Beyond the history of Efik Royalty

Being speech delivered by Chief (Dr) Ambrose Akpanika, Guest Speaker, at the Launching of a Book – “The Efik People” by Effiong Ukpong Aye, at the African Club on Saturday 20th October, 2001

*Father of the day, His Excellency, Chief Donald Duke, Governor of Cross River State,

*Chairman of the occasion, Chief (Dr) Eyo Etim Nyong,

*Chief Launcher, Chief Austin Tomuno Dorgu,

*Traditional Rulers & Chiefs,

*My Lords, Spiritual and Temporal,

*Members of the Print & Electronic Media,

*Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen,

Let me start by recognizing and commending specially the humble man of no special description, erudite Scholar and unparalleled Teacher, unsung Patriot and Thinker. I have in mind – the undesignated Guest of Honour for this celebration of ideas, CHIEF EFFIONG UKPONG AYE, for providing us with this opportunity to have a brief overview of the progress made by our people from the Kingdom of Old Calabar to the present.

For a fuller understanding of our position, it is important to note that whatever history recorded as contributions made by Calabar and its people, whether as Empire or Kingdom of Old Calabar, or even Calabar as a county, were easily the achievement of the Efiks, who are reputed to have “founded a famous Kingdom of 12 City-States by about 1000 AD.”

It is clear that the stories of the Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar so elaborately catalogued and eulogized, both in Nigeria and overseas, were not merely the history of wealthy royalties, who lived and died. The focal point of attraction to the world was the enviable culture and civilization of the Efiks that commanded tremendous influence over Calabar and its neighbours.

Calabar was “Obio Efik,” the home of the Efik man, and everybody wanted to belong to Calabar. Long after the dissolution of the provinces, our Efik-speaking neighbours far and wide would love to identify themselves with pride as Calabar people in far away ‘countries.’

Calabar was identified with civilized culture (courtesy of the Efiks), characterized by lavish hospitality and trust-worthiness, peace and decorum.  You could see this in their peaceful dance reflections after the maggot; you would admire their respectful language diction and vocalizing style; their food would comprise of captivating varieties of super-salivating delicacies; their dressing, whether for the male or female, would be unique and elegant.

Above all, their interaction is inundated with inter-personal or group courtesies – they would never admit of poverty, but would remain content with their bit. These were qualities for our neighbours to admire and emulate. These were part of our tradition of which our Kings and Chiefs, the royalties, were custodians.

Our people were hard working; they were fishermen, farmers and great merchants. They craved for education, and competed effectively. This enterprise was attractive to investors, and Calabar soon became easily one of the greatest trading posts on the West Coast. The serenity and peace of the environment was to attract colonial government establishments.

Calabar, thus, served in many capacities as the Headquarters of the Colonial Administration on the West African Coast, Headquarters of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, Headquarters of the Niger-Coast Protectorate and Capital of the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria. These were fortresses of development.

The decline started from when Calabar moved from being the Headquarters of the larger Calabar Province of the Colonial days to that of one-division Province post-independence. Calabar also changed status from being capital of a larger Cross River State to the headquarters of a smaller Cross River State. It is possible for the sphere of influence of Calabar to reduce further in the future.  It cannot, however, be posited that these changes in geo-political portfolio is responsible for the decline in socio-economic and political development of our people.

Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, visiting Calabar for a social function in the 1990s declared, “Calabar has disappointed the promise of history.” He was reacting to the desolate nature of tire community that once paraded the best in human and material resources that Nigeria could boast of.

The Efik man keeps referring to the history of his forefathers. He talks about his genealogy and his blue blood. They have no heroes. Every family is a royalty – everybody is a prince or princess. But they had lost the ethos of the community – what made the forefathers tick. The princely acts and demeanor were golden and served as community – watch in the days of old.

Today, enterprise is no longer the cornerstone of our community-life.  What is rife is unhealthy jealousy and empty strife. Education has lost its patronage from among our people, especially the male members of our community.  Their patronage is high and total in the celebrations of death, Chieftaincy, and Marriages, and in flaunting the genealogy of their birth. He is the son of somebody but he is nobody. This is why Calabar has ‘disappointed the promise of history.’ Today, our people have no business with real community effort and strife.

Effiong Ukpong Aye, in his book, “Old Calabar Through The Centuries” (1967), had this to say on the decline of Old Calabar:

“The Calabar community has for some time now been exposed to dissolution through the growth of too much individualism and personal aloofness from the affairs of one’s home-land, and both make co-operation impossible and expose the community to the dangers of rapid ossification and intellectual lethargy.”

By 1967, when our eminent scholar came out with these positios, it could only have sounded prophetic and ominous. Today, the situation is fully with us our yuths, especially the men-folk, have been taken over by violent secret cult societies imported into our land by stranger elements that, because of our community dissolutions, have easily jettisoned the civilizing influence of the Efik community. Rather than imbibing our culture, we now imbibe the culture imported by strangers to our land.

Some people argue that the Efiks are few – not numbering up to 300,000. So, we could be cheated, we could be out-maneuvered, we could be defeated, and we could be beaten. This is far from being the truth, considering the facts of history. Our forefathers were relatively very few in the days of empire building, yet they built an enviable empire that remains a reference point in the history of Nigeria.

The Romans built an empire that annexed other nations and insisted, “When you go to Rome, behave as the Romans.” The case of Britain should always be our reference point, when the small population of the Efiks is being pleaded. This small population could be made a tremendous source of strength when we convert it to an effective population by the quality ofmen, who constitute it.

Today is Effiong Ukpong Aye’s day. I can keep quoting him:

“Without doubt, Calabar needs a serious Museum of antiquity along with a more serious thrust into the future (Old Calabar Through The Centuries, P. xiii).”

So, we can only preserve the stories of the royalties but we cannot expect that literacy will not count in the institution of Etubomship in the 21st century, nor would you enthrone an illiterate monarch or an Agaba tout because his father sold slaves at the beach and imported a pre-fabricated house.

This brings me to the recent struggle over the throne of the Obong of Calabar, where in an open judicial inquiry our people misled government by insisting that an Etubom had to be capped by an existing Obong to be eligible to present himself for selection to the throne. Yet, it was possible for such “uncapped” Etuboms to participate in the selection process of an Obong that should be primus inter pares. What a paradox! Our people owe this community a sacred duty to maintain the legacy, which was passed on to us.

Such maneuvers common in partisan politics, when allowed to spill into traditional institutions, would erode the sanctity of these institutions, which should be seen as spiritual level of governance.

At this point, may I seize this opportunity to call on the state House of Assembly to reconsider and stop forthwith, the proposed plan to relocate, even temporarily, to the State Council of Chiefs Chambers.  There are other halls or chambers in the state to take care of the movement should there be overriding necessity to do so.

Equally important are the distortions that caused the Efik nation to reduce from the original 12-nation states to 7-nation states structure by exclusion.  This idea of exclusion, which may have to do with issues of royalty no matter how some people may want to polish it, should be reviewed immediately to allow a sense of belonging to the Eniong, Ito, Idere, Ukwa and Itumbuzo groups.

Evidence well available to the Efiks abound to show that if