The Supreme Court of Nigeria has released its 42 page judgement of January 13 confirming that the Obong of Calabar ,Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V stands sacked as the Obong.
The judgment which was signed by Justice Amina Adamu Augie, and made available to newsmen in Calabar yesterday also confirmed that the Appellant, Etubom Anthony Ani stands a chance contesting in the fresh election but since he was not duly capped and recognized by the Obong in council that may hinder him but however confirmed that the deposed Obong though ran fowl of the selection process is still legible to contest the fresh election in accordance with the law of the traditional institution of the palace.
Since the judgement, there have been misinformation and spurious claims in a section of the media that the Supreme Court reaffirmed Edidem Abasi Otu as Obong but to put the records straight, the Supreme Court in its judgement rejected such claims saying the Obong stands removed.
The Supreme Court said, “the Court of Appeal may have found that first Respondent (Abasi Otu) qualified to contest for the Stool, however, it held as follows on the issue of fair hearing:
“From the only evidence available to the High Court, the only impression that a reasonable man would have of the process by which the 1st Appellant (Abasi Otu) became a candidate not nominated by his Ruling House, who was screened by his Vice-Chairman, and was furtively recommended as the most suitable candidate for selection as the Obong of Calabar, is that Appellants of the second set of appeal (Etubom Traditional council) used their positions in Western Council unfairly to the disadvantage of 1st Respondent (Ani) in breach of the pillar of natural justice that a person should not be a Judge in his own cause.
“Since the evidence of the 2nd Appellant (Etubom Okon Asuquo of the Etubom Traditional council) was that the 1st screening of 1st Respondent (Ani) was cancelled, and he was not notified of the cancellation and afforded the opportunity to be screened again when another screening exercise was conducted by 2nd Appellant on another date for other candidates, 1st Respondent was undoubtedly denied the right to be heard in the selection process that led to proclamation of 1st Appellants as the Obong”.
The Supreme Court relying on the judgement of the Appeal Court further held that even the protest by Ani on irregularities in the process, as per Exhibit 6, “was without any concern to fairness, disregarded by the Etuboms Council of the Palace of the Obong, who are the king makers by Exhibit 5, which did not answer or respond to the complaint in respect of the screening but simply replied the request for presentation of 1st Respondent (Abasi Otu) for capping to the Etuboms Council.
“In these circumstances, how can the Appellants (Etubom traditional council) in good conscience, claim and maintain that the 1st Respondent (Ani) was afforded a fair hearing or that the selection process, which ended in the proclamation of the 1st Appellant (Abasi otu) did not breach the essential requirements of natural Justice, merely on the ground that the name of the 1st Respondent (Ani) was used by them in the process as having participated therein.
“No, natural justice for a reasonable man, required that Appellants (Etubom traditional council) provide factual basis and evidence that indeed, the 1st Respondent (Ani) was afforded the opportunity to be heard and that to controvert the facts and evidence of 1st Respondent and even by the Appellants, show that the Appellants were not Judges or adjudicators in their own cause.
“Let me point out that the positions occupied by Appellants in Western Calabar would not ipso facto disqualify them from being properly nominated by their respective families and participation in the selection of an Obong. But the way and manner they used their position in the process was contrary to the dictates and fundamentals of natural justice. For that reason, I find myself In agreement with the High Court and learned Senior Counsel (Joe Agi) for the 1st – 5th Respondents (Ani and others) that for breaching the 1st – 5th Respondents’ right to fair hearing and essential elements of natural justice, the selection was not only defective but vitiated by the breach.
“In other words, the trial Court and Court of Appeal were ad idem that the way and manner in which the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) was selected and proclaimed the Obong of Calabar was not in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and I totally agree. Natural justice implies fairness and all that is reasonable. Prof. Ben Nwabueze, in his book Military Rule and Social Justice in Nigeria published in 1993, opined that justice “means acting fairly towards others without bias or partiality, and without harming their interests”.
The Judge further stated: “as the Court of Appeal asked, in these circumstances, can the two sets of Respondents (Abasi Otu and Etubom Traditional council) in good conscience, claim and maintain that the first Appellant (Ani) was afforded a fair hearing or that the selection process, which ended in the proclamation of the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) as the Obong of Calabar, did not breach the essential requirements of natural justice? The answer is that they cannot.
“It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly agree with the Court of Appeal that the selection and proclamation of the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) as the Obong-elect, on 31/3/2008 must be set aside. But it is my view that the justice of this case demands that the Western Calabar Traditional Council, which was mandated to select an Etubom from amongst themselves, ‘who shall be the new Obong”, should go back to the drawing board, and start the process on a clean slate.
“This is because the way and manner in which the first Respondent was selected and proclaimed the Obong of Calabar, polluted the selection process, or should I say muddied the waters, so that there is no clear view of when and where to say this far and no more in the process of selecting the next Obong. In the circumstances, the best way to go is for the Western Council to conduct another process to select an Etubom, who shall be the new Obong of Calabar”.
The Supreme Court however concluded that “the end result of the foregoing is that this Appeal lacks merit and it is, hereby, dismissed. I affirm the decision of the Court of Appeal, particularly the order made setting aside the selection and proclamation of first Respondent (Abasi Otu) as the Obong-elect by Etuboms Conclave of the Palace of the Obong of Calabar.
“I also order that the Western Calabar Traditional Rulers Council shall conduct another process to select an Etubom from amongst themselves, including the first Respondent (Abasi Otu), who shall be the next Obong of Calabar, in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Etuboms Council, Palace of the Obong of Calabar, January 2002, and in strict compliance with rules of natural justice”.
Etubom Ani, M.O.N and others in Suit No. HC/102/2008, filed by his lead counsel, Mr. Joe Agi, SAN, sued Edidem Abasi Otu and others in their capacities as members of the Etuborns’ Traditional Council for jettisoning the screening process of the Western Calabar under the then Chairman, Etubom Abasi-Otu and won but lost at appeal in 2013 and Supreme Court last week upheld the Appeal court judgement.