Calabar - The Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar on Thursday nullified the March 31, 2008 selection and proclamation of Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu as the Obong of Calabar.
The court gave the ruling in a judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Garba assisted by Justices Uzo Ndukwe-Anyawu and Onyekachi Otisi.
The court also upheld an earlier judgment of the lower court that due process was not followed and that the selection of the incumbent was null and void.
It also ordered for a new selection process for the enthronement of the Obong of Calabar.
The judgment followed an appeal filed by Etubom Essien Ekpenyony Efiok, Etubom Okon Asuquo and Etubom Micah Archibong against the lower court’s judgment.
Garba said, "The selection and proclamation of the 6th respondent as the Obong-elect of Calabar by the Etubom Conclave of the Palace of the Obong on 31st march, 2008 is hereby set aside.
"The conclave 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.’’
According to the court the process of selecting a new Obong of Calabar should be done "in strict compliance with the rules of natural justice’’.
Garba said that the first respondent, Etubom Anthony Ani’s, right to fair hearing was breached during the selection process conducted by the appellants.
"For the breach of principles of natural justice and the first respondent’s right to fair hearing, the selection process conducted by the appellants which culminated in the selection and proclamation of the 6th respondent by the Etubom’s Council represented by the appellants is hereby set aside.
Garba also set aside the High Court’s 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”.
He also ruled that the first respondent who admittedly was not capped/inducted into the Etubom’s Council of the palace of the Obong at the time of the selection process was not qualified and eligible to vote and be voted for as the Obong.
It will be recalled that a Calabar High Cout Judge, Justice Obojor Ogar, had in suit, HC/102/2008 on Jan. 30, 2012, brought by Ani, restrained Otu from participating in the selection process.
The lower court also 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 specifically restrained Otu from parading himself as the Obong of Calabar until proper election was done.
The judge also restrained the Etubom Traditional Council from excluding Ani and Mbiabo Ikoneto from any election or selection of an Obong.
In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) after the judgment Ani, a former minister of Finance, said he would take the matter to the Supreme Court for further arbitration.
"I was not in court and my lawyer just briefed me. So far, I see the ruling as 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,’’ he said.
Counsel to Otu, A.A Archi, said, "The judgement is a vindication that capping is a fundamental requirement for a candidate to be eligible 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 recognised customs of Efik people which would have affected the lives and people of the community.
"It is also a vindication that the 6th respondent was eligible to be selected and appointed as Obong although the court nullified the processes.
"But we are still confident that the he will, after due processes have been followed, still emerge.
Counsel to Ani, Bassey Offiong, who stood in for Joe Agi (SAN), commended the court for its judgment.
He 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 Obong 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.
"It also ordered that a new process be undertaken. We will study the judgment and later decide what to do next,’’ he said. (NAN)