ESIT EKET DEVELOPMENT FORUM
For the Record
The Ekid people of Eket and Esit Eket Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State under the aegis of ESIT EKET DEVELOPMENT FORUM have read with amusement several false and fraudulent claims made by the Ibeno people over the Ekid ancestral land– the 310 Sq Km Stubbs Creek Forest (hereinafter referred to as the Stubbs Creek), (traditionally called Ikoiyak, Akoiyak or Okoiyak by Ekid people), which our forefathers won in the highest court in the world, the privy council, against their land grabbing tenants, the Ibeno since 1918. Colonial records show, in support of Ekid oral tradition, that the Ibeno people are recent refugee settlers on Ekid land for which they paid land rent to Ekid people. The Stubbs Creek was not part of the area that our forefathers granted to them as court records and official colonial documents show. But whereas in their frivolous claims to Ekid land, the Ibeno have always avoided citing any of the available plethora of authorities on this land because they favour Ekid.
These misleading Ibeno claims are contained in several disparate press statements, social media contents, petitions, and paid newspaper adverts, of which we shall respond to each points as if same were set out herein and traversed seriatim:
In Ibeno petition to His Excellency Mr. Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State, dated 26 July 2021 and signed by Chief William Mkpah, Executive Chairman, Ibeno Local Government Area, he claimed that Ibeno had lived in their present location for centuries and fought great wars since the 1600s against the Ekid and other people to preserve their land, one of such historic war, they claim was the Ibeno/Jaja war of “1884”, which they claim the Ibeno fought gallantly.
The Ibeno for the first time in history, to spite their Ekid customary landlords, claim in 2021, that Ibeno donated to our ancestors the territory occupied by the Ekid people.
This is an insult taken too far by refugees to whom our forefathers showed benevolence. It is not surprising that High Chief William Mkpah does not know the facts of his people’s history but is making mere empty noise like an empty vessel that he is. If William Mkpah wants his people’s history he should ask Ekid people who are their landlords.
By taking back their history in retrospect to the 1600s, it is a futile effort to claim, against official colonial records, that the Ibeno has been in their present abode for such a long time.
THE TRUE DOCUMENTED IBENO HISTORY
Ibeno is one of the very few human groups in Akwa Ibom State with a well documented history that cannot be twisted today under the cloud of successful falsehood. This is because the Ibeno arrived their present abode after the coming of the Europeans by which time intelligence reports on the local population which dictated the European commercial policy, and latter the colonial policy in the area, had been well documented.
According to folklore supported by anthropological findings , the Ibeno people are not older that 270 years in their present location, which is too young a period for a community. Whereas anthropological findings place the Ekid, ONNA, Ubium etc people in their location at 8000 BC—10,000 years ago. The truth is that Ibeno people are refugee settlers on part of Eket and ONNA land. And they know it. They were expelled from Andoni for land grabbing tendencies.
Dr. P. A. Talbot, a British colonial administrator in Southern Nigeria, an anthropologist and historian, in his well researched work entitled “Life in Southern Nigeria” published in 1923, wrote in page 287 thereof, that –
“Ibeno, as previously mentioned, are recent settlers in this part of the world, wither they are said to have fled the persecution of Bonny kings, about 200 years ago.”
In page viii, Talbot wrote that except as expressly stated, all the facts given in the book were corroborated (confirmed) by several witnesses. Principal among these witnesses was David Ekong, the first educated Ibeno man, first Christian and first clergy of Akwa Ibom State origin, and servant to the Rev. Samuel Bill, founder of Qua Ibo Church.
In page 288, Talbot wrote that the Ibeno kept paying tribute (as customary tenants) to the Ekid people ( in his own words “till government came.”). That is, till colonial administration was established and stopped such practices seen as human enslavement. In page 287, it is recorded that the village head of Afaha Eket, Chief Edoho, used to collect on behalf of Ekid, elephant tusks from the Ibeno once they killed an elephant. It is a known custom among the Ibibio that tenants were not entitled to elephant tusks, but only the carcass. Tusks belonged to the land overlords. In Ibibio culture, elephant tusk is a very important item of cultural significance as symbol of authority and overlordship. Hence every village and clan of Ibibioland has at least an elephant tusk (Nnuk Enin) as symbol of autonomy, government and authority. Those without authority over the land on which they settled had no right to keep Nnuk Enin.
In page 287; Para 4, the colonial administrator recorded that at a certain time, the Ibeno failed to hand over to the Ekid chiefs the elephant tusks, and that Chief Edoho arrested a number of Ibeno men, bound and detained them until the tusks were handed over with a heavy fine.
It is quite preposterous that with these indisputable historical facts, the Ibeno, our customary tenants who only stopped paying land rent to Ekid people in or about 1886 when the colonial government stopped the practice, are now challenging the offsprings of their benefactors with an insulting attempt to recreate history and to annoy.
