In the last one year, it has not been at ease at the Ekpe Efik Society because of the lingering crisis that has engulfed it. Ugo Aliogor reports
There has been a festering crisis in the ranks of the Ekpe Efik Society in Calabar, Cross River State. Ekpe can be described as the ancient traditional order and government that regulated the affairs of the people in the geographical area you have the Efiks, Quas and Efuts in pre-colonial era, now majorly found in present day Cross River State.
The crux of the matter in the Ekpe Efik society crisis has been alleged recalcitrant attitude of a few members of the society who belong to one of the Efe Ekpe (Ekpe lodge), namely Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan.
They reportedly undertook some actions and rites that were adjudged abominable and were accordingly fined and placed on sanctions.
Their alleged misdeeds started when on November 26th, 2016, a full member of the Etubom’s traditional council and an obong ekpe of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan (name withheld) died suddenly and in the aftermath of the burial wherein, full traditional rites were accorded the deceased before his interment, the now embattled Ekpe Efik society members of Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, thought otherwise, questioning the full traditional rites accorded the deceased etubom, (again name withheld).
In their opposition, they did not state nor disclose the alleged offence of the deceased. Rather one of them announced during one of the series of meetings held after the burial, saying that two Ekpe title holders, (names also withheld), have been stripped of their title.
The decision was adjudged as unilateral and the two victims followed historical antecedent as was recorded in similar incidents in 1922 and 1953 and even in 2016. They appealed their case to Efe Ekpe Otu Mesembe – Efe Adiabo.
Bearing in mind the gravity of the allegations contained in the appeal, Efe Adiabo wrote to Efe Iboku Utan informing them of the case and also wrote inviting all other Efe Ekpe from Efik, Qua and Efut to participate in the hearing which was held on January 14th, 2017.
Seventeen Ekpe lodges and over 50 Mbong Ekpe (Ekpe Lords) from Efik, Qua and Efut showed up in the meeting. The Appellants also showed up but the Respondents from efe ekpe Iboku Utan did not show up but rather sent a letter stating that they were autonomous and no group had the right to sit in judgment over them among others.
The Ekpe lords considered Iboku Utans letter to be an affront since they (Iboku Utan) had fully participated in a similar tribunal at the same venue, less than a year before. They decided to write another invitation to Iboku Utan and postponed the hearing to January 28th, 2017.
On the said date, Iboku Utan did not show up again or offer any excuse so the Ekpe Lords from different lodges sat together, deliberated on the content of the appeal before them and came to the following conclusions:
That no Iyamba (head of Efe Ekpe) has the right to sit alone and strip fellow Ekpe lords of their titles, without first accusing them properly and giving them an opportunity to defend themselves. Noting that the Iyamba is the first among equals and not a principality unto himself.
That no Iyamba has the right to deny a deceased member Passover rites, most especially where such a member has neither been formally accused of any infraction nor judged on the table and sanctioned while he was alive.
That Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan is not the private property of Eyamba family or the Offiong Okoho line nor any individual. Rather that every efe ekpe is the property of a village or collection of family lines.
That an efe ekpe Iboku Utan should not be made a cemetery. No other Efe in Efik, Qua or Efut carries out such a practice and when you juxtapose alleged secret burials inside Efe Iboku Utan with reported cases of incense and candle burning, and other paraphernalia of occult practice, than what is going on there is no longer Ekpe as Efik, Qua and Efut know it.
That the current practice of ensuring that only Eyamba family hold and perform all important roles and rituals in Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan is wrong and condemnable.
For all the wrongdoings and most importantly for being insulting and refusing to appear before all other ekpe lodges, efe ekpe Iboku Utan was fined three cows (one each for Efik, Qua and Efut) as well as other items, and they were given one month within which to pay the Ekpe fine.
The efe ekpe Iboku Utan was also placed under combined, universal ekpe sanction, meaning that all other ekpe lodges and initiates shall not invite, visit, sit, play or interact with Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan or its outcast Mbong Ekpe, in any ekpe related matter until they comply with the sanctions and correct their ways.
