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Ekpo Ekeng
Youth leader of Cobham Town
member of Calabar Mgbe

Interview with Ekpo Ekeng, 8/08

Ekpo Ekeng, youth leader of Cobham Town, Calabar and Member of Calabar Mgb, on the Paris Cuba-Ekpe Encounter, 5/08: "The Cubans were to be known as our brothers, because we did not know how to differentiate between the Cubans and Nigerians, because we interacted from the beginning to the end . . ."

 

Interview with Ekpo Ekeng, 8/08

Ekpo Ekeng, is the youth leader of Cobham Town, and a member of Calabar Mgbe. He was interviewed in Lagos, May 31, 2008, where he was residing to avoid arrest for crimes he was falsely accused of.

My name is Ekpo Ekeng, I am from Henshaw Town, but resident at Eyamba Street, in Duke Town and Cobham Town, popularly known as Bayside. I am a member of the Efe Asabo (python shrine). A member of any Ekpe lodge can play Ekpe at any other lodge, and I also play Ekpe at the Eyamba shrine, opposite the Duke Town church. I am the Chairman of all the Youth Leaders of the entire Efik kingdom, and was capped by Edidem Nta Elijah Henshaw. 

Please speak about the process of capping the new Obong.

You see, our people, because of selfish interest, sometimes leave what they are supposed to do, and do what they are not supposed to do. Edidem Bassey Ekpo Bassey was capped in a very conducive atmosphere, peaceful! In fact I would say that he was supported by the ancestors, God, the community.

You know, one funny thing people don’t understand is that we can act physically, but the spirit works in another way. As I am trying to say, government put on a police security in the shrine to protect the shine, for almost a month. But the day the Etuboms [heads of Royal Houses] and the chiefs capped Edidem Bassey Ekpo Bassey, police who were detailed to keep them off, were there. We know that the police were sent by government to secure the place, and normally they would have reacted, but since the ancestors, the gods of the land, even God himself, and even the late Obong was on his side, they opened way for him to go in and be capped, and did everything peacefully. For one hour and thirty minutes, nothing happened. In fact, after the capping, those policemen were part of security that secured his way to go. In fact some SSS [State Security Service] came, and there was no problem. Some representatives from State CIB [Crime Investigation Bureau] came. They reported to [the police] Commissioner instantly that the area was calm and quiet and conducive. There was nothing like stone throwing, or bottle breaking or whatever. In fact from that day, there was peace in the land. 

As a youth leader, I organize the youth, because normally, the youth are in support, and they have to be there. There is no crowning that the youths are not there. The environment is theirs; they have to be there to help in carrying one thing or another, to prepare the shrine, to go buy drinks, they are to help in many ways. I personally was there to control the youths. There is no Ekpe shrine activity that does not have youths there. When Edidem Bassey was capped, the youths were there, the police were there; there was no problem. No one pointed fingers at another. It was peaceful, as the gods were happy; the ancestors received him.

What about the capping of the second Obong a month later? 

Let me try correct one impression: there is no second Obong. That thing they were doing is a waste of time. Although I am thirty-seven years old, I have been in the system of Obongship since a small boy. Some time ago, Edidem Boco was capped; he was selected by the same Etuboms and others who selected Nta Henshaw. Eventually Nta Henshaw was approaching the Asabo shrine, but some people stopped Nta Henshaw on the way to the Asabo shrine, while they took Edidem Boco in and capped him. From that day he was Obong. That Henshaw did not press up with anybody to take him to the shrine for a second capping. Because in our tradition right from time, even when Edidem Eyo Bassey Adam was capped [in the past], he was brought to be capped while another person was brought to be capped, and there was war and bloodshed, and some people were taken to the hospital. 

So in Obongship, when the late Obong is dead, there are factions in the palace. Factions based upon interest. You will select someone you know will protect your interest. The question of ‘zoning’ [rotating selection by geographical region], fine, it is also there. When the Obongship is zoned to a particular place, if they don’t have anyone to present, all will be called to the palace, and the Etuboms of Efikland will be there, and will select from the conclave . . . 

