AFTER years of legal tussles, the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V and the Olupoti of Ipoti Ekiti, Oba Isaiah Oladele Ayeni, yesterday lost their thrones.
The Obong of Calabar was dethroned by a High Court in Calabar, Cross River State after the case had dragged on for four years while Ayeni lost his throne 20 years after he was crowned.
Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen leading four other justices of the Supreme Court restrained Ayeni from parading himself in any way as the Olupoti of Ipoti.
The Supreme Court, which set aside the March 22, 1996 judgment of the appeal court on the matter, upheld the judgment of the trial court of January 15, 1993, which invalidated the ascension of the monarch onto the traditional stool.
The Ondo High Court about 19 years ago declared that the next royal family to produce the Olupoti was Onidasa Ruling House in accordance with the customary laws in Ipoti Community, which allow for rotation.
But the Appeal Court sitting in Benin, Edo State, in its judgment upturned the verdict of the trial court, thereby strengthening the case of Oba Ayeni and extending his stay in office.
Delivering their judgment, the learned Justices of the Supreme Court averred: “In conclusion, I find merit in the main appeal, which is accordingly allowed by me. The judgment of the lower court delivered on March 22, 1996 setting aside the position of the trial court is hereby set aside.
“The judgment of the trial Court AK/62/88 delivered on the 15th day of January, 1993 is hereby restored and affirmed by me.”
The Supreme Court held that there was omission of some important traditional rites in the ascension process, thereby declaring null and void, the December 24, 1987 approval granted for the selection of Ayeni.
The justices awarded N50, 000 cost against each set of respondents in the case.
The respondents in the case include: the Governor of Ekiti State, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Secretary, Ijero Local Council, Elijah Oladele, Chief Inurin Abisoye, and Chief Arowolo Eisikin.
The suit was originally filed by a prince in Idasa Ruling House and a contestant to the stool, Mr. Joseph Ajewole Ogunsola, before it was later sustained by Chief Ayoola Adeosun for Asao Branch of Onidasa Ruling House.
In an almost two-hour judgment yesterday, Justice Obojor Ogar restrained Otu from parading himself as the Obong of Calabar until proper election has been done. He also restrained the Etubom Traditional Council (ETC) from excluding Etubom Anthony Ani and Mbiabo Ikoneto from any election or selection of an Obong.
However, the counsel to the ETC, Mr. Paul Eba, said, “we are trying to study the judgment but unfortunately … the judgment has not made any positive order to the government to withdraw the certificate so the Obong is still on the throne.”
A one-time Minister of Finance, Etubom Anthony Ani and four others had in April 2008 sued the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu and seven others challenging the verdict of the ETC in the selection and proclamation of Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V as the Obong of Calabar.
Justice Obojor Ogar had after receiving final addresses from counsel to Etubom Ani, Mr. Joe Agi, (SAN), counsel to Edidem Otu, Chief Ladi Williams (SAN), and counsel to the ETC, Mr. Ukpong Eba, adjourned the matter to January 11 for judgment. But because of the oil subsidy crisis, the matter was postponed to January 27 and later rescheduled for yesterday.
Etubom Ani had in his claim and submission by his counsel Agi, sought a declaration that “the presentation and/selection of the fourth defendant (Edidem Otu) who was Chairman of the screening committee for the selection of the fourth defendant as the Obong of Calabar elect is contrary to natural justice, equity and good conscience.
“That the purported selection of the fourth defendant as the Obong of Calabar-elect, who is from Adiabo is contrary to the decision of the Western Calabar Traditional Rulers Council that Ikoneto has the exclusive right to produce the next Obong of Calabar and the fourth defendant is not qualified to be selected and/ or appointed the Obong of Calabar.”
He also sought a declaration that the ETC’s refusal to entertain the complaint of the plaintiff violated their right to fair hearing and an injunction restraining the government from according recognition and/or giving a staff of office to the fourth defendant.
Rebecca Tanga, who represented Williams, the counsel to the defendant, asked the court to dismiss the applicant’s claim, saying, “that he was not qualified to be Obong of Calabar.” He went on to say that the applicant was given fair hearing in the selection of the Obong of Calabar.
Justice Ogar ruled that any election or selection of an Obong of Calabar without the participation of Etubom Ani and Mbiabo Ikoneto was null and avoid and therefore restrained the ETC from doing that.
He also granted an injunction restraining “the Obong of Calabar from parading himself as the Obong until proper election has been done.”
The counsel to Etubom Ani, Mr. Bassey Offiong, who represented the lead counsel, Mr. Agi (SAN), expressed satisfaction with the judgment, saying the court also granted all the five prayers Etubom Ani sought and “by implication the Obong has been dethroned because if the court said you cannot parade yourself as what you claim to be because you got it by fraud, it means you have been dethroned.
“We are satisfied with the judgment and on the issue of certificate of recognition, it is the government that installs an Obong. The government acted on certain papers that were presented to it to issue a certificate. So, if the court has not specifically said the certificate is withdrawn, it is obvious that it is withdrawn. You cannot carry a paper that has no weight. The certificate of recognition given by the government is of no moment, in fact it is worse than a piece of paper because it was based on fraud,” he said.
The counsel to the ETC, Eba, said the Obong was still the Obong and they would study the judgment to go for appeal.
He described the judgment as “a declaration judgment that Ikoneto has right to contest. Definitely we are going on appeal to determine some issues raised by the judge.”