Calabar: Quas, Efiks spoiling for supremacy battle over Ekpe Cult
Deep crisis is brewing in Calabar, as the unity of 600-year-old Ekpe society, commonly found in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, some parts of South East Nigeria, Cameroon and Cuba, is threatened. Worse still, the revered thrones of the Obong (King) of Calabar and the Ndidem (King) of the Quas are neck-deep in battle of supremacy resulting in sanctions and counter sanctions on both sides.
It all started with an allegation that Etubom Bassey Okor Bassey Duke and Etinyin Joe Duke II went and planted Ekpe in Akpabuyo, a prohibited land, commonly referred to as plantation, against a long-standing order of Ekpe Efik.
Consequently, the Obong Iyamba of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan (shrine), Etubom Okon Ekpenyong John Eyamba, through one of his advisers, Chief Ekpenyong Eyamba, sent a message stripping Etubom Duke and Etinyin Duke II of their Ekpe title after opportunities given them to defend themselves on the matter had failed. This action, however, forced them to institute “Ndom Ekpe” (traditional Ekpe suit) at Adiabo Ekpe lodge against the order of Obong Iyamba of Efe Ekpe Iboku, claiming they were not given fair hearing on the matter before being sanctioned by Obong Iyamba.
Accordingly, 17 autonomous Efes (shrines) and over 50 Ekpe title holders, including the Secretary General of Osam Mgbe Nkonib of the Quas in a letter dated April 19, 2017 and signed by Iyamba Efe Ekpe Obutong, Etubom Eso Archibong Eso and the Obong Ebonko Efe Ekpe Otu Meseme, Etubom Otu Effa Otu, countered the suspension by Obong Iyamba of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, saying normal Ekpe protocols were observed to arrive at the verdict and that the injunctions were sealed and potentiated/activated fully and traditionally both in the physical and metaphysical realms. Hence, “he (Obong Iyamba) has no right to unilaterally take such a drastic decision and has no right to refuse performing the rites to a dead member, when such member was not under sanction. It was also noted that the Mbge shrine of Iboku Utan is not the Eyamba Family’s property, but that of the whole Atakpa”. This was the remote cause of the crisis.
The immediate cause could be traced to a letter dated May 30, 2017 and signed by the Chairman Etubom Bassey Okor Bassey Duke and Secretary, where they declared that acts of sacrilege and abomination were committed on April 17, 2017 in an event that caused great anger and confusion in the Efik kingdom, which occurred in Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan at No 12 Eyamba Street, Calabar by some Efik sons and Ekpe title holders and initiates, as “Mmonyo (Mace) Ekpe Efik Iboku Utan was released and used to herald and pull a person (Paramount Ruler of Calabar and the Ndidem of the Quas, Ndidem Patrick Inok Oquagbor V), who is not the Obong of Calabar. The Mmonyo Ekpe Efik Iboku is one of the most sacred and treasured symbols of Ubong Efik (Efik throne). During the coronation ceremonies of the Obong of Calabar, it is this particular Mmonyo that the Obong ‘pulls’ and is used for completion of the Ekpe aspects of his coronation”.
They noted: “the use of the Mmonyo is the exclusive preserve of the Obong of Calabar, as part of the traditional rites leading to his coronation. The only other person permitted to bear or pull the Mmonyo is the Iyamba of Efe Iboku Utan (understandably, as the caretaker of the instrument) at his official installation into the office of Iyamba of Efe Iboku Utan. But in this particular instance, a new Iyamba was not being installed. Therefore, bringing out Mmonyo, while the Obong is alive, hale hearty and still on the throne and using it to herald any other person is a death wish, brazen insult and a direct assault on the Efik throne. The same person who had been heralded with Mmonyo sat at the table of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan and proclaimed himself Ndidem of Calabar and none of our Etuboms, High chiefs or chiefs that were present, corrected or challenged his spurious, insolent and vexatious claim.”
They further stated: “for over 70 years, the Quas have tried several times to weaken, edge out and minimise the throne of the Obong of Calabar, by seeking to elevate the status of their chiefs to equal that of the Obong. On 21st July 1941, the commissioner of the Eastern region, G. G. Shute, told the Quas and Efuts, who applied to him to be given the titles of Ndidem of Calabar and Muri of Calabar that there had never been such, and therefore, government would not grant their wish.
