By JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU, CALABAR
If there is anything the Efiks of Cross River State cherish most, it is the royal throne of Obong of Calabar. Even the missionaries who came to Nigeria through the Calabar river could not toil with the revered traditional institution of the Efiks. The best the early missionaries could do was to ensure that the church also played a role after coronation in form of thanksgiving. Whoever occupies the Obongship throne is referred to as the treaty king and grand patriarch of the Efiks.
The position of the Obong is among the few traditional institutions in the country that are recognized as the first class Chief. It is in the same rank with the Oba of Benin, the Sultan of Sokoto, The Emir of Kano, the Oni of Ife and the Obi of Onitsha just to mention the few.
Due to the military interregnum, the position of the traditional rulers were politicized and the government started wielding great influence and started determining who occupies the exalted royal throne. In recent times, who becomes the Obong of Calabar has become a serious matter due to government influence and in some cases, as a result of the rituals involved, so many had lost their lives.
However, the stool has always witnessed crisis whenever the occupant of the throne “travels” to see his ancestors. After the demise of Prof. Nta Elijah Henshaw, there were intrigues, politicking and even manipulation of who mounts the throne. In fact at a time, there were two persons claiming to be the Obong of Calabar at the same time. There was also a casualty.
After the hullabaloo and bickering, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu, was crowned the Obong and was recognized by the state government who was also in support of his candidature as against other claimants of the throne at the time. According to the tradition of the Efiks, it must be one Obong at a time. He cannot be removed or be dethroned except he takes a journey to see the ancestors.
Etubom Anthony Ani, a one time minster of finance under General Sani Abacha’s military regime was not satisfied with the process that brought the Obong to the throne and he took the matter to court to correct the perceived wrong done him.
After about four years of legal tussle, the Calabar High Court in its judgment presided over by Justice Obojor Ogar declared the throne vacant and ordered Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V to vacate the stool and also ordered for a fresh election that would invole Ani and especially Ikoneto.
The judgment attracted the wrath of some Efiks. Apart from invocation of the fore fathers, the women of the Efik stock threatened to protest naked if what they described as the desecration of the land continues.
Efik sons and daughters on Tuesday embarked on procession with the masquerade called ‘ekak’ to the State High Court to deliver the result of the re selection of the Obong to the court. The ‘ekak’ masquerade appears only in times of travails, difficulties, weeping or mourning. Incidentally, the masquerade at the court rolled to the ground and in most cases there were suppose to be some traditional rites to be performed for it to stand on its feet again.
Addressing journalists at the palace after the procession, spokesman to a youth group of the Efiks known as Etubom Mkparawa Essien Efik Nduop Eba, Chief Archibong Iso said, “There has never been an incidence where an Obong has been dethroned in our land. Once an Obong , always an Obong. There has and can never be an existing ex Obong for an Obong is seen or deemed as guidance from the gods or goddess of the Efiks.
“A new Obong can only be elected, selected and crowned after an existing Obong has gone on a journey. Once his journey starts, he becomes a guidance spirit to the new Obong. Also Obongship of Calabar is not meant for every Efik. For in Efik land, there are the blue bloods and the common bloods. It is only a blue blood that can be an Obong.”
The youths lamented what they described as sacrilege to the throne, saying that, “the dethronement of an Obong does not exist in tradition and culture of the Efiks. So, it came as a surprise to the youth of the land when such an issue was raised and determined by a court of law.
“We like to make known that the election and crowning of an Obong of Calabar is not a subject to be determined by the court of law. Hence, a court of law cannot dethrone an Obong. Obongship of Calabar is not for sale neither is it political. The Obongship cannot be given to the highest bidder nor the person with more political influence and connection.
The position or office of the Obong can only be determined by the guardian spirits, the Etubom in council, the people of Efik land. Hence,once Obong Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V was chosen by these three factors, it is only when he begins his journey that he can be dethroned.”
Also commenting on the development, Etinyin Bassey Ndem, Managing Director of Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort said it is a taboo for one to desecrate the Obong stool and added that the presence of the ‘edak’ masquerade signified that the Efik people were mourning.
Senator Florence Ita Giwa said the EFik women have been at the palace since the unfortunate high court judgment, and described the development as unfair, though she said she was not in the position to question the integrity of the judiciary.
Senator Giwa popularly known as Mama Bakassi by her people said it was the responsibility of the Efiks to choose their king which she said they had done and that nobody has the right to question the integrity of the selection process. She described the Obong as a gentleman and humble, adding that it was the responsibility of the women to protect him and prevent anybody from trampling on the Obong and the Efik kingdom.
She said, “We resist any attempt to trample on the Obong of Calabar or anybody coming to question the integrity of the Obong. No matter what it will take to defend the integrity of this kingdom, or fight for the integrity of this kingdom, we must do that.”
Meanwhile, the Conclave of Etuboms last week re elected the dethroned Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V in compliance with the judgment of the Calabar High Court which nullified the process that brought the Obong to the throne.
The Conclave of Etuboms chaired by Etubom Cobham Mkpang Boco,last week (Saturday) organized a fresh election between the dethroned monarch, Etubom Ekpo Otu and Etubom Ani whose court action led to the nullification of the first selection process.
In a statement signed by the Chairman of the Conclave of Etuboms, Cobham Boco, the king makers said that though they disagreed and rejected the court verdict, they decided to take the pains to comply with the order.
“In spite of our total disagreement and absolute rejection of that judgment, the Etuboms Traditional Council took the painful step of promptly complying with the essence of that court order by convening the Conclave of Kingmakers for the purpose of conducting another selection of Obong of Calabar.”
“This carefully taken decision was made to acquit our body as a law abiding one, without prejudice to our rights to explore further legal reliefs, and also test the veracity of the result of the original selection exercise conducted in 2008,” the statement said.
It further explained that after the election, the dethroned Obong scored 15 votes and was re elected while Etubom Ani of Ikonetu scored zero, adding, “These results closely match those obtained on 31st March, 2008, in which Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu scored 11 votes against Etubom Ani’s and Etubom Esien Ekpenyong Efiok’s one vote each respectively.”
Speaking in an interview, Chairman of Etuboms Traditional Council, Etubom Bassey Duke said, “We have complied with the court order. None of them (Otu and Ani) was present. We do not allow any of the aspirants around when the conclave is meeting. Ani was communicated to and he receipted the letter. The out come of the conclave resolution will be sent to the court,” Etubom Duke explained.
However, Etubom Ani, has reacted to the re election of the Obong saying, “what they have done is wrong and we will commence a contempt proceedings against the sacked Obong and the Etubom Traditional Council (ETC).