Abonnema: Intrigues as group threatens Amayanabo’s Stool
An uneasy calm now pervades Abonnema, in Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State over chieftaincy tussle between the Amayanabo of Abonnema (king) Disrael Gbobo Bobmanuel and some chiefs.
Although the heightened tension, triggered by the suspension of the king by some prominent chiefs over allegation of witchcraft, seems to have simmered a bit, following River State government’s intervention, but this complex and politically sensitive dispute is far from being over.
Abonnema, which had remained one of the most peaceful towns in the state, was almost plunged into a major crisis, when on November, 20 2017, seven chiefs, under the aegis of United Founding Fathers of Abonnema, announced the king’s suspension.
The seven chiefs, who included former Minister of aviation, Alabo Graham Douglas, Chief Enoch Granville, Chief Edmund Young Jack, Chief Beremabo Pedro, Alabo Anthony Oweredaba and Chief A. B. Ajumogobia, said they were dismayed and discontented with the narratives surrounding the witchcraft allegation against the Amayanabo.
They regretted that, rather than the Amayanabo heeding the demand of Ekine Sekiapu Society of Abonnema that he embarked on a self-cleansing exercise to prove his innocence, he decided to institute Suit No: DHC/10/2017 – HRMDISREAL GBOBO BOB-MANUEL (II) V. CHIEF PRECIOUS ELEKIMA & OTHERS to enforce his fundamental human rights.
In the said suit, the king had sought leave of the court to make a declaration amongst others, that the decision reached by the Ekine Sekiapu Society, through the respondent, Chief Elekima and others in the suit was ultra vires, null and void because they are not lawfully clothed with authority to pronounce on or make decision on the basis of a process of a court of competent jurisdiction.
The United Founding Fathers of Abonnema alluded that the reason the Amayanabo instituted the suit was primarily to avert the self-cleansing exercise, which the custom and tradition of Kalabari kingdom demands, when such grievous allegation is leveled against someone.
The Guardian’s findings revealed that the Amayanabo’s ordeal started, when one Mr. Adokiye Akamaka accused him of witchcraft practice back in 2011.
Akamaka had based his allegation on an alleged claim by the incumbent Amayanabo telling someone that he would succeed his predecessor, Morgan Opuarudokubo Bob-Manuel, who was still reigning as the king then. And that the circumstances surrounding the abrupt death of Opuarudokubo Bob-Manuel and the subsequent installation of incumbent Amayanabo, raises a lot of suspicion thus, the demand that he be investigated for witchcraft.
To buttress his claim, Akamaka had, in fulfilment of Kalabari custom and tradition, given bottles of drink to the ruling houses requesting an investigation of the allegation. In response to the grave allegation, the Abonnema council of chiefs was alleged to have written to Amayanabo, requesting that he perform the traditional community rites to deny the accusations.
But the Amayanabo, who felt maligned, opted to institute a libel case against Akamaka, claiming the sum of N100m in damages in suit no. DHC/8/2013. And due to lack of diligent prosecution, the court had struck out this suit in 2014.
Concerned that the allegation against the Amayanabo was still unresolved, the Ekine Sekiapu Society of Abonnema, decided to capitalise on the dismissal of the suit to demand that by Kalabari ways and customs, all persons, chiefs, kings, men or women accused of witchcraft are required to purge themselves by the Kalabari people’s customs.
The society said its decision to demand for resolution of the matter was based on maintaining its neutrality and upholding the Kalabari native law and customs without fear or favour to any particular person, no matter how highly placed. It insisted that the Amayanabo was required by Kalabari custom to purge himself of the said allegations to enable him continue to perform his functions as king, as well as sit among the council of chiefs, as required by the Kalabari native law and custom.
And on the basis of the decision handed down by the High Court on November 16, 2017, which dismissed the Amayanabo’s suit against Chief Precious Elekima and others, seeking to declare the decision reached by the Ekine Sekiapu Society that he purges himself, as ultra vires, null and void, the United Founding Fathers of Abonnema had to wade into the protracted matter.
