Scramble for Agbede throne: Court restrains all contenders as new claimants emerge
After the demise of Oba Momoh Sani Momodu, who ruled Agbede as the Head of Aviele Clan in Estako West Local Government Area of Edo State for 59 years, Palace Watch did two major stories on it: one on his death and the other on the scramble among the Oba’s children to succeed him.To Palace Watch’s surprise, the write-ups brought in their wake a deluge of text messages and telephone calls. About 150 calls and text messages from Agbede, Benin, Zaria, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Maiduguri kept coming, almost every minute.
While the majority of these text messages and calls thanked and commended Palace Watch for what they described as an excellent and dispassionate reportage, others said some restraint should have been exercised in reporting what they considered to be a “purely family affair.”A lady, who claimed to be a practising journalist in Lagos, called to tell Palace Watch of her high connection with some highly-placed people in The Guardian family, claiming to know virtually all the editors in Rutam House. She bellowed: “I am going to contact these editors, but I decided to reach out to you first to find out exactly what happened between you and my elder brother, Abdul-lateef.”
When Palace Watch asked what her complaints were all about, she said Abdul-lateef Momodu admitted speaking with Palace Watch, but complained that he was not accurately quoted in parts of the interview.When Palace Watch told her that the interview with Abdul-lateef was recorded, she promised to get back, but never did till today.
So, Palace Watch resolved not to touch the Agbede story again, except there was a major development.On Monday, June 4, 2018, a call came through, informing Palace Watch that the Edo State government and its agents, alongside the Atebheda Royal Family of Agbede, made up of Afe Omoka, Afe Emokpare and Afe Momodu, the three ruling families, had been restrained by a High Court in Auchi from presenting, recognising or parading any candidate as Oba of Agbede, until the substantive suit filed by four members of the two other ruling families, Afe Omoka and Afe Emokpare, is heard and determined. Palace Watch demanded for all the relevant court papers relating to the case and insisted on speaking to the lawyers of both parties in the suit.
Below are our findings:
On Monday June 4, 2018, at 12.45 pm, an Auchi High Court presided over by Justice A.N. Omonuwa gave an interlocutory injunction restraining Edo State government and all its agents alongside all members of the three ruling houses in Agbede from recognising, presenting and parading any candidate as the Oba of Agbede until the matter before the court is heard and determined.
Mr. R.O. Isenalumhe Esq, the lawyer to Brigadier-General M.L. Yusufu Rtd, Hon. Abdulrazak Momoh, Alhaji Zakawanu Momodu and Alhaji Idris Momodu, who are claimants in the case told Palace Watch that the prayers in the motion brought before the Auchi High Court is summarised thus: that the Agbede Obaship before the ascension to the throne of the immediate past Oba M.S. Momodu rotates among the Atebheda Royal Family of Agbede, and that the three ruling families are Afe Omoaka, Afe Emokpare and Afe Momodu – That Momoh Lawal Freedom Momodu who is the eldest surviving son of the immediate past Oba of Agbede, and his two other brothers Nuruden and Abdul-lateef Momodu are from the Afe Momodu Ruling House – That contrary to the claims of Afe Momodu ruling house that the throne is from father to the eldest surviving son, the Agbede Obaship rotates among the three ruling houses in Agbede – That before the Oba system was introduced in Aviele community, the system that existed was based on the oldest person in the community. (This was before the majority of persons living in Aivele left their former place to their present location now known as Agbede. They stressed that such kings as Okpia, who is the founder of present day Agbede, Uloko, Akhineme, Orihibheko, Ofunede and Atebheda had at various times been kings based on seniority.)
That Oba M.S. Momodu betrayed the Atebheda Royal Family and negated the system that enthroned him, as he used his position as the Oba of Agbede to sponsor and facilitate the registration of a Chieftaincy Declaration concerning the succession to the title of the Oba on the basis of primogeniture from father to the eldest surviving son. This was expressed in a law in the then Bendel State known as BSLN 46 of 1987 and Gazetted as No. 60 Vol.24 of 11th November 1987.That the Chieftaincy Declaration regulating succession to the title of Oba of Agbede (Clan Head of Aviele Clan), as contained in the above cited law does not reflect the customary law of Agbede people regulating the succession to the title of Oba of Agbede.
That members of the other ruling families – Afe Omoaka and the Afe Emokpare Ruling Houses of Agbede – were not given any opportunity to make input before the legal notice of the law, which is today known as BSLN 46 of 1987, was issued.That the two Ruling Houses cited above are entitled to succeed to the title of Oba of Agbede whenever a vacancy exists. Contrary to the claims of Afe Momodu Ruling House, there was no enquiry conducted before the law cited above was made at the instance of the former Bendel State government and it agents.
