By Emma Una
FOR the people of Efut Kingdom in Calabar South, Cross River State, the demise of their king, Muri Munene Ekpenyong Ebuka Ebuka the 1V, in November, 2009, marked the flight of peace from their kingdom as the tussle for succession to the stool has raged ever since.
The tussle has generated so much bad blood, court cases, arrests, violent protests, detention, which have become a regular feature in the kingdom as two princes battle for the exalted traditional stool with no end at sight..
The stool of Muri Munene is a first class traditional position in Efut Kingdom and its occupant serves as the paramount ruler of Calabar South where majority of the Efuts, a third of the native tribes after Efik and Qua, inhabit.
It is a position of power and influence which makes it attractive to blue blood descendants of the eight families that lay claim to the stool. To forestall succession squabble among the ruling houses, the fore fathers of the kingdom put a rotation arrangement in place for the eight clans: Efut Ibonda, Efut Ekondo, Efut Abua, Efut Abua Creektown, Mkpara, Ukere, Isutekong and Efut Ifako.
The two contenders to the throne, Muri Effiong Okokon Mbukpa, a top business man, and Muri Hogan Itam, a retired professor of medicine and one-time Chief Medical Director of the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, are both laying claim to the throne, insisting that it is the turn of their clans to occupy the stool.
The crisis has extended beyond the confines of the traditional institution with government agents becoming involved albeit with denials. Sunday Vanguard investigations reveal that although Governor Liyel Imoke is not interested in the case, some top government functionaries are taking advantage of his lack of interest to steer the crisis in the direction they want.
Itam contended that based on the rotation arrangement, it is the turn of Efut Ukem clan to produce the MuriMunene. “I happen to be the Muri of my clan. By the virtue of that, I am to ascend to the Muri Muneneship and somebody else whose clan just occupied the throne for thirteen years wants to usurp the throne”, he stated.
According to him, the 1978 Cross River State Edict, as amended in 2004, which spells out the succession processes for traditional rulers, empowers government to intervene in the selection process in the event of a dispute and the “government did just that on September 18, 2012 when it called for another selection of a Muri Munene of the Efut and, on 21 September, out of the eight clan heads in Efut nation, five attended and all the five voted for me and selected me as the MunriMunene of Efut”.
He said the kingmakers did not elect Mbukpa the way he was elected since it was not the turn of Efut Ibonda to occupy the position. “I heard that one day, during an ordinary meeting, the Muri of Efut Abua Creek Town stood up and raised the hand of Effiong Mbukpa that he was his choice for the position of Muri Munene which cannot be because his clan just had its turn with Muri Ebuka Ebuka the 1V.,” Itam said.
Mbukpa has since the demise of Muri Ekpenyong Ebuka Ebuka the IV exercised the responsibilities of the stool.
But irked by this, some rival chiefs, with the aid of some top government functionaries, in April 2012, invaded the palace of the Muri Munene and locked up the place after severely beating up and chasing out Mbukpa from the palace.
This paved the way for another selection process initiated by the Special Assistant to Governor Imoke on Chieftaincy Matters, Mr Jon Eyikwaje.
Meanwhile, Mbukpa headed to a Calabar High Court seeking an ex-parte motion to stop the process but this was not to be as Itam was selected as the Muri Munene-elect.
Mbukpa instituted another court process by asking a Calabar High Court to quash the selection process that threw up Itam.
The case dragged on for about a year until 25 September, 2013 when Justice Elias Abua delivered judgment on the matter.
Abua dismissed the request to quash the selection process, stating, “There is nothing to quash that has been placed before this court”.
Mbukpa has indicated his intention to go on appeal, saying the judge erred by not “addressing the issues we placed before the court and therefore we are going on appeal”.
He insisted that he remained the Muri Munene and as such government cannot install Itam. The appeal put paid to the celebration of the supporters of Itam who had taken to the streets thinking that the last hurdle to the enthronement of their man had been surmounted.