The seven prominent chiefs contended that in a bid to maintain the integrity of Abonnema Council of Chiefs, they have been compelled to serve a notice of suspension to the Amayanabo as chairman, Abonnema Council of Chiefs unless and until he performs the self-cleansing exercise and in the manner prescribed by the Ekine Sekiapu Society of Abonnema.
Consequent upon the suspension, they pronounced oil magnate, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs as regent cum chairman Abonnema Council of Chiefs to oversee its affairs until issues surrounding the allegations are fully and finally resolved.
But in a swift reaction, the Amayanabo, alongside some of his loyal chiefs announced the indefinite suspension of the seven chiefs for allegedly embarrassing the throne and people of Abonnema via their purported suspension of the king.
This faction, after an emergency meeting held on November 20, 2017 at the Abonnema Town Hall, dissociated itself from the suspension announced by United Founding Fathers of Abonnema.
In a joint statement endorsed by the Amayanabo and 52 chiefs, they affirmed that king Bob-Manuel (II), Owukori (IX) has not been suspended by the Abonnema Council of Chiefs, and therefore remains the Amayanabo of Abonnema and chairman of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs.
They stressed that as the apex customary administrative and adjudicatory body in the area, as well as the custodian and enforcer of native law and custom in the community, they were the only recognised body vested with the power under Kalabari custom to suspend the chairman.
The council argued that the allegations of witchcraft against the king, was false and solely sponsored by Precious Elekima.
They equally declared that Chief Lulu-Briggs was not qualified under Kalabari customs to be appointed regent, as he is not the paramount head of Oruwari Briggs group of houses, who are to act in the absence of an Amayanabo.
“The purported appointment of Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs as the regent of Abonnema/Chairman of Abonnema Council of Chiefs is, therefore, intended to embarrass and ridicule the Abonnema Council of Chiefs, as well as cause crisis in Abonnema community, especially given his current condition,” they said.
Worried that the squabble might result in conflict, which may paralyse socio-economic activities and compromise security in Abonnema, Governor Nyesom Wike declared the Amayanabo’s suspension as void, since nobody has the authority to depose a First Class monarch without the state government’s approval.
Wike stated this, when the Amayanabo led the Abonnema Council of Chiefs to the Government House in Port Harcourt to sought government’s protection.
During the meeting with the governor, the Amayanabo and chiefs said they wanted government to protect them from persons using security agencies to illegally disrupt traditional order in Abonnema.
He claimed that plans have been hatched to arrest him on trumped up allegations, and that the Inspector General of Police and the Nigerian Army are involved in the scheme.
The king claimed that the alleged attack on Chief Lulu-Briggs was false. He explained that what happened was that youths in the community had resisted attempts to use soldiers to forcefully and illegally install the oil tycoon as a regent.
He said: “They are laying the ground for perpetration of impunity. I seek your protection and that of the Rivers State Government. They want to arrange the basis to infringe on my freedom. I urge the Rivers State governor to intervene.”
Governor Wike said it was unfortunate that security agencies had allowed themselves to be used by some persons to illegally intervene in chieftaincy tussles in the state.
“Nobody has deposed you (Amayanabo of Abonnema). It is only the state government that has the power to depose a First Class traditional ruler, and we have no intention of deposing the Amayanabo of Abonnema. Our security agencies have gone so low that they are now involved in everything, including chieftaincy affairs. Soon, they will involve themselves in husband and wife issues. Can they handle an Emir like that? Can they take an Oba like that? We pray they desist from such illegal activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, the governor has urged Abonnema youths to remain alert in the defence of their traditional heritage, saying no group should be allowed to distort traditional order.
He wondered why the feuding Abonnema United Founding Fathers would spread false report that some persons were planning to kill Chief OB Lulu-Briggs. According to him, it appears as though the entire Abonnema conflict was politically motivated and aimed at achieving pre-meditated political goals.
“I don’t know whether they know the implication of the crisis they are generating. There is no need for anyone to create crisis in a very peaceful community,” he said.
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