from 200 nautical miles to 220 nautical miles.

The government of Nigeria under President Bola Tinubu promptly acknowledged this and praised the UN for acceding to the nation’s request.

The continental shelf of a sovereign state comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin.

The effort to extend, as much as possible, Nigeria’s continental shelf began with a submission on 9th May 2009 following new Rules of Engagement in accordance with Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982.

According to the Convention, the Littoral States that pass the test of appurtenance qualify to make applications backed by geological and geophysical data to the United Nations.

On that day, Nigeria made a submission for an extended Continental shelf to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), the UN body made up of 21 experts from all over the world charged with the responsibility of examining and approving applications for an extended continental shelf.Law of the Sea

According to the country’s Ministry of Justice, Nigeria’s submission had teething problems right from the onset. The UN Sub-commission appointed by the CLCS to consider Nigeria’s submission after its initial examination queried so many aspects, including the qualifier test of appurtenance, and requested more data and information to proceed with the consideration.

From the time the submission was made in May 2009, the project virtually came to a standstill because of lack of funds and the UN Sub-commission kept sending invitations to Nigeria to submit the data it requested and also respond to the queries it posed but the country could do none of these because there were no funds to conduct the data collection surveys.

This lull spurred the Nigerian Senate at its sitting on 14th February 2013, having recognized the causes of the delays, to make resolutions, asking the Government to fund the project and constituted an independent technical body to manage the Extended Continental Shelf Project and to cut out bureaucracies of government.

When President Muhammadu Buhari came in 2015, the project was at a standstill. After being briefed on 4th November 2015 by the National Boundary Commission, he promptly constituted the high-powered Presidential Committee on Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf Project (HPPC) on 5th November 2015, with then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami as chair, Surveyor Aliyu Omar as Member/Secretary.

Other members of the Committee are Professor Lawrence Awosika (the Chairman of the UNCLCS at that time, himself a Nigerian), Mr. Lufadeju Aderinola from the Department of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Regina Folorunsho from the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography, Rear Admiral Chukwuemeka E. Okafor, the Hydrographer of the Nigerian Navy, Mr. Victor John from the Federal Ministry of Environment, Mr. Zachariah M. Ifu from the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Director General, National Boundary Commission, Dr. M. B. Ahmad.

The then President mandated the Committee to “among other things, steer the remaining aspects of the project including the successful extension of Nigeria’s maritime territory beyond 200 M”. The goal for the constitution of the HPPC was to cut down on Government bureaucracies, as the only way to enable the commencement of the consideration of our submission on time and save Government funds.

In his charge to the committee, President Buhari said “I am looking forward to the day that I can announce to Nigerians that additional maritime territory has been approved for Nigeria by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf,”

“I have always had a special interest in this project right from the first day I heard of it because this type of project where Nigeria will gain additional territory without conflict has never happened before in her lifetime. “It is pleasing to know that most wars that have taken place in the world since time immemorial including present times, have always been territorial and Nigeria has this one and only chance to gain territory without war, litigation, or purchase. 

“More so when this territory lies within the area dubbed as ‘the Golden Triangle’ in the Gulf of Guinea, which contains unquantifiable resources some of which have not even been discovered.’’

Upon its inauguration, the committee immediately swung into action by first undertaking a new data collection survey to provide the much-needed data and information tailored to fit in with the request of the UN sub-commission in very deep offshore, which had never been surveyed before.

After the data collection surveys, the Committee made an amended submission to the UN sub-commission on 26th November 2016, encompassing an area of about three times the size of the first Nigerian submission made in 2009.

While it took nine years for the first submission to be made, the HPPC under Malami took exactly nine months to make an amended submission. Nigeria made considerable progress within this period as to warrant a full CLCS plenary meeting in March 2023 for consideration and final approval of the submission. This then led to the approval of a further 20 nautical miles to the existing maritime boundary.

With this, Nigeria has gained additional territory without war or conflict, litigation, or purchase, as has never happened before in her lifetime. Initial surveys indicate that the added territory contains “unquantifiable resources,” that include huge oil and gas reserves.

While the nation must thank the dedication of the previous APC administration for how the country came this far, more is still expected of the Tinubu administration which has put in place a stand-alone Ministry of Blue Economy in view of its significance, to bring home the expected benefits to the nation’s economy and national security.

On their part, Nigerians would necessarily need to support the government through patriotic character and peaceful conduct to fully enjoy the benefits of the extended territorial boundary.

Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the immediate past Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari.

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