by crossriverwatch admin
The Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar today, Thursday ordered a fresh selection process to fill the revered stool of the Obong of Calabar presently occupied by Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu.
The lead judgement read by Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba and confirmed by Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyawu and Onyekachi Otisi upheld the earlier judgment of the lower court that due process was not followed and the selection of the incumbent was null and void.
The Calabar High Court presided over by Justice Obgojor Ogar had in a judgment in Suit No. HC/102/2008 on January 30, 2012, brought by one of the contestants to the Obong stool, Etubom Anthony Ani, declared the process that brought the Obong to the throne as null and void and restrained Otu from participating in any selection for that purpose.
Justice Ogar restrained the Obong from parading himself as the Obong of Calabar until proper election has been done and also restrained the Etubom Traditional Council, from excluding Etubom Anthony Ani and Mbiabo Ikoneto from any election or selection of an Obong.
In an abridged 94 page judgement that lasted for 45 minutes, His Lordship Justice Garba said, “for the breach of principles of natural justice and the first respondent’s (Etubom Anthony Ani) right to fair hearing, the selection process conducted by the appellants which culminated in the selection and proclamation of the 6th respondent (Otu) by the Etubom’s Council represented by the appellants is hereby set aside.
“The selection and proclamation of the 6th respondent as the Obong elect of Calabar by the Etubom’s conclave of the palace of the Obong on 31st March 2008 is hereby set aside”.
Accordingly, Justice Garba said, the Etubom Conclave of the Palace of the Obong of Calabar “is hereby ordered to conduct another process of selecting a new Obong of Calabar in which all qualified candidates including the 6th respondent will be given the opportunity to participate in accordance with the provisions of exhibit 1/20 and in strict compliance with the rules of natural justice”.
However, the appellate court set aside the High Court decision that “the appellants had waived the requirement of capping and induction of an Etubom by the Obong of Calabar into Etubom’s Councils of the Obong’s palace as a qualifying factor to vote and be voted for as the Obong of Calabar in favour of the 1st respondent”.
The appellate court also ruled that, “the 1st respondent who admittedly was not capped nor inducted into the Etubom’s Council of the palace of the Obong at the time of the selection process of the Obong of Calabar was not traditionally qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for as the Obong of Calabar under exhibit 1/20.
“That the 6th respondent was traditionally qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for as the Obong of Calabar under exhibit 1/20 at the time of the selection process”.
Reacting to the judgement, Ani said, “I was not in court and my lawyer just briefed me. So far, I see the ruling as a 50-50 affair. I will look at it, see how it affects me and may be appeal the judgment. However, one thing we are sure of for now is that there is no Obong of Calabar because the judgment today has nullified the entire processes. For the Efik people now, there is no Obong”.
Counsel to the Obong, Mr. A.A Archi, said “The judgment is a vindication that capping is a fundamental requirement for a candidate to be eligible and qualified to contest for selection, election or appointment to the Obong of Calabar throne.
“The judgment also upheld our view that a learned trial judge, with all due respect, sought to perpetually alter the standing and recognized customs of the Efiks which would have affected the lives and people of the community.
“It is also a vindication that the 6th respondent, the Obong of Calabar, was eligible to be selected and appointed as Obong although the court nullified the processes. But we are still confident that after due processes has been followed, he will still emerge. So, the two parties are not qualified as Ani will no longer be qualified to contest since he was not ab initio capped while all others who are qualified will be eligible to contest. For Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu, he is qualified and eligible to stand in for another selection processes”.
Counsel to Etubom Anthony Ani, Mr. Bassey Offiong who stood in for Mr. Joe Agi (SAN) commended the court for its judgement but said, “The Court of Appeal delivered judgment in part. So, many issues were in contention including first, whether Etubom Anthony Ani was qualified to contest for the stool; the court ruled that since he was not capped, he was not qualified to contest for the Obongship stool based on the Obong Constitution.
“Secondly, the court considered the issue of natural justice and said Etubom Ani was not given fair hearing during the selection process because his complaints were not listened to.
“Consequently, Court of Appeal made 6 orders. But the summary of it is that the court set aside the whole processes of selection of Obong of Calabar and ordered that a new process be undertaken. We will study the judgment and later decide what next to do”.
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