After the capping of Edidem Bassey Ekpo Bassey in April 2008, we heard that some people were coming to be capped; we did not believe it would happen, because it has never been in our tradition. When they have a problem, after capping one person, they must go into dialog; I know there will be stress, but finally there must be dialog. 

So, the Otu people from the minority faction, they had people trained as militants, they had area boys as militants and they secured the Obong’s offices with police. Because the police were always with them. The first day they came to invade, they had police. Bayside is a place you cannot invade easily. Even if you have police, if you don’t have strong ammunition, you cannot invade Duke town and Cobham town easily. When they came, they came with one man named Umo Ebi, the man carried a pot of ‘concoction’ or juju; they said they came to ‘wash away’ the capping of Edidem Bassey. Something like that has never happened in the history of Efikland, so the security guards in Efe Asabo resisted them. They came with area boy militants from the palace backed by police. So our boys, who were very few, asked them what they were doing. They started to say they wanted to wash away . . . they wanted to bribe the boys and give them money. So these boys resisted. People woke up, and started to pursue them. So they brought out machetes, and started to machete them. The community resisted for some ten and twenty minutes, so the people from the palace went and called people from Operation MESA [a security patrol team of army and navy members], telling them that there were problems, so when MESA came in, these same palace militants invaded peoples houses and macheted people, they killed somebody. They cut an old woman and old men. The matter was reported to the Atakpa police station. You see, when a society is influenced by government, it is another thing because people can die anyhow, because nobody will like to say anything. Even the police who are protecting the area and the people . . . 

That was why I got up myself, because I am part of the security of that state. We had a security network there, vigilantes, and I set them, in the whole Calabar South, I set up the vigilante group, because we had some much violence, robbery, raping, and so many vices like that. So I got up one day to the former police commissioner [the one previous to the one just removed for crimes related to the invasion of the Efe Asabo], I went to him, he gave me permission to form a vigilante group in the whole Calabar South. So when these people came to invade Efe Asabo with machetes and killed somebody, and cut up an old woman, somebody who is supposed to be your mother, and old men, who are supposed to be your father, they cut. A lot of injuries were reported to the Atakpa police station, but they didn’t take any action, because, as we learned, these actions were supported by government, and even to that day they invaded, they were saying that this Obong that they intended to crown was supported by government. That government wants to show that they have power over anything, that they have power over tradition, that they can do anything. But as far as I know, government has no power in tradition, they have power in recognizing a traditional ruler by certification. So the first day, those youths who were security at the Efe Asabo repulsed them, and they came back with missiles. But you cannot fight an army, and those area boy militants came back with machetes and cut people. So Edidem Bassey Ekpo Bassey reported to the AIG [Assistant Inspector General] (zone six); but there was no response from the police. Another day, they invaded again. And they used police protection. In the morning when they invaded, because the youths at Efe Asabo were ready to resist, they had to take to Eyamba street and run back to the palace [in Henshaw town] . . . When I went to the shrine, I called the vigilantes I had formed and asked them. They said people were macheted, and one had died. They said that those people are trying to cap another Obong, and that they were paying the vigilante group I had formed as security (paid by Okon Etu) so as to be used in invading the Efe Asabo. So I rang the bell in the area throughout the streets, the community bell, the town crier, to tell them to stop them, because they are being used to invade the community. So they then asked why we didn’t go to the police to report, I replied that we had already reported many matters about the invasion of the Efe Asabo by Okon Etu and his people, but the police took no action. So if we go to report again, they will arrest me! Because the government were using them to intimidate us. Even as I am talking to you here, I am not safe! 

