Following the demise of the former monarch, Muri Effiong Okokon Mbukpa was proclaimed as the new Muri of the Efut Kingdom of Calabar South
Judex Okoro, Calabar
The people of old Calabar comprising mostly the Efiks, Quas and the Efuts traditional kingdoms are highly noted for their traditional kinships and respect for the stool as well as other cultural values.
Before now, these kingdoms were revered institutions, which held sway in their domains and were worshipped by their subjects who saw the traditional rulers as ‘alpha and omega.’
Today, the reverse is the case. Though the other two powerful traditional institutions including the Efiks and the Quas, within the Greater Calabar community have their kings, the Efut nation has been dogged by controversies over the selection processes. For nearly a decade, the Efut community of Calabar South in Cross River, has been without a king.
The battle among the Efuts has made it impossible for a monarch to emerge after the transition of the former Muri Munene, Ita Okokon Ekpenyong Ebuka-Ebuka IV. Following the demise of the former monarch, Muri Effiong Okokon Mbukpa was proclaimed as the new Muri of the Efut Kingdom of Calabar South, on Monday, November 16, 2009 by the Efut Combined Assembly.
But the crowning has been trailed by controversies as another faction, on September 21, 2012 at palace of Muri Munene at Anantigha, selected Prof. Ita Hogan Itam as Muri Munene and paramount ruler of Calabar South.
Since the emergence of the two Muris, the revered stool has not only been desecrated, but subjected to all forms of litigations and political intrigues and subterfuge and the entire community thrown the into confusion.
Even government’s olive branch could not salvage the situation. Recall that former Governor Liyel Imoke-led administration attempted to find lasting solution to the succession tussle. But all entreaties to both factions to sheathe their swords fell on deaf ears.
Imoke then directed the then special Adviser on Chieftaincy Affairs, John Eyikwaji, to summon a meeting in a letter dated September 18, 2012 giving approval for the filling of vacant stool of Muri Munene of Efut. The panel was headed by Dr. Ambrose Akpanika and Messrs Effiom Kofon, Nelson Coco Bassey and Michael Egim as members and Secretary respectively.
However, the decision did not go down well with both parties. While Muri Mbukpa and his supporters who alleged that government had no powers to intervene either through writing or whatever means in the selection process of the Munen of Efut, Prof Itam Hogan-led group insisted that he was duly selected and should be recognized as such.
Since the parties failed to reach a truce, they headed for court for settlement. And at the Calabar High Court, the Muri Effiong Mbukpa faction lost their application for determination whether government has the right to perform judicial function with respect to selection of Muri Munene.
Following the dismissal of the said application, the appellants (Muri Mbukpa) invoked the appellate jurisdiction of the Appeal Court in an appeal filed on September 25, 2013.
The Appeal with suit No CA/C/323/2013 was between the Appellants including Effiong Mubkpa, H.H Ndabu (Chairman Efut Combined Assembly) Obo and Ndabu Godwin (Secretary Efut Combined Assembly) and the Respondents including Prof Itam Hogan Itam, Cross River Government, AG and Commissioner for Justice and Calabar South Local government.
After both counsel to the Appellants have exhausted their arguments, the Court presided over by Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, ruled that the letter giving approval on the subject matter was a mere informative correspondence and a purely an administrative matter within the purview of the executive arm of government.
The trial Judge added that “it is not a judicial instrumentality by way of certiorari being sought for by applicants is totally inappropriate,” insisting that the government was in order to call for a new selection process based on recommendation of both parties including Muri Mbukpa participated and never controverted by appellants. On the issue of whether a judge can sit on appeal against the judgment of coordinate court, Justice Oyewole stated that from findings, it did not amount to an exercise in review of the judgment involved.
Ruling on the applicability of the Traditional Rulers Law of Cross River State 2004 sections 20-22, the trial Judge further said: “This argument is totally unacceptable and resolved against the appellants (Muri Mbukpa and others).
He, therefore, ruled that “this appeal lacks merit and I accordingly dismiss it. Parties shall bear their respective costs.”
In his own ruling, Justice Onyekachi Aja Otisi said: “I am in complete agreement with Justice Oyewole’s reasoning and conclusion in dismissing this appeal as unmeritorious. I adapt this reasoning as mine and abide by the orders in the lead judgment.”
In unanimous judgment, Justice Paul Obi Elechi said adopted same and held that there was no merit in the appeal and dismissed it.
However, stakeholders are worried that in spite of the court ruling, peace is yet to return to the palace and the community. Reacting, the village head of Efut Abasi Itak Ukana in Efut Abasi Uwanse, Ndabu Ekpo Etim Ekpo, said the crisis is scaring away investors just as he accused the chieftaincy affairs department fostering the crisis.
“The tussle is encouraging double land dealing in the community, thuggery and associated criminality in this community. People now behave the way they like and deny the existence of a central authority. This is very much unlike before where people had respect for constituted authority. This crisis escalated astronomically after the state government sealed our palace,” he said.
The village head of Badondo village and Secretary of Efut Ikwa Clan, Calabar South, Ndabo Etim Effiong Etim, said there were some rebels that have taken advantage of the crisis to perpetrate cultism, theft and sundry crisis.
According to him, miscreants are taking advantage of the artificial vacuum to perpetrate crime just as illegal Muris and traditional rulers were emerging within the clan to challenge the constituted authorities, thereby creating tension and provoking traditional war within the community.
Expressing worry at the lack of leadership to oversee the customs and traditions of the community, Chairman, Idim Ita Village, Calabar South, Ndabo Effiong Etim, said people have taken undue advantage of the situation to sell community lands without consulting due authority. Etim called on government to install the Munene so they would have peace in the kingdom.
Feeling dissatisfied at the vacuum, Muri Joseph E. Eden, clan head of Edit Atuambom, Calabar South, said government has stopped issuing certificates of recognition to legitimate village heads in the community because there was no paramount ruler to sanction it.
He appealed to government to open their palace for normal activities to go on in Efut nation.
Reacting to the development, Special Adviser on Chieftaincy Affairs, John Eyikwaji, said the matter was with the governor and would soon be resolved. But he declined to comment on the allegation that his office was responsible for the crisis.