Battle for soul of Efik throne rages as Ani calls for determination of bona fide Members of Etubom Council

Dec 2, 2023 - 11:47
Dec 2, 2023 - 11:59
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Battle for soul of Efik throne rages as Ani calls for determination of bona fide Members of Etubom Council

Fifteen years after the transition of the former Obong of Calabar, His Eminence Edidem (Prof) Nta Elijah Henshaw VI, and the subsequent selection of Édidem Ekpo Okon Abasi-Otu V as successor, the Efik traditional stool has been enmeshed in series of litigation.

Even moves by Governor Bassey Otu to restore the dignity and historical relics of the coveted throne seems to be getting throw back. This development has factionalised the coveted throne and brought divisions among Efik royal houses.

Recall that Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V coronation as the Obong of Calabar was in 2008, and since then, the battle for the throne has been raging with Etubom Anthony Ani raising the alarm over the selection processes in the past fifteen years.

Not satisfied, Etubom Anthony Ani, instituted a case immediately after the Etuboms' Conclave met and declared Etubom Abasi Otu as the Obong-elect. Ani and others in Suit No. HC/102/2008, filed by his lead counsel, Mr. Joe Agi, SAN, sued Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu and others in their capacities as members of the Etubom's' Traditional Council for jettisoning the screening process of the Western Calabar under the then Chairman, Etubom Abasi-Otu, now the Obong of Calabar that had screened and selected Etubom Ani as their sole candidate.

At the High Court of Cross River state in a judgement delivered by Justice Obojor A. Ogar sacked Abasi Otu as the Obong of Calabar on January 30, 2012 in favour of Etubom Anthony Ani and jettisoned the Appeal court judgement that was in favour of the deposed Obong.

 

Not satisfied, the Obong and others challenged the High Court judgement at the Appeal Court, Calabar and was also sacked and a fresh election ordered.

Delivering judgement on June 4, 2013, the Lead Judge then, Justice Garba Lawal, ordered that "the 1st Respondent (Etubom Ani) who admittedly was not capped/inducted into the Etuboms' Council of the Palace of the Obong by the Obong at the time of the selection process of the Obong of Calabar, was not traditionally qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for as the Obong of Calabar under Exhibit 1/20.

“That the 1st Appellant (Abasi Otu) was traditionally qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for as the Obong of Calabar under Exhibit 1/20 at the time of the selection process”, hence the Appeal court set aside the selection process that produced Etubom Ani as candidate and also set aside the March 31 proclamation of Etubom Abasi Otu as Obong and Ordered the Etuboms' Conclave of the Palace of the Obong of Calabar, whose mandate it is under Article 5(a) (ii) (iv) of Exhibit 1/20, to do so and it “to conduct another process of selecting a new Obong of Calabar, in accordance with the provisions of Exhibit 1/20 and in strict compliance with the rules of natural justice”.

Not satisfied with the outcome of the Appeal judgement, Etubom Ani and others headed for Supreme Court and on Friday, January 13, 2023, in a judgement written by Justice Amina Ahgid and read by Justice Akomoye Agim, upheld the judgement of the Appeal Court, Calabar, sacked Ekpo Abasi Otu and ordered for a fresh election in accordance with the 2002 constitution of the Palace taking into consideration equity and actual justice. The judgement also stated that the "sacked" Obong is still qualified to contest and this will the fourth time the Obong had to step down for another selection exercise.

Barely one week after the Supreme Court judgement, on January 13, the Etubom Conclave of Efik kingdom again re-selected and proclaimed His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi-Otu V as the Obong.

In a statement signed by HRH Etubom Ntiero Edem Ofiong Effiwat, Chairman, Etuboms’ Conclave, and the Secretary, HRH Etubom Edem Ita Esien Ededem, the Kingmakers said: “Following the judgement of the Supreme Court sitting at Abuja on January 13, 2023 ordering that the Etuboms’ Conclave, the king-makers of the Palace of the Obong of Calabar should conduct another process of selecting Obong of Calabar in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of Etuboms’ Council 2002 and in strict compliance with the rules of natural justice, among other things, the Etuboms’ Council has promptly complied with that Court order by taking all the necessary steps leading to and convening the Etuboms’ Conclave and conducting another selection of Obong of Calabar.

 

“The turn to produce the next Obong of Calabar, after the demise of His Eminence Edidem (Prof) Nta Elijah Henshaw VI, being that of the Atai lboku group of Houses (in Western Calabar) as provided for under The Constitution of Etuboms’ Council 2002, the qualified Etuboms, who fall under this group, were communicated to and directed to produce and present their nominee to the Etuboms’ Conclave.

“The most senior Etubom of the Atai lboku group, HRH Etubom Otu Efa Otu, presented their selected nominee for the throne of the Obong of Calabar in the person of HRH Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu of Adiabo lkot Mbo House.

“Having been fully satisfied with the candidate’s qualification and eligibility, the Etuboms Conclave therefore declared him the successor, and hereby conveys his Proclamation as the successor to the throne of Obong of Calabar today, January 18, 2023.

Etubom Ani declared Obong-elect 


Again, dissatisfied with the entire processes of selection,  Etubom Anthony Ani, former Minister of Finance and contestant to the Obong of Calabar throne, on August 2, 2023  at his Palace in Calabar when Ikoneto Community leaders paid him a solidarity visit, declared that he is the Obong of Calabar and nobody can stop it.

Decrying the injustice meted out on Ikoneto people in the selection of Obong of Calabar, Ani stated that the Efik Kingdom, which has rich cultural heritage and personages, have risen rise from today, promising again to build a new palace that will contain all what the people need and represent the status and dignity of of the people.