In defiant response to counter the decision taken on them, the outcast ekpe lords of efe ekpe Iboku Utan now issued their own fine against the other ekpe lodges demanding for seven cows and seven goats and some money among other items while giving seven days for the payment of the fine.
They followed up this action by defiantly announcing on the radio that they had stripped more of their ekpe lords (names withheld) of their titles. They did many other things in defiance and independently initiated many young men and gave titles to several new lords to make up for the members removed.
They are also accused of promoting a current spin and an attempt to give a narrative to drag in the Obong of Calabar who, though a member of the Ekpe society, his office and Palace matters, are treated differently from Ekpe matters that are handled only in the respective Ekpe lodge or lodges.
They did this by using one of the paraphernalia used for coronation of the Obong in a manner that reportedly upset a large cross section of Efiks who claimed it was a sacrilege and traditional death-wish against the Obong.
In affirmation of the severity of the issue at hand, the Ekpe lords from various lodges met again in June 2017 and released an Ekpe masquerade which has not been seen in public for the last 100 years, along with a solemn 200-man procession to counter what Efe Iboku Utan had done and also make a traditional public announcement to ekpe members, dissociating the rest of Ekpe Efik from Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, till further notice. The procession took place in Calabar and Creektown, the first ancestral settlement of the Efiks.
Subsequently, Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan members have variously accused the other Ekpe lodges and Obong’s Palace, both verbally and on social media of “pouring of Mbiam” – a form of spiritual attack against them and conspiring to steal or kill Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan’s Ekpe.
In July 2017, they wrote a petition to the police against the heads of some of the Ekpe lodges, who are members of Obong’s Palace, accusing them of conspiring to break into their shrine and causing them “spiritual attacks”.
The other 17 lodges, on the other hand, have dismissed the accusations as childish and clear proof that the young men currently in charge at Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan are novices.
They also lament that all this is happening because the Iyamba of the Efe ekpe Iboku Utan who could have called them to order is over 94 years old, and is said to be frail and hardly seen in public.
So far in the past one year, the Obong’s Palace corroborated the decision of other 17 Ekpe lodges by announcing that all Efik Royal Families shall no longer invite some individuals from Efe Iboku Utan to take part in certain activities of the Palace until they show remorse and pay the various fines imposed on them.
Within the period Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan has not been invited to any Ekpe gathering or function in Efik, Qua or Efut land by any of the other 17 lodges that took the decision to sanction them.
Within the period also, individual Ekpe lord from Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan are not allowed to sit with other Ekpe lords in any Ekpe gathering.
None of the Ekpe lords, newly given titles by efe ekpe Iboku Utan are recognised by Ekpe Efik, Efut and Qua and they cannot sit in any Ekpe gathering apart from those organised by Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan or they risk being seriously embarrassed.
Also of note is the fact that Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan were not invited to the famous Nyoro Ekpe ceremony (where they had won a prize in 2016) which takes place annually in Botanical Garden, Calabar and attracts large numbers of ekpe lodges and skilled ekpe practitioners from other states and countries.
However, going forward over the debacle, the Police was brought in as stated earlier and after their investigation, they noted their limitation in interference on traditional matters but admonished one party to respect tradition while advising both parties to be law abiding and keep the peace.
Several well-meaning people and socio-cultural organisations in Calabar have also tried to intervene in the crisis by appealing for forgiveness, show of remorse and perhaps a lowering of the fine imposed on Iboku Utan as a way forward.
Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan, however, appears to be insisting that every ekpe lodge is autonomous and therefore no gathering of ekpe lodges has the right to sanction them or impose any fine on them. They have even threatened to go to court over the issue.
On the other hand, the 17 lodges say Ekpe has regulated itself for over 600 years and the corrective sanctions and fine remain in place until Efe Ekpe Iboku Utan takes the proper traditional steps to realign themselves with Ekpe Efik or they shall remain on their own with no interaction with other ekpe lodges until further notice.
One year after the crisis ensued, it seems the way forward is still very cloudy and the crisis still festering!