“But that has not stopped them, as they have continued trying to undermine the Obong of Calabar’s throne with every new government that comes to power. Having seen that they cannot win by direct confrontation, they are now attacking the Efik throne by clamming in writing and telling every new governor, that the Efik are tenants, who own only one square kilometre out of 18 square kilometres of Calabar. Unfortunately, it seems some of our Efik kith and kin have chosen to sell their birthright and play the role of Judas against their own tribe.
“Atahe Obong of Calabar-in-Council has decided that regarding Mmonyo Efik Eburutu, Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan will no longer be used in any Efik royal ceremony. Ekpe Efik lords will collectively determine which Ekpe Efik Lodges will be utilised for specific royal ceremonies henceforth. The outcast members of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, who were physically seen to be principal members committing this abomination, and their offspring are under royal sanction and shall remain banished from all activities and roles concerning Efik Eburutu Kingdom till further notice.”
Some of the banished Ekpe lords include, Etubom Okon E J Eyamba, Chief Adam Efa Eyamba, Chief Ekpenyong E. Eyamba, Chief Inyang Henshaw and Chief Joseph Ene Ita. On the issue of self-proclamation as Supreme Ekpe Authority, they said “this is strictly an Ekpe matter and the Obong of Calabar-in-Council has been informed that Ekpe shall reveal itself fully to those outcasts who kept mute, acquiesced and wilfully subjugated Ekpe Efik Iboku Utan to sacrilege by a foreign Ekpe.”
Accordingly, on June 5, 2017, Ekpe revealed itself as the leadership of the seven Ekpe Efik Lodges by releasing a masquerade, which had not been seen in public for the last 100 years. Also held was a solemn procession of a large number of people, heralding the traditional public announcement of the banishment and cleansing that began from Calabar River. Many Ekpe lodges in Calabar and Creek Town were visited and incantations and libations poured, thereby invoking the ancestors’ wrath and Ndems (mermaids) against the banished members that committed the said sacrilege.
The Ekpe lords and Etuboms from the Efik kingdom in their letter further alleged that “Iboku Utan lodge, most unfortunately, has shown an historical proclivity to rebel against the collective wishes of Efik people, right from the well-documented insult and rebellion against the throne in the last century, to the more recent acts designed to thwart the coronations of his Eminence, Edidem David Henshaw, His Eminence, Edidem Nta Elijah and even His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V. The Eyamba family, who have had a stranglehold on Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, have stayed completely away from the palace of Obong for the last 15 years, as a mark of spite, even though they have a fully accredited Etubom.”
Expectedly, the Quas did not take this stance lightly, as they fired back through a letter dated April 3, 2017 from the Osam Mgbe Nkonib (shrine). The letter, signed by the Secretary General, Ntufam Hayford Edet, and the Paramount Ruler of Calabar Municipality, who also referred to himself as the Ndidem of Calabar. They dismissed all claims by the Efiks, saying, “on receiving the above complaint, you allowed yourself to be blindfolded with bias, ignorance of the sanctity of the Mbge shrine and sentiment. Your presumption of sitting among your Etubom council made you to lose reasoning that you are subject to superior authorities, which you were supposed to consult, who are the custodians of heritage, culture and tradition. Maybe you, as well as the complainant, do not know or understand that Iboku Utan only have affiliation with Iboku Esid Edik, Otung, Mbarakom and Adak Uko, which was the due process the complainants were to follow.
They said the Etuboms, in taking their decisions, did not consult appropriate authourities like “Ndidem of Calabar, who has the totem of Mgbe in the whole of Calabar, as well as the entire Ejagham Nations, the Obong Efik who is the custodian of heritage tradition and culture of the Efik Kingdom and the Muri Munene, who is also the custodian of heritage, tradition and culture of the Efut nations, which they are subjects before handing down your obnoxious verdict.”
Accordingly, they replied: “Your action is to say the least vexatious and a great insult to the throne. We wonder who gave you the impetus to hand down decision on matters that were not pleaded and which affected Mgbe in different tribal Mgbe shrines without clearance from the owners and custodian of the Mgbe insignia, tradition and culture. Ndidem-in- Council has declared the verdict delivered by your committee invalid, null and void and of no effect.
“That it is only the Paramount Ruler of each of the tribes in Calabar that is bestowed with power to regulate the procedure and practice of their Mgbe, as well as other culture and tradition after consultation with their different councils in matters affecting them.