That since Oba M. S. Momodu died on March 25 and was buried on March 26 2018 in accordance with Islamic rites, the stool of Oba of Agbede is not vacant.That the two ruling families now excluded from the present arrangements are seeking the court declaration that in accordance with the tradition, native law and custom of Agbede people in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State within the jurisdiction of the Honourable court, it is the duty of the kingmakers of Atebheda Royal family drawn from the principal members of the three Ruling Houses of the Agbede Royal Family are entitled to aspire to hold the title of the Oba of Agbede (Clan Head of Aviele Clan) whenever a vacancy exists.
In a sharp disagreement with the submission of the lawyer to the claimants, however, the lawyer to the defendants, the Afe Momodu Ruling House, Mr. Anthony A. Atemoagbon Esq, told Palace Watch that although there was an interlocutory injunction by an Auchi High Court on June 4, 2018 restraining all the parties in the matter to maintain the status quo until the matter before the court is heard and determined, but as far as he was concerned, the matter is just beginning.
He explained that in this particular matter, the claimants are members of Atebheda Ruling House in Agbede, as well as the first to third defendants. The fourth to the sixth defendants are Edo State governor, the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice alongside the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy matters. The claimants are saying this is the first time the declarations they are contesting are to be applied in the case of Agbede and Aviele Clan in Edo State. The declaration regulating the clan head of Aviele is in effect saying, “the immediate past Oba of Agbede who was alive during the declaration of that law, was not appointed under the declaration, that Oba M.S. Momodu became an Oba before this declaration came into effect.” In their claim, they are saying they were not involved in the making of that declaration. The Atebheda Ruling House is made up of three ruling families – Afe Omoaka, Afe Emokpare and Afe Momodu – whereas for the first to the third claimants, it is one Ruling House and succession to the throne is by primogeniture from father to first son. Immediately the late Oba died, the claimants are saying the late Oba’s children are parading themselves that will take over from their father. And this was part of the reasons they went to court.
“The court decision on Monday is that even the claimants should not parade themselves as heirs to the throne of the Oba of Agbede and the children of the immediate past Oba should also not parade themselves as heirs to the Agbede throne. That was the court’s decision pending determination of the suit. “We have also filed a motion asking that the suit be struck out, because no step has been taken by the Edo State government. As such, their action is premature. Under the traditional rulers and Chief Law of Edo State, it is only when somebody is being appointed that the right of action can endure the right of any claimant. Presently, the Edo State government has not appointed anybody nor has anybody’s name been forwarded to the State Executive Council. So, the same court will determine that on June 28, so as to determine whether or not they have a right of action.
“Are you saying the stool of Agbede should now be allowed to remain vacant?” Lawyer Anthony A. Atemoagbon said that is why his clients are also taking steps not to waste time with the proceedings of the matter. He said: “We are so convinced that the application we filed before the court will succeed on that day. The temporary injunction of the court between now and June 28, 2018 will not cause any major damage to the throne of Agbede between now and then.”
Asked whether these actions and counter-actions will lead to peaceful succession to Agbede throne, Atemoagbon said yes: “I foresee a peaceful succession to Agbede throne because anytime there is a declaration, following the declaration is sacrosanct. It is only when an aggrieved party says, I am not satisfied with the selection or I am not satisfied with any other thing, that he can go to court. And if the declaration has been applied, the person who is so appointed will remain on the throne until the court says otherwise, or gives any contrary decision. So, there will always be agitations whenever any vacancy occurs in a traditional institution.”
Palace Watch asked for his take on the claimant’s position alleging that there was an edict promulgated in 1987, which was allegedly influenced by the immediate past Oba without any inputs from the two other ruling houses?
Atemoagbon said “at any given time, somebody would want to fault the Justice Igodalo’s Commission, but as the court is listening to evidence, we will come to realise that some of the people complaining now at one point or another also presented memoranda to the Igodalo’s Commission. I have also had the opportunity of reading through one of the people now agitating saying succession to the throne is primogeniture. For me, it is because government has started to give attention to traditional institutions that people are now trying to see whether they can undo what they had previously agreed was the right position. The Igodalo Commission I am referring to was set up to ascertain the methods of ascension in all the clans within the old Bendel State. It was not just only Edo State. This law is applicable in Edo and present-day Delta that made up the old Bendel State.”
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