OWNERSHIP OF STUBBS CREEK.
In 1910 just about 20 years after the Ibeno had stopped paying land rent to Ekid, two Ibeno villages of Mkpanak and Upenekang connived to grab Stubbs Creek an Ekid ancestral land. The case went to the Supreme Court at Calabar, now High Court.
In a well considered judgment delivered by an English Judge, Justice A. F. C. Webber in February 1916, the claim of both Mkpanak and Upenekang to the Stubbs Creek was dismissed as unsubstantiated and falsehood. The learned trial judge declared that Ekid had been able to proof ownership. This case is reported in the 1910 edition of the Nigerian Law Report cited as Ntiaro and Ikpak VS Ibok Etok Akpan & Edohoekit (1910)3 NLR 10.
It must be noted that Rev. S. A. Bill who was living at Upenekang was subpoenaed (compulsorily invited by court) to testify on the side of truth. Rev. Bill testified that when he arrived Ibeno in 1887, he did not see the Ibeno people ever exercising any right of ownership over the land in dispute, except Ekid people. Based on this testimony of a neutral witness — a Whiteman without any interest in the dispute of local people, which testimony supported the Ekid evidence, the Supreme Court of Calabar arrived at the finding of fact that Ekid are owners of Stubbs Creek.
The Ibeno appeal to the West African Court of Appeal was dismissed by the full court of three judges in October 1916.
Ibeno further appealed to the privy council in London , then the highest appellate court in the British Empire. Again the full court of three judges dismissed their frivolous claim and affirmed the court of appeal judgment on 24th October 1918 in Appeal No. 139 of 1918 between Ntiaro & Another VS. Ibok Etok Akpan & EdohoEkit. Customary title to Stubbs Creek thus vested in Ekid.
The effect of the 1918 privy council judgment is that Ibeno is estopped or barred under the legal principle of res judicata from ever reasserting claim to a whole or any part of Stubbs Creek against Ekid forever.
IBENO FUTILE ATTEMPTS TO DEFEAT THE PRIVY COUNCIL JUDGMENT.
When Brig. General U. J. Esuene, an Ekid man became military governor of the defunct South Eastern State (hereinafter abbreviated SES) from 1967 to 1975, he appointed an Ibeno man, Barr, Akpanika M. Ukot, (latter clan head of Ibeno), as the state Attorney General, unknowingly that the man had hidden agenda. Esuene as a professional soldier did not the fraudulent legal manipulations applied on him by his cunning, fraud minded Attorney General.
In 1972 Barr. Ukot fraudulently, misleding the military governor drafted an Edict wherein he listed Stubbs Creek under Ibeno clan. Eket people protested and the governor repealed the law. The repealment of that fraudulent law is what Ibeno elders are misleading their youths today that Esuene took Ibeno land for his Ekid kinsmen, without telling them the 1918 judgment and the customary tenancy status of Ibeno.
OLATAWURA COMMISSION OF INQUIRY /TRIBUNAL.
The U. J. Esuene regime was overthrown in 1975. Barr. Ukot remained the Attorney General and after efforts to make a secret law ceding Stubbs Creek to Ibeno had failed , he advised the new governor, Col. Paul Omu to set up a commission of Inquiry /land tribunal which one of the terms of reference crafted by Ukot himself was to determine the ownership of Stubbs Creek! But whereas extra judicial bodies such as tribunals and commissions of inquiry have no jurisdiction to determine questions of land ownership. The commission set up was the OLATAWURA COMMISSION of 1976/77. How can ownership question settled by the law court generations back, be submitted again for determination of same question? This is strange to law. Barr. Ukot’s desparation could be clearly seen.
However, the Ekid legal team led by Barr. Manfred A. Ekpe, and included G. A. Ikott, Esq, shut down the fraudulent tricks and attempt to go around the 1918 judgement to vest the Stubbs Creek on Ibeno by an extra judicial body. The commission abruptly wound up.
It must be noted that in other to fight Ekid successfully, Ukot joined force with Oro people, and invited the Mbo people to assert claim to parts of Stubbs Creek, while Ibeno would go for a part. And since crude oil had been found there in the 1960s, the Oro people for the first time in history, in 1970 started laying claims to some oil wells within the Stubbs Creek in their memo to the Akilu Commission of Inquiry.
We can see how disparate Barr. Ukot was, to take Ekid land by all means even if it meant by acts of illigality and fraud. Eket legal team had challenged whosoever felt that Stubbs Creek belonged to them to go to court. Hence Oro filed a case challenging Ekid ownership thereof in the high court in that year 1977, first time in hundreds of years after Ekid people had occupied Stubbs Creek to the knowledge of Oro people. However, Oro people knowing that they had no good claim to the land, abandoned the case for 44 years now. The Ibeno and Oro know that they can’t get Stubbs Creek by legal means except by fraud and violence, which cannot help them either .