He said: "We will not complain again but would do things to let people know that we are rising. We must make our youths have jobs, make them happy in their houses by making jobs available.

"A big factory is under way in Odukpani that will employ 1,000 people and will kick off in 24 months’ time. I will make jobs available in your community so you don't need to come out of your community", Etubom Ani said.

On the Obongship tussle, he said: "The Ikoneto people have been cheated since 1973 when the Accord was signed. The Ikoneto people were supposed to assume the throne in 1990 but they voluntarily left it for Henshaw Town. I was selected to be Obong of Calabar in 2007 but they again overpowered the Ikoneto people, but this time they are determined to right the wrongs.

"They selected me to be Obong fifteen years ago in 2007 but they again overpowered us and took over. But like David fought Golaith, though we are not many but we have increased and have fought them. "We have no Obong of Calabar now. I am the Obong-Elect. The gods have agreed the Ekpe, Ndem and even the witches have agreed that I am the Obong of Calabar" he stated.

On his part, Etubom Ephraim Etim Nsa from Ikoneto said his people sent him to come and celebrate with the Obong-Elect, expressing happiness that after so many years of marginalization, the Ikoneto people have finally produced the Obong of Calabar.Also speaking, HRH Etubom Essien Ekpenyong Efio, the chairman of the Etuboms Traditional Council since 2007, said it was the turn of Western Calabar to become the Obong of Calabar, adding that the Adiabo and Creek people had earlier produced Obong of Calabar and it will not be fair for them to produce Obong when the Ikoneto people are still waiting.

Etubom Efio  maintained that the position HRH Etubom Anthony Ani is occupying now is that of Ikoneto and when he completes his tenure it will rotate to another part, adding that the council taking place at Effanga Ansa Street is an illegal council because by the Supreme Court judgment, all the people there have gone with Edidem Abasi Otu.

On his part, former Nigeria Ambassador to Uganda and member of Etubom Traditional Council, Etubom Nya Eyoma Asuquo, said they are in the process of installing the new Obong and different houses will pay him homage in line with the Supreme Court judgment which said the people of Ikoneto should be given an opportunity to become Obong because it is their turn.

Governor Otu intervenes, recognises Ekpo Okon as Efik King

In an official statement dated November 7, 2023 and signed by the Chief Press Secretary to governor, Comrade Emmanuel Ogbeche, Governor Bassey Otu officially recognised His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi V as the validly selected and elected Obong of Calabar and the Patriarch of the Efik Kingdom.

The statement read in part: "After a judicial review of the High Court and Supreme Court’s ruling as well as the constitution of the Obongs' palace and interface with royal fathers that the issue of waiver for qualification of a candidate to contest the Obongs' stool is untenable.


 "The stipulations of the constitution of the Obongs' palace in respect of the procedure for the enthronement of any Etubom as the Obong of Calabar remain sacrosanct and that in all subsequent judgements of appellate courts, the letter and spirit of the High Court judgement of September 25, 2023 has not been set aside nor it's binding effect on all parties diminished.

"Therefore, all parties must ensure the implementation of the judgement cited in the above to the later pointing out that Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi V remains the validly selected and elected Obong of Calabar and the Patriarch of the Efik Kingdom."

Consequently, the statement recommended that "His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi V should as a matter of urgency and priority set up a reconciliation team whose primary duty is to bring the contending parties to a single harmonious peaceful and progressive rulership of the Efik Kingdom."

Reactions trail Otu’s Intervention

In a press statement, the Palace of The Obong of Calabar loyal to Ani, wondered whether the government has more statutory powers to conduct a judicial review of a competent court judgement and overrule the courts to settle the chieftaincy disputes of the Efiks of Cross River State or else how can the government prove to the people that its action is not audacious, an act of impunity or autocracy.

The statement signed by the chairman, Etubom Essien Ekpenyong Efiok, read in part: "The constitution of the Etuboms Traditional Council (E.T.C) is to be followed. The direction of the Supreme Court is to go back to the status quo, as in 2002, which calls for determining who the bona fide members of the E.T.C are in 2008.

"In other words, they are the seven in number and have since organised themselves and made pronouncements by the Supreme Court rulings.

“The government can only grant recognition to a duly selected traditional ruler, and it is the government's responsibility to provide an environment that enables restoration, restitution, and reconciliation. The signals coming from this government will appear that its position creates more problems than it purportedly attempts to solve.

“The E.T.C has concluded its duties and, per tradition, elected and proclaimed an Obong Elect, which we have communicated to the governor's office by a formal letters dated 23rd of May and 13th of June 2023. By the provisions of the extant Cross Rivers traditional Rulers laws and the determination of the Supreme Court, we expect and demand that the Government uphold the law in recognising the right individual put forward for the Obongship. 

“We continue to believe that the state government's pronouncement or

statement is misleading and amounts to disobeying the orders of the Supreme Court and circuitously contempt of the Supreme Court's determination of 13th January 2023.”

But commending Otu’s government for quick intervention to save the over 600 years Efik traditional stool, the Obong of Calabar Executive Forum (OCEF), in a statement signed by Chief Gershom Henshaw (chairman) and Chief Maurice Ekpenyong (secretary) said: "We express gratitude to the state government for its timely intervention, which has put to an end the unhealthy development in the Efik Kingdom and has restored peace and dignity to the Efik land.

"We also congratulate His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, on his official recognition by the state government as the validly selected and elected Obong of Calabar and patriarch of the Efik Kingdom.

"We therefore, call on all the Efiks at home and in the diaspora to rally round His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, the Obong of Calabar, to build a prosperous Efik kingdom for the benefit of all and sundry."