afrol News, 4 April - In contrast to the hostile relationship between Cameroon and Nigeria regarding maritime resources (i.e. oil), the Equatorial Guinean and Nigerian governments have made a far reaching agreement on joint exploration of crude oil in maritime zones claimed by them both. The potentially rich Zafiro-Ekanga Oil Field might therefore be exploited.
The Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo met his Nigerian counterpart, President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday in the Nigerian capital Abuja. There, they signed a treaty on the joint use of oil resources located at the hitherto undefined maritime boundary of the two countries. Cameroon, meanwhile, has brought the question of its maritime borders with Nigeria - and indirectly with Equatorial Guinea - to the International Court in The Hague, blocking oil explorations. The Equatoguinean-Nigerian treaty thus also has a clear address to Cameroon.
The treaty allows companies on both sides of their maritime border - TotalFinaElf operating offshore Nigeria and Exxon-Mobil operating offshore Equatorial Guinea - to explore for oil in the joint zone. While Nigeria will obtain 60 percent of the proceeds, 40 percent goes to the minor partner Equatorial Guinea.
Presidents Obasanjo and Obiang in a joint statement from Abuja called on the operators of the Zafiro-Ekanga Oilfield to "ensure the smooth implementation of the agreement." The agreement also covers the processing, transporting and marketing of the oil.
The agreement mainly focused on the development of the Zafiro-Ekanga oilfield, which oil industry experts say is thought to contain substantial deposits of oil. Both the Nigerian and the Equatoguinean government base their incomes on oil resources, although in both countries, little of the enormous revenues have reached the impoverished population.
President Obasanjo was quoted by the Lagos-daily 'The Guardian' saying that in arriving at the agreements, "one of the key decisions arrived at early in the negotiations was that the two countries should be guided by the following considerations to arrive at a maritime boundary that is equitable: The adoption of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UCLOS) as the legal instrument to guide the negotiation; the agreement that the principle of equity, equidistance and traditional usage should be taken into consideration in arriving at the maritime boundary."
Guided by the above in the negotiations that had lasted for years, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea had adopted a three-sector approach, which divided the boundary into three units - basically the traditional usage, proportionality and equidistance principle. Together with the maritime boundary treaty signed by the two countries in September 2000, yesterday's treaty solved all the maritime territorial issues between the two countries. Except for Nigeria's agreements with Equatorial Guinea and with Sao Tomé and Principe, none of the maritime boundaries in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea are fixed.
The two Presidents in Abuja said the protocol was a clear testimony of the two countries' determination to solve all bilateral issues amicably. Both leaders called on other African countries to emulate the example of both countries by "settling all boundary problems through bilateral negotiations." This call reads like the arguments presented by Nigeria in the court of The Hague, where its main argument against Cameroon is that the neighbour country wrecked the ongoing fraternal bilateral negotiations on border disagreements by dragging Nigeria to the international court.
The main issue of dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria is the small Peninsula of Bakassi; a tiny landstrip consisting of a series of mangrove islands covering approximately 50 square kilometres and inhabited by some dozens of villages. The real issue behind the court case are the maritime borders given by the sovereignty over Bakassi, which will decide on who gains the right to exploit the expected rich offshore oil resources in this zone. Equatorial Guinea is indirectly part to the dispute because a court ruling on the Cameroonian-Nigerian maritime border also affects maritime areas claimed by the southern neighbour.
Sources: Based on Nigerian govt., press reports and afrol archives