“That the activities/administration in Iboku Utan Mgbe shrine should return to all his Mgbe title holders for reconciliation, reconstruction and appeasement of the shrine for progress in the land.”
The Iyamba Efe Ekpe Obutong, Etubom Eso Archibong Eso and Obong Ebonko of Efe Ekpe Otu Meseme, Etubom Otu Effa Otu in a letter dated May 30, 2017, described the letter from the Ndidem as ‘an April fool joke,’ saying: “Years back, Adiabo and Ubutong have handled cases concerning Iboku Utan, so this one was not an exception and Ekpe decisions are not subject to the whims and caprices of Paramount Rulers of local government and their council…But let us assume for a minute that this is a new practice you want to introduce, then are you not guilty of exactly the same crime you are falsely accusing us of? Did you discuss your ‘decision’ with any or all other paramount and natural rulers you mentioned? Please, when coming to equity, try to come with clean hands…As you have asked who gave 50 Ekpe lords from 17 Efes the “impetus” to sit in an Efe Ekpe and take decision on an Ekpe matter, we also ask who gave you the impetus to sit as as Ndidem-in-Council and take decisions on an Ekpe matter that doesn’t concern your Osam Mgbe Nkonib. Since when did you start carrying matters concerning a python to discuss in a chicken coop?
“Your statement that ‘it is only the Paramount Ruler of each of the tribes in Calabar that regulates the procedure and practice of their Mgbe…after due consultation with their different councils’ has never happened in history and is completely wrong and unacceptable. Remember that your Ndidem institution came into being precisely in 1978, but Ekpe/Mgbe has been in existence and peaceful self-regulated for 600 years before then. Your final verdict that ‘activities/administration in Iboku Utan Mgbe shrine should return back to status quo ante immediately’ is laughable”.
Commenting on the crisis, a senior Ekpe titleholder, Mr. Bassey Ndem, said, “the Ekpe society is highly democratic. You cannot sit on your own to just decide and everybody will bow, as it is not your property. It was used in the administration of villages and towns, so it cannot be one man’s property. It is collective and everyone sits on the table to talk. There is a famous song “Ebonko is Ekpe,” just to show what the organogram is like. Absolute power is not allowed to remain with Ebonko, so you have Iyamba, which you can call father and mother. Ekpe is of the world and we don’t bring dark energy into it. The rebellious Iboku Utan Lodge should be warned.”
Speaking on behalf of the banished members, Ndidem of the Quas on the issue of Mmonyo and the Obong Iyamba of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, an adviser to the Iyamba, Chief Ekpenyong Eyamba, said the action by Adiabo to upturn Iyamba’s decision and going ahead to suspend him with a fine of three cows, three goats and over a million naira was wrong. Hence, the Iyamba summoned the chiefs of Iboku Utan Lodge and after deliberations, it was resolved that “by Ekpe rules, you don’t have any reason to delve into another lodge’s internal affairs, because all lodges are autonomous. So, the Iyamba said for that insult, I have fined you seven cows, seven goats, sundry drinks and about N2m.”
On the Ndidem, Eyamba said: “On Easter Monday, he was visiting us at Iboku Utan that is Atakpa to show solidarity and to also prove to the world that he was not part of that judgement against the Iyamba. He came with his mace showing his authority of Ekpe with his Ekpe chiefs and by Ekpe’s rule; we cannot allow him to bring his mace into our land. So, when we learnt he was coming with the full paraphernalia of Ekpe, which is the Mmonyo (the mace), we had to also come out with our own Mmonyo of our own lodge and not anybody else’s. We used the Mmonyo to receive the Ndidem and I am the one that bore the Mmonyo.
“At Ekpe Lodge, when a foreign Ekpe comes in with their Ekpe and their mace or whatever insignia they use after arriving, you use the same to receive them and relegate his authority to the background and lead because that is your land and that is exactly what happened. The Ndidem never bore Mmonyo, we led the Ndidem into our Lodge and placed it on the table and presided. The Iyamba Mosongo was not present and his sit was empty and nobody sat on it. So, how could we have made the Ndidem the head and when the Ndidem wanted to make pronouncement, he left the Ekpe table and sat down and made pronouncement that he wanted peace.
