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Courts Heat Up Over Nigeria Oil

More than 200 lawyers crowded before the Supreme Court...

More than 200 lawyers crowded before the Supreme Court Monday for a government-orchestrated legal showdown over the way Nigeria splits profits from oil production.

The issue is whether Nigeria's government is distributing profits from its state-run oil production facilities equitably. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer. Oil sales account for more than 80 percent of the government's revenue.

Nigeria's constitution dictates that oil-producing states get a 13 percent share of oil revenues paid the federal government.

But more companies are drilling their wells offshore of the oil states and the federal government is seeking a Supreme Court ruling dictating those wells are outside state boundaries and subject only to federal jurisdiction.

Oil states in the South fear the government is positioning to shut them out of huge profits derived from the offshore wells.

Bola Ige, Nigeria's attorney general, told The Associated Press the case shouldn't be seen as antagonistic to oil-producing states. The federal government, he said, hoped only for a clear interpretation of the constitution from the court.

The next hearing is set for May 21. It's not clear when a verdict will be issued.

The issue heightens tensions between Nigeria's north and south, with states in the North supporting the federal government's position and oil-producing states of the South opposed.

Southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian, and the North overwhelmingly Muslim.

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