Unending battle for stool of Amayanabo of Okrika
Shortly after a Rivers State High Court in the Okrika division declared Dr. Alfred Seminitari Abam the Amayanabo of Okrika, the Ibulubo House, a part of the Ado royal family of Dokube extraction, filed an appeal for stay of execution to bar the state government from recognising Abam as king.
The Guardian gathered that the situation was already creating tension in Okrika, where the Amayanabo stool conflict has divided the political elite since Dr. Abam and Charles Adokiye Dagogo Ibulubo, both of the Ado royal family, began contending for the stool.
Despite Okrika’s chequered history, her people still hold their traditional leaders in high esteem, which explains the keen interest in the matter. Like most Ijaw communities of the Niger Delta, the importance of chieftaincy institution has not diminished much, even with the advent of democratic rule in Okrika.
Since 17th century, the Ado royal house has exclusively produced the Amayanabo of Okrika. The family was originally made up of a single War Canoe House, but due to population expansion, more houses were carved out of it. These are Dokube, Ogan, Fibika, Abam, Ibanichuka and Ibulubo, which was the last to be carved out in 1971.
Historically, it has been the exclusive right of these families to produce the heir to the ancient throne. This is traceable to their common ancestor, who handed over the kingdom’s rulership to his son, Ado, who reigned as king in his father’s stead around 1605, and was succeeded by King Dokube as Ado II, who reigned from 1655 to1690.
To prevent intractable succession conflict that often led to internecine crisis, the Ado royal family devised the idea of rotating the stool among the various houses. But now, this principle is under contention.
The crisis surrounding the Amayanabo stool started brewing, when the throne became vacant after the demise of the late Amayanabo, S.P.U. Ogan, on October 27, 1997. The late Ogan became king in 1964. He reigned for over 33 and passed on at the age of 78.
A source in Ibulubo House explained that historically, all other descendants to the ancient throne were selected from one of the
War Canoe Houses that constituted the royal family in no particular order.
He said: “The royal family was originally made up of a single war canoe house named Ado. But with time, the house split into two, as a result of increase in size and administrative convenience. The first house to split was Dokube House. It was followed by Ogan and later Fibika House, which in turn gave birth to Abam House. Ibanichuka and Ibulubo followed suit, being the last to be carved out. This brought the total number to six.
“A common feature is that no two houses were carved out at the same time. In the book written by Dr. Abam: ‘The Okrika Kingdom: An Analysis of the Dynamics of Historical Events’ published in 1999, he referred to Ibulubo as one of the houses composing Ado royal family.
“Presently, owing to self-interest, Dr. Alfred S. Abam suddenly changed his narrative of six families to five. Accordingly, he is now the next in line of succession after demise of the late King S.P.U Ogan, who, before his death, and in consultation with prominent Ado royal family members, established an order of succession to the throne, which was imbedded into a letter Constitution of the royal family, which document was to regulate the choice of houses to produce successors to the ancient throne.
“This Constitution is a by-product of the recommendation of Professor Tekena Tamuno-led Commission of Inquiry, appointed by Rivers State Government. The Constitution was signed by King S.P.U Ogan and representatives of each of the six houses. By Section 5 (2)(1)(a) of the said Constitution, succession to the throne is by rotation among the six war canoe houses with Ibulubo as next in line after the then reigning king.”
The Guardian gathered that in a memorandum submitted by Ado royal family to the state government in 1988 on the re-unification of chiefs in Okrika, signed by a host of prominent Ado royal family members, showed the present composition of Ado royal family as six.
When The Guardian contacted Dr. Abam, he said he would comment on the circumstance surrounding the disputed stool after the state government had formally made a pronouncement, based on the recent court judgment in his favour.
“I am not prepared now,” he explained. “But I am awaiting government announcement. I don’t want to make unnecessary statement before then.”
Abam, in the suit, wherein Justice G.C. Aguma last month ruled in his favour, had alongside some other defendants, tendered a total of 95 exhibits. They argued that Ado royal family was entitled to produce the Amayanabo of Okrika, which consists of five main War Canoe Houses, namely: Abam, Dokube, Fibika, Ibanichuka and Ogan and take turn to produce the Amayanabo of Okrika by rotation.