“The next thing was a letter from the Etubom traditional council, asking the Iyamba to come and explain to the palace why he issued the Mmonyo, Ubong Efik to Ndidem, which is a sacrilege. The man said because Mmoyo is purely an Ekpe instrument, if you want to discuss issues of Mmonyo, you know where to go to and not the palace because the palace is made up of initiates, non-initiates, title holders and non-title holders and women. So, you cannot discuss Ekpe issue in the palace because it is not Ekpe Lodge.”
He accused the other group of hiring people who were not even Ekpe initiates, and brought out what they called Ekpe from Creek Town, Adiabo, only to land on our the beach and other shrines they went to, “they poured libation, made incantations wrote our names…that from today we have to die. They poured the libation and put the names into the water and went ahead to Afe Asabo, the Python Shrine, where we perform the Obong’s traditional coronation. There, they built a place like a vault or grave and pronounced our names, and again put inside the grave, poured libation and made incantations that we must die that we have desecrated the Ekpe shrine, but which Ekpe shrine and who owns it? The next day, they went to Creek Town and did the same thing in three shrines. The next thing we heard was that they have banished us.
“The banishment cannot stand and they do not have such rights. So, we are going to court and we have already engaged a lawyer, as they are contravening our right of worship and freedom of association. We are suing the Obong of Calabar, Etubom Bassey Okor Bassey Duke, who signed the letter pronouncing us banished, as well as all the Etuboms and houses that were involved. We are also claiming damages of N500m because they don’t have such rights.
“The Ubong Efik (Efik throne) is on a tripod— the Ubong, the Ndem and the Ekpe. It is a right and not a privilege given to any of the families. The Ndem (mermaid) belongs to Otung. We are like the Hebrews. Certain families have their rights and are not elected. From inception till today, the Otung people are the ones that do the Ndem and that is where they perform the coronation. What happens in coronation is first the pronouncement of the Obong’s death and the Etuboms do the election and send the Obong elect to the Ekpe shrine to do the Ekpe rites of the deceased Obong.
“After this, they go to Efe Asabo for coronation. Immediately we get to the Efe Asabo for coronation, you return to Iboku Utan Lodge to answer the call of Ekpe, if not, you are not an Obong. But we never gave Mmonyo to the current Obong because of the tussle. He never answered to the call of Ekpe. He never entered Iboku Utan Lodge. So, what gives you right to even query? By Efik tradition, he is not Obong and that is what we are going to court to sort out. By Efik tradition, if you don’t pass through those three facets, you cannot be an Obong and if you are, you are just Obong-elect.”
On Mmonyo, he said Queen Victoria donated it to King Iyamba as a gift. “It is a brass mace that shows authority, just like what you have in the House of Assembly. It is the exclusive property of Ekpe Iboku and was instituted into Ekpe by King Eyamba V, my great, great grand father in 1835, when the great Duke Ephraim Iyamba IV died, when he took over. To show his imperial authority and grandeur, he was the first person that held Mmonyo, and that was how Mmonyo came to Ekpe. So, it is not Ubong Efik. That was the first time Mmonyo was used anywhere in Ekpe in the whole world. On that mace was written King Iyamba V till date. So, it is not Efik people’s property. It is donated to any qualified Obong we so wish to handle.
“Unfortunately for them, the Mmonyo they are talking about was not even brought out that day. We have about three types that are used for Ekpe procession to show authority over the land where you are making the procession and that is why we could not allow the Ndidem to use his Mmonyo on our territory. Mmonyo is also used when Ekpe procession is done to place injunction. This is done with different kinds of dressings. It is a different dressing entirely for the coronation and you go naked with beads, and the brass Mmonyo is used.”
On allegation that the Ndidem of the Quas was in the Iboku Utan Lodge and proclaimed himself the Ndidem of Calabar without any reaction from Efik sons and Ekpe title holders, he said: “Does Ndidem of Calabar mean the Obong of Calabar? Are they not two different things? Is Ndidem not in Calabar? So, if I say the Ndidem of Calabar, what has it got to do with the Obong of Calabar? Ndidem is a king in his own right from an ethnic group, and whether they like it or not, Ndidem is an undisputed king in Calabar with his certificate. Is the Muri Munene of Efut not in Calabar? Is he not King of Efut or is he a foreigner? So, this falsehood is just to find a way to destroy the Iboku Utan Lodge.”