Extension of Nigeria’s continental shelf as lesson on continuity

President Bola Tinubu receiving Nigeria’s CLCS report from the committee
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By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

On May 14, the High Powered-Presidential Committee on Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf Project was in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The committee came to brief President Bola Tinubu on recommendations given to Nigeria regarding its submission for an extended continental shelf by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

The briefing was led by veteran diplomat, Amb. Hassan Tukur, the Chairman of the committee.

The update with the president featured technical presentations by Prof. Larry Awosika, a renowned marine scientist and Mr Aliyu Omar, Member/Secretary of the Committee and former staff of the National Boundary Commission (NBC).

Omar also served as the Desk Officer for the project office in New York for several years.

Worthy of note, Nigeria’s request to have it continental shelf extended was approved by the CLCS in August 2023.

The project, which aims to extend Nigeria’s maritime boundaries in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has granted Nigeria sovereignty over an additional 16,300 square kilometers of maritime territory.

This is roughly five times the size of Lagos State.

The CLCS is mandated to, inter alia, consider the data and information submitted and provide recommendations on the outer limits submitted by the coastal state.

Article 76 of UNCLOS (1982) allows a qualifying coastal state to extend its continental shelf up to a maximum of 350M (350 nautical miles) or 150m nautical miles beyond its traditional Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles.

Continental shelf is the natural submerged prolongation of its land territory.

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The journey to extend Nigeria’s continental shelf project began in 2009 with the country’s submission to the CLCS.

The project faced delays due to a lack of funds and administrative challenges; in 2013 the Senate of the Federal Republic in its resolution of Feb. 14, 2013, urged the Federal Government to fund the project and set up an independent body to handle it.

However, it was only in November, 2015 that the then President Muhammadu Buhari revitalised it.

Subsequently, he appointed the High-Powered Presidential Committee (HPPC), headed by the former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Malam Abubakar Malami, to oversee the project.

The HPPC operated as an independent technical body, effectively managing the project by cutting down on government bureaucracy.

Omar had led the Nigerian Technical Team through the question-and-answer sessions with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

He was also the Member/Secretary of the HPPC with strong institutional memory of the project, highlighted this during the committee’s briefing to President Tinubu on May 14.

Omar said that when the HPPC briefed Buhari in 2022 on the status of the project, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) was still considering Nigeria’s submission and having technical interactions with the HPPC.

”These interactions and consideration have now culminated in the approval for Nigeria to extend its continental shelf beyond 200M (200 nautical miles).

”As it stands now, the area approved for Nigeria is about 16,300 square kilometers, which is about five times the size of Lagos State”, he said.

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Nigeria’s extended continental shelf is in an area that is referred to as the ‘Golden Triangle of the Gulf of Guinea’ due to its abundance of natural resources such as hydrocarbons, natural gas, and a variety of solid minerals.

Awosika, a pioneer member and former Chairman of the CLCS, explained that the technical team’s work involved lengthy processes.

He said it also required highly technical steps in the acquisition, processing and analysis of extensive marine scientific data offshore Nigeria’s margin for the submission to the UN CLCS.

He said that the Nigerian team had to defend the submission with the CLCS which involved highly technical question-and-answer sessions and provision of additional data and information.

Receiving the report, Tinubu commended the members of the technical team for working tirelessly.

He applauded their high technical and scientific expertise and solidarity to national cause throughout the eight years of service to the nation before an agreement was finally reached with the UN CLCS in August, 2023.

It is instructive to note that Tinubu highlighted the interactions he had with his predecessor, Buhari, on the project; given that it was him, Buhari, who set up the HPPC to oversee the project in 2015.

Tinubu recounted how Buhari briefed him on the importance of the project.

”This is big congratulations for Nigeria. I commend the team and we must take advantage of this and invite you again to have a repeat of this knowledge exploration on geography, hydrography and the marine life.

”Nigeria is grateful for the efforts that you put into gaining additional territory for the country without going to war; some nations went to war; lost people and economic opportunities.

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”We lost nothing but have gained great benefits for Nigeria; we will pursue the best option for the country,”Tinubu said.

Tinubu has also promised to ‘pursue the best option for the country’ on the project, even though the CLCS recommendations fall short of Nigeria’s submitted claim.

Perceptive observers say the achievement is a lesson on the importance of continuity in government projects. Abandoning projects due to changes in administration can lead to wasted resources and lost opportunities.

The extended continental shelf is a significant achievement of Tinubu’s administration and to Nigeria.

According to experts, this is something that has never happened in the nation’s history, and may never happen again.

By learning from the ECS project, Nigeria can improve its approach to governance and project management, ensuring that with perseverance and continuity strategic initiatives are completed despite challenges.

The ECS project, initiated in 2009, faced delays and funding issues but persistence through the efforts of the immediate past administration paid off, and was finally approved by the UN in August 2023, shortly after Tinubu assumed office.

The country has taken note of articles 7 and 8 in the Annex II to the Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning recommendations received from the CLCS.

The project also demonstrates the importance of long-term thinking in governance.

Discerning stakeholders hold that while the project’s benefits may not be immediate, it will surely have a significant impact on Nigeria’s economy and maritime boundaries in the future. (NANFeatures)

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