By John Ighodaro
*â€˜No, they only danced in the streetsâ€™
*As crisis tears Bori community apart
THE plot of land on which the great mansion stood occupied one side of a relatively small street. An imposing steel and concrete gate stood at the front of the extensive compound, but with it was a sorrowful absence of a fence. â€”chapter 1, page 1 ofÂ Placards, 1987.
â€œâ€¦..I urge all honest and patriotic Nigerians to avail themselves of this book to prepare them for this warâ€ â€” Prelate Sunday Mbang, then President of CAN, in his Christmas message to the nation in 1999.
IF the member of the House of Representatives representing the Federal Constituency in the Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, Hon. Valentine Ewor, had listened to Prelate Sunday Mbangâ€™s plea that patriotic Nigerians should read the novel, Placards, he probably would not have suffered the alleged incessant assault on his property at Isobendeghe Awong Village. On the first page of Placards, written in 1987 but first published in 1999 and re-issued in 2005, there is a description of a mansion that has at its front â€œan imposingÂ steel and concrete gate, but with it a sorrowful absence of a fence.â€
Ewor explained that he started building his house in 2004 and completed it in 2006. He had never heard of the novel Placards and didnâ€™t see the novel until May 30, 2009. How come he went and built a house that is inside a novel, he was asked and he shrugged and burst into laughter, declaring, â€œI wouldnâ€™t know. It is a pleasant surprise.â€
Concrete and steel gate
If he had read Placards as Mbang prescribed, Ewor would have learnt that it is foolhardy or dangerous to build a house, install an imposing concrete and steel gate in front of the mansion and fail to provide the compound with a fence. In 2008, according to him,Â armed men invaded the compound with ease and damaged parts of the property while on March 26, 2009 , a group of nude women invaded the compound and did what the natives called an akpe, a form of ritual which some natives of the village had described as a kind of abomination as akpe is done only on the streets and not within the confines of private compounds.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, a native who described himself as the oldest man in the village, Elder Obum Besong, said, â€œIn the early morning of March 26, 2009, I was in my house when I heard a sound of our traditional dance called akpe which is not to be done in any personâ€™s compound, but to be done only on the street. I happened to hear shouts of â€œ O! O! O! O!â€. Then I saw women shouting and heading for Hon. Valentineâ€™s compound, women in the nude. It is forbidden. Usually when they are doing something of that nature, men are not supposed to see them because they are naked. When men are doing theirs too, women are not supposed to see them because they too also go naked.
After a while, I saw them about two poles from the main road. This is supposed to be a street affair, so they were not supposed to branch in and get to the gate of a private house and the boys guarding the house then drove the women away. The guards came to report formally to me as the oldest man in the village, so I was annoyed. Since I was born in 1911 or 1912, I have never seen such spectacle in a private house in the whole of Nigeria because it is a street affair, not in private houses. And usually, it is the elders that call for it, not an individual as in this case, just because of his position. Even me as the oldest man in the village, I was not consulted. Nobody has authority to order such a thing in the community but the elders. No elder was consulted. If elders were consulted, I should have been among them.â€
Another village head in the community, Â Â Â Chief Francis Ogar-Abang, who also
spoke, said he no longer lived in the village because his life was in danger. He said it was a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) that was responsible for the harassment. According to him, â€œThe party chieftain came to the village on March 25, 2009. He summoned a meeting of the villagers in which many people were represented including civil servants at home and abroad. In that meeting, it was resolved that three persons in the community, myself, Chief Francis Ogar-Abang, Hon. Valentine Jimmy Ewor and Mr. Vincent Agbor should be ostracized from the village for 10 years. What did we do? They directed the women to go naked and dance the akpe dance in our respective compounds. This activity is a kind of curse. A community leader who the PDP chieftain installed announced to the crowd that any woman that refused to partake in the dance would be made to pay a fine of N5,000. He instructed that they should do the dance in the early hours ofÂ March 26, 2009.
Ostracised on the directive of the PDP chieftain. I am a traditional ruler of 36 years standing. I was coronated in 1973 when the party chieftain was perhaps in primary school. On August 23, 2008, the PDP stalward beat me up and put me in the booth of his car, drove me to the police station and later drove me to his house and kept me there as a prisoner. I am 71 years old and I have over 21 children and some of them are older than him and as a boy he sometimes slept in my house. He beat me up and put me in the booth of his car. We donâ€™t even know what we have done.â€
Continuing, Ogar-Abang said, â€œI am appealing to the Federal Government to curtail theÂ powers of political appointees to keep them from attacking poor people in their communities. He has also imposed a leader on the community.Â There is supposed to be a distinction between political and traditional institutions. The leader he has imposed on us has ten years experience in traditional institution. You then impose such a person on people who have been in it for 36 years? The president of Nigeria should caution this chieftain who is also a political appointee, because of his behaviour in our community. Ostracising people from the community, a man like me with over 21 children? Put me in the booth ofÂ his car?Â I cannot go to the village because he has empowered some persons to harass us.â€
When contacted, the clan head of Isobedeghene, Matthew Agbor Nyiam, dismissed the claims of Ogar-Abang, saying he was not imposed on his people by anybody, even going further to say that the same Ogar-Abang, who he repeatedly referred to as a former chief, was one of the people that presented him publicly to the late paramount ruler of Boki as their new clan head. According to him, the entire community, August 20, 2004, discovered that Isobedeghene was passing through a lot of challenges, so they picked him up to be their clan head â€œand all the Chiefs including former Chief Francis and ChiefÂ Sylveter Agbor Ewor supported me. ChiefÂ Francis Ogar Abang and Chief Sylvester Agbor Ewor presented me as their clan head to the late paramount ruler of Boki, Chief Anthony Ewa V.â€
He denied that he was imposed by a PDP chieftain on the people, saying, â€œnot at all, not at all. The said PDP chieftain did not impose me.â€ He also told Sunday Vanguard that the party stalwart had nothing to do withÂ the akpe dance that took place in the community on March 26. â€œIt is not like they sayâ€, he said. It was on March 23, he said, that the women of the village came to him that they had problems in the village and sought permission from him to therefore do the akpe dance, according to their custom. â€œThat custom has been in the village even before we were born. We inherited it from our ancestors. There was no way I would have denied that request.â€
He argued that after granting the women the request, it was customary for the women to decide on their own when they would carry out the dance and it was usually kept a secret by the women. They didnâ€™t tell me they were going to enter anybodyâ€™s compound because they were dancing along the streets of the entire Isobedeghene. He said the women did not enter Eworâ€™s house and that he was reliably informed that the women were not even naked on this particular occasion. According to him, â€œImmediately they entered the street, about 10 yards away from the major road, the Ewor brothers saw them and attacked them with stones. The women didnâ€™t enter Eworâ€™s compound. They attacked them with stones and acid and the acid burned their clothes and bodies. Mrs. Nancy Ekpang and Mrs. Esther Simon who were victims of the attack are still receiving treatment in the hospital. Mrs. Susanah Obi has been discharged from the hospitalâ€.
As he spoke, a man who claimed to be Nancy â€™s husband, Mr. Ekpang, confirmed that his wife was still in hospital. The clan head said that the PDP big wig came to the village on March 25 and left the following day and that he, the clan head, had already given permission to the women to do the akpe dance before his arrival. Asked if he was aware that the party chieftain used to sleep, as a boy, in Chief