They accused me because they said I was one of those in the Efe Asabo when Edidim Bassey Ekpo Bassey was crowned. But I am an Efik indigene! I am entitled to interact in every Efik traditional activity. I am an Ekpe member. I am not a slave! Even if I’m a slave, they will take me as a servant to help them. So I have a free will to be in a traditional matter during traditional rites. That was when they were accusing me. I even learned that Ekpo Okon himself is annoyed with me personally! This was somebody that I know very well! I have been to him many times to help me employ many of our youths at Tinapa [a tourist and business center created by Governor Duke] for just labor jobs, but he refused. At the time I did not know that he was collecting N15,000 from each employee through one Mr. Sam Inok. Did he want me to cap him? But I am not a king-maker, so how can he have a grudge against me? I was even declared as ‘wanted’ in the government paper, the Chronicle. They invaded the shrine, they killed some people, they cut up members of the community, and we have not seen them, because the government is with them. They use that force to intimidate us. 

Ekpo Okon Otu should be somebody to pity about himself, because if he is were learned person in the history of Efik people, he could never commit such a sacrilege, because the ancestors are there watching. The people who committed that sacrilege should be sorry for themselves, because they have spoiled the tradition of Efik. But what they have done cannot stand, because it is fake. It has never happened, and can never happen. I am happy because some people are taking them to court. And the court, who knows the tradition, the court is straight forward; they don’t say ‘because you are rich, because you have power’. Some important personalities in Nigeria are behind bars, because of court. 

As far as I’m concerned , there’s no second capping in Calabar, what they are doing is just a mess. If something like that stands, it means that in the future, when an Obong dies and there are factions, one faction caps a person, and if government is not satisfied, government will cap their own person. So we will be having two Obongs! I will tell the whole world, a tradition that has stood for five hundred years cannot be changed because of government. In 1999, Governor Duke was not happy with the selection of the Obong, but he stuck to tradition, and recognized the Obong selected and capped. 

This thing they do is going to backfire, because of the ancestors. Because you have violated the law of the land. It is not a matter of Bassey Ekpo Bassey. 

I don’t know why they hate Bassey Ekpo Bassey, and this is somebody who capped the last Obong. Many of our Efik people are very ungrateful people. Bassey is somebody who fights for the poor, he is somebody they know in grassroots, who if he has ten naira, he’ll give it to you and pass hunger. I’m telling you gospel truth. Go into Calabar, and find out who is Bassey Ekpo Bassey. This is somebody different from other Efik people, before God and man. This is somebody who cares for the aged, for the youth, and the middle income men. Even if you are rich, you go there and he’ll share with you. Our people are self-centered. That is why we have important things to yet to sell out in tourism, we have great things in Efik kingdom which have not yet materialized. We cannot sit together to achieve the goal, because we do not love each other. ‘Because I want to be, let it always be in my side’. This kind of mentality is the problem. Government wants ‘yes men’. They will give power to somebody they can control. Because they know Bassey Ekpo Bassey as Obong of Calabar will not be someone to be controlled like others, that he has principles.

The government should know we should look for those who will take care of the youths, to have a peaceful tomorrow. Because if we don’t, there will be more violence. 

Their belief is not to develop, their belief is to take control of the money and keep it selfishly. 

To finalize, the second capping has no place in Efik kingdom; Otu should be ashamed to be used by people who are selfish. It has no effect. Bassey Ekpo Bassey is king for the rest of his life. 

My plea is that the State Judiciary should know they are the last hope for a common man as other states in Nigeria are steadfast, I believe Cross River State own will not be different. 

As a matter of fact, we should keep watch, because the ancestors, the gods, and even the God Almighty are working. The Efiks must keep watching because it will be an international embarrassment to Ekpo Otu and his self-centered greedy peoples after the court judgment very soon. Judiciary is one, even if the matter will be taken to Abuja, all sons and sundry of Nigeria must respect their ruling. But in our Cross River State, the only rule of law that was respected by our governor was the rule of law of tribunal. 

I will advise Ekpo Otu that if your master, the State Governor — who broke the rule of law for recognizing you as Obong of Calabar, even when he promised to wait for the outcome of the matter at court — is removed by tribunal and he succumbs, you should know that you also will be removed. Don’t you think yours can attract jail term?


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