He contended that after the death of the late king Ogan, who was from Ogan House, it was the turn of Abam House to ascend the stool. And being an eminently qualified son of Abam House, he was selected and presented by the chiefs and elders of Ado royal family to the Egweme Shrine, and was duly installed king in accordance with Okrika’s custom and tradition.
The Rivers State government, through the office of the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, had maintained that the process of investiture and recognition of every recognised first, second or third class chief or traditional ruler in the state was governed exclusively by the state’s Chieftaincy Law.
That pursuant to the provisions of the Rivers State Chieftaincy Law
(No. 5 of 1978), particularly, Section 11(1) (d), the Rivers State
Government maintains a Register of chieftaincy stools and the houses/families, which are traditionally entitled to ascend or occupy them.
In respect of Okrika Kingdom, the state government said it keeps a record of the chieftaincy stools and the houses/families entitled to ascend or occupy them. The state cited the summary report and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the outbreaks of violence in Okrika, also known as Official Document No. 23 of 1963, which identified Ado House of being composed of Abam, Dokube, Fibika, Ibanichuka and Ogan only, from among whose members the Amayanabo of Okrika should be chosen.
The state said evident from the above-mentioned families, the Ibulubo House or family was not one of the families entitled to produce an Amayanabo, since it is not included in the list of the five officially recognised royal families.
But in his judgment last month, Justice Aguma asserted that he was persuaded by the evidence before the court that Ibulubo House was part of Ado royal family of Dokube extraction, though it’s not one of the five houses recognised by the state government to produce an Amayanabo by virtue of official Document No. 23 of 1963.
He pointed out that, clearly, Ibulubo House, which split from Dokube House in 1971, could not take precedence over Abam House that had been in existence since 1949, and one of the five houses in the royal family recognised by history and government to take turn to produce Amayanabo.
He said: “In conclusion, I hold as follows: that it is the turn of Abam War Canoe House of the Ado Royal family of Okrika to produce the Amayanabo of Okrika Ado IX. That the first defendant, Dr. Alfred Seminitari Abam was duly selected, underwent installation ceremonies, including presentation to the Egweme (Kingmakers) and duly installed as the Amayanabo of Okrika – Ado IX on the 18th day of February, 2002.”
The judge then ordered that the Government of Rivers State should accord Dr. Abam recognition as the Amayanabo of Okrika-Ado IX.
Consequently, there are speculations that government might officially recognise Dr. Abam. However, a section of the Ado royal house, which was incensed by the lower court verdict, has embarked on yet what will prove to be another dogged and bitter battle for the throne, by filing an appeal for stay of execution barring Rivers State government from recognising Abam as the Amayanabo.
Counsel to Ado royal family, Martin Okonkwo, has petitioned the state governor, Nyesom Wike, of the pending litigation, following frantic efforts allegedly being made by some persons of Okrika extraction within governmental circle, to prevail on the Governor to recognise Abam as the Amayanabo, based on Justice Aguma’s judgment.
In a notice of appeal sent to Wike by the appellants, Charles Adokiye Dagogo (Ibulubo Ado IX Amayanabo of Okrika and five others in Appeal No: CA/PH/2019 Suit No: WHC/4/2002, the appellants said Aguma’s judgment was defective.
In the appeal in which Abam, the state’s Attorney General and six others are defendants, the Ado Royal family said the trial judge, who declared Abam the king of Okrika, failed to evaluate the evidence before it on whether Ibulubo War Canoe House was part of the Ado Royal family or not.
They argued that the trial court erred by not granting injunction against Abam from parading himself as Amayanabo of Okrika in the face of the plethora of evidence disqualifying his claim to the throne. According to them, exhibits tendered in court demonstrated clearly that Abam was not even in line to succeed the late Amayanabo, King S.P. Ogan.
It was also stressed that Abam and his witness failed woefully to show how, where and when he emerged candidate to the Amayanabo stool.
In a petition to Wike, the counsel to Ado Royal family urged the state governor to resist and reject attempts by anyone, including Abam and his counsel’s request to accord him unpopular recognition.
The Ado royal family said it would not forget in a hurry the ugly incidence of September 2001/2003, which caused the loss of lives of many Okrikans.
They reminded the governor that it was in a bid to consolidate his administration’s peace efforts that they were urging him to remain neutral in the matter, and allow the regular court decide on the issue to a logical conclusion before the state government takes necessary actions on the matter.
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