THE AKPATA COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
In 1993 Ibeno started an armed attack against Ekid villages and fishing settlements in Okposo within the Stubbs Creek. Resulting from the crisis, the Babangida regime set up the Akpata Commission of Inquiry to, among others, determine the remote and immediate causes of the crises.
Upon hearing about the commission, Mbo people of Oro nation also applied to join as interested parties, and were joined. The commission’s finding in it’s report was that Ekid were owners of Stubbs Creek. Neither Ibeno nor Mbo were found entitled to the land.
Hence today Ibeno and Oro avoid mentioning the Akpata Commission Report like a plaque, nor any other authority whenever they spin their falsehood on the Stubbs Creek ownership matter. They keep spreading malicious propaganda without any authoritative foundation.
In recent times several courts of law both the federal and state high courts have declared in a plethora of cases that by the 1918 judgement, Ekid is the sole owner of Stubbs Creek. For want of space, we shall cite only the recent decision in the federal high court sitting at Uyo, in suit no. FHC/UY/CS/53/2003, at page 43, where the learned Justice E. S. Chukwu declared that by the 1918 privy council judgment, Ekid is entitled to the exclusive ownership of Stubbs Creek.
THE 1881 JAJA/IBENO WAR
High Chief William Mkpah in his said petition to the governor dated 26 July 2021, claimed that Ibeno fought the great Jaja of Opobo in 1884 to fend him off colonizing Ibeno. What a futile effort to invent heroism for a people recorded by the colonial masters as being very timid and docile. See page 287 of Talbot’s “Life in Southern Nigeria.”
Again, there was no Ibeno /Jaja war in 1884, but in 1881. It was not war per se for territory, but Jaja’s military campaign to punish the Ibeno for trade disagreement . The Ibeno were weak and timid, could not defend themselves but only set up vigilantes to watch when Jaja’s army would arrive. Upon the army’s arrival on 11 April 1881, the Ibeno including their bravest man, Chief Uko Utong, village head of Okorutip, a, so called Ibeno war leader, bolted into the forest without any resistance, of which he was captured in his hiding place like a snail, and beheaded along with his son, Nso. The Ibeno hid in the forest for months until the Europeans negotiated with Jaja to withdraw because Jaja had stationed his army at Ibeno to ensure they never came out from the bush.
These histories are well documented in colonial government official records. It is recorded that many Ibeno people died in the forest for hunger. Jaja only spared Ibeno after they had timidly signed an undertaken to become Jaja’s slaves forever. This undertaken is recorded in the British Official Papers FO 84/1630 of 1881, and reads–
“we the undersigned representatives of Qua Iboe people, hereby declare that we are authorized to acknowledge Jaja as our king, and to crave his protection and place ourselves under his authority for all times coming.”
Are these people who fought gallantly? By boasting of gallantry and courage they do not have, the Ibeno leaders are only using psychological manipulation on their youths so as to bask in the euphoria of nonexistent courage to execute tribal wars against their neighbours as is customary of them. In the days of physical strength for survival they had no required military might. But in this era of intellectual might, they adopt primitivity to grab people’s land since the law, intellectual and historical engagement can’t favour them, as newcomers to Akwa Ibom State. Hence in all the lies they spin on the conventional and new media, they cannot cite one authority that vests Stubbs Creek on them.
Ibeno people should not feel that because the Ekid people as law abiding citizens have ignored their treachery and insult on the collective mien of Ekid people for so long, that we are weak or that the courage of our forebears is no longer running in our DNA. Ibeno should be instructed that the same colonial masters who saw their forefathers as weak and cowardly, saw the Ekid forefathers as the most sporting tribe imaginable from the military point of view.
Let us take time to remind the Ibeno, children of timid ancestors, what a colonial master, Mr. A. C. Dauglas, who described Ekid as very wild Ibibios in his letter dated 9th February 1914, said of the Ekid forefathers, “But it took seven separate expeditions (wars) to reduce these truculent savages to order… for they had a wonderful knack of bobbing up again and giving trouble after being beaten, and from the military point of view, are the most sporting tribe imaginable…”. Life in Southern Nigeria, P. 296. (words in bracket, ours).
We want to hereby warn the Ibeno people that continued burning down and destruction of our houses at Stubbs Creek must stop forthwith. They should not push us to the wall into self defense.
The Ibeno MUST COME TO TERMS WITH THE REALITY THAT THE QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP OF STUBBS CREEK HAD BEEN SETTLED BY THE HIGHEST COURT IN THE WORLD SINCE 104 YEARS AGO IN 1918. They should come to terms with the reality that the question of ownership can never be reopened forever in accordance with the established principles of law.
We may be forced to demand that they go back to where ever they came from, their rent having expired since 1886.
Manfred Ekpe, Esq
(Legal adviser 3, Esit Eket Development Forum)