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As Nigeria seeks maritime expansion without war, litigation

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President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, in Abuja, said that Nigeria’s bid to expand its maritime territory, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is on course and would be achieved without ‘‘war, litigation or purchase.’’

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an international agreement. It was officially formulated at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place between 1973 and 1982.
In general, the UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations concerning their use of the world’s oceans. It establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment and the management of marine natural resources.

The UNCLOS came into force in 1994. As of June 2016, 167 countries and the European Union (EU) have joined the Convention.
The UNCLOS defines various maritime boundaries. For example, a baseline is defined as the line from which the seaward limits of a state’s territorial sea and certain other maritime zones of jurisdiction are measured.

Under the UNCLOS a sea baseline follows the low-water line of a coastal state.
He 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.

The President spoke when he received a progress report from the High-Powered Presidential Committee on Nigeria’s Extended Continental Shelf Project.
The President told the Committee, chaired by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, of his support of Nigeria’s submission to the United Nations for the additional maritime area, under the recognised international convention.
To understand why Nigeria wants to expand its maritime territory, it should be noted that in addition to a country’s sovereign territorial waters extending to 12 nm (about 22 km) beyond the shore, there is a further 12 nm from the territorial sea baseline limit beyond the 12-nm limit, called ‘contiguous zone’.

According to the UNCLOS, a state can continue to enforce its laws in the contiguous zones concerning four specific matters: (1) customs, (2) taxation, (3) immigration and (4) pollution.
Since the contiguous zone is located at the margin of the state’s territorial waters, if any infringement started or if this infringement is about to occur there, this would make the contiguous zone a hot pursuit area, especially given that some states that have not signed the UNCLOS often regard these waters as of international ones.

States or nations, also, have rights to the seabed of what is called the continental shelf. A state’s continental shelf is defined in the UNCLOS as the natural prolongation of its land territory towards the outer edge of the continental margin, or 200 nm (about 370 km) from the coastal state’s baseline, whichever is greater.

As a result, a state’s continental shelf may exceed 200 nm from its baseline until the natural prolongation ends. However, it may never exceed 350 nm (about 650 km) from the baseline.

The UNCLOS permits all coastal states to have the right to harvest (or grant the right to others) mineral and non-living materials in the subsoil of its continental shelf, with the exclusion of any other right.
Of course, considering the economic significance of the maritime expansion sought by Nigeria and the political and strategic importance of Nigeria within Africa and beyond, it is very easy to understand why Nigeria wants to achieve its goal without ‘‘war, litigation or purchase.’’

“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 only chance to gain territory without war, litigation, or purchase,” the President said. ‘‘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.’’
After all, even previously neglected maritime boundary disputes are acquiring newfound economic and political significance.

Rising sea levels, changing distributions of marine natural resources and growing demand for those resources have combined to create a ‘perfect storm’ for policy-making and diplomacy.

When surveying the world’s maritime boundaries, it becomes clear that hundreds of disputes have been resolved. However, why states resolve their disputes and with what motivation, is often unclear.
Many stakeholders, however, describe the process as a matter of legal technicalities, driven by economic interests. Some say that boundary-making in the ocean is done with an eye toward the functional usage of the maritime space itself.

Yet, hundreds of maritime disputes remain unresolved. The existence of a dispute can hinder the economic exploitation of offshore resources such as oil and gas and complicate the management of transboundary fish stocks.

In other instances, maritime boundary disputes contribute to larger international tensions and conflicts. States do not necessarily resolve boundary disputes for functional purposes whenever it is convenient to do so. Instead, several factors may hinder or facilitate dispute resolution.

Surely, that is the kind of situation that Nigeria, under Buhari, wants to avoid, and the world should, therefore, commend the President for especially his consideration for a peaceful approach to issues, globally, and a keen desire for the economic development of the people of the world.
The President, to underscore his special interest in the project and peace measures, said to the Malami-led committee: ‘‘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.”

On UN support to Nigeria…
President Muhammadu Buhari, this week, spoke to Ban Ki-Moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), through the telephone.
Ban Ki-Moon, it was said, commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his handling of the country’s security challenges.

The news of the communication, at this crucial time for Nigeria, security-wise, was made known by Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, who adds that the former UNO boss, while accepting the enormity of the security challenges facing the country, expressed his confidence that the President is up to the task to handle the unpleasant situation.

“Ban Ki-Moon commended the President for his handling of security and related challenges facing the country,” the statement issued by Garba Shehu said. “He expressed appreciation for the support of two prominent citizens of Nigeria – Professor Ibrahim Gambari, President’s Chief of Staff and one-time UN Undersecretary-General, and Mrs Amina Mohammed, the current Deputy Secretary-General – saying that they are among the best he had ever worked with.”
It would be recalled that Nigeria is bedevilled by many security and violence challenges that include attacks by gunmen across the country in recent months, leading to killings, abductions and destruction of property.
Within the past three weeks alone, there has been an attack on an aeroplane, a train and the killing of scores of residents across Kaduna, Benue, Imo, Oyo, Taraba, Anambra, Ebonyi, Benue and Plateau states.

Reports say that Nigeria has witnessed a staggering 111 kidnapping incidents in the last eight months -January to mid-August 2021 (an estimated N11.415 bn is said to have been demanded ransom for kidnapped victims).

In his response, the President said that Nigeria appreciates the former United Nations secretary-general for his commitment to the progress and socio-economic development of Nigeria.
The President reiterated his long-standing respect and admiration for the two-time UN Scribe and thanked him for initiating the call.