Thursday, 12 March 2020

An Open Letter to Efik People By Eyo Okpo-Ene

I was on a local flight recently when I stumbled on an in-flight magazine with a curious cover story; "14 Kings Nigerians Adore". Adore? My Pentecostal Christian sensibilities were instantly aroused, as there is only One True King, who is to be adored. However, my curiosity was further heightened as I flip through the pages to see where my monarch was featured in this compendium. Much to my dismay, my revered monarch, His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi-Otu, Obong of Calabar, Natural Ruler Treaty King, Defender of the Christian Faith & Grand Patriarch of The Efik Kingdom was conspicuously omitted.
This travesty may have been unnoticed by some, but it a great omission all the same. I do not want to join issues with the writer of the piece, nor the monarchs that made the list, which I consider to be quite subjective. Regardless, it set a trend of thoughts in me, majorly, on the gradual disregard for the Efik stool mostly among the Efik people, which is affecting the way others view the once revered stool of the Obong of Calabar.
Historically, the Efik nation has been in existence for nearly 900 years, 200 of which was spent on their sojourn through various communities, before finally settling in the present location in 1350AD. Our Kings traversed the riverine areas with total dominance and signed up on many treaties with invading Europeans, culminating in the establishment of the present Nigerian State. The Efik Kingdom was the capital of the Oil River Protectorate between 1891 and 1893, which included most of the present Niger Delta region.
Furthermore, Calabar served as the capital of Southern Nigeria from 1899 up until April 1906, losing the status to Lagos in May 1906, upon the merging of the Southern Nigeria with Lagos Colony. Calabar later became the provincial headquarters after the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria. The slide in status and relevance of Calabar has not stopped since, with attendant decline in the stature of the stool of the Obong of Calabar.
Notwithstanding, the Efik Kingdom is one of the African civilisations acknowledged in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as having one of the oldest and best organised traditional institutions in Nigeria. This is consequent of their early contacts with Europeans and colonialists. The Efiks used to cherish their royal throne and hold on to her complicated cultural beliefs and values with tenacity. This in spite of their urbane nature occasioned by exposure to western values. I recall the coronation (uyara ntinya) of Edidem Esien Ekpe Oku V, we paraded the streets of old Calabar in the wee hours of the morning, barefooted with pride to participate in the historical event. It was like all Efik people came out, including those in diaspora, who we knew by their effort to speak Efik language. I also took part in the coronation of Edidem Otu Ukpong Okon Otu Okon (Otu Ekpenyong Efa IX) 1987-1989 and others. The Efiks all attended these events with gusto, relish and sense of duty.
And for those who try to equate stool of the Obong with some traditional rulers in Cross River State, let me say this, the throne of the Obong of Calabar, Natural Ruler, Treaty King, Defender of the Christian Faith, and Grand patriarch of the Efik Kingdom is ranked equally with the following First class Monarchs in Nigeria:
Oba of Benin
The Sultan of Sokoto
The Emir of Kano
The Oni of Ife
The Obi of Onitsha and
The Alafin of Oyo.
But what happened to us? When did we lose the Efik spirit and pride? Our culture and antecedence are well documented; therefore, we must have suffered some irreversible loss of memory. Our ancestors would be turning in their graves over the loss of class and dignity of the Efik people and our somewhat disdain for the crown.
We tend to forget that the the Present Obong Of Calabar, His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, KSM, the 78th to sit on throne is our Edidem today, we can't change that. He is the choice of the deity, heavenly and otherwise, with certain transcendental implications. Some may not like or totally accept him, but we must all respect him as our King. Some decent and disdain for him who sits on the throne is diminishing our collective standing in the land and beyond. We cannot cut our proverbial nose to spite our face.
With benefit of hindsight, I can say regrettably that the decline in the respect for the stool hit and all time low during the tenure of "amana isong eyen efik", His Excellency, Mr. Donald Duke, who ignorantly showed no respect for the throne of his fathers, a lost opportunity indeed. Will we even be blessed by such opportunity? Apparently, Mr. Duke did not realise the political leverage his office would have brought to the stool, therefore he paid no attention to it. On the contrary, Governor Liyel Imoke paid some deference to the office of the Obong of Calabar, within the limit of his understanding. Not much was expected of him anyway.
The Utomo Obong is the period the Efik sons and daughters both at home and in diaspora, pay homage to their King annually. The 2019 edition was a sad reflection of all I am trying to covey in this write up. The event was expected to grow year on year, but that was not case. The ceremony was poorly attended, and with very little representation from the government and the organised private sector. I am sure that I wasn't the only person who noticed. A close friend explained that it was caused by the lethargy occasioned by the ceremonies of the 70th birthday anniversary of the His Eminence, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, KSM a few weeks earlier. That's nothing but excuse. Another acquaintance, close to the palace, indicated his suspicion that a few charlatans have been allowed to make decisions in the courts of the Obong of Calabar, thus alienating some genuinely interested Efiks sons and daughters from the palace and royal activities.
Regardless, whatever the situation, our collective docility and ambivalence to the throne is causing us to lose our identity with attendant multiplier effects on every aspects of our lives; our history, our social cohesion, our political relevance, our territorial boundaries and of course the gradual erosion of the proud legacies bequeathed to use by our forebears. This is mainly because outsiders are beginning to imagine that there is really nothing to "these Efik people" after all. And some of our sons and daughters in their effort to secure their "food on the table" are busy sabotaging the collective legacy of a once proud nation. Eku ufot esi kot eku anwa udia!
As I was writing this piece, the news of the travails of Justice Akon Ikpeme broke. She was the Acting Chief Justice of Cross River State until Tuesday 3rd of March. Story went viral on social and terrestrial media, of how this eminent jurist and a bona fide Efik woman was not confirmed as Chief Judge of the State because her father was from another state in spite of the fact she born in Calabar, and lived all her live in Calabar, married an Efik son from Eniong in Odukpani LGA and served the state very well.
My worry is that the silence of prominent Efik people has been deafening in this matter, which lays credence to the point that this piece seeks to make. More acts of political circumvention will happen to us if, we do not rise up in unity in defence of our heritage. And we must rise Now! I am concerned for my people. I am worried that our children will never get to know what it meant to be Efik. Let this be a wakeup call!
Efik idighe aba makara!
Efik eduk idab
Efik Eburutu edemede
Edemede eda itie mbufo  
Ekpono ebekpo Efik Eburutu
Ke Idut enye men isong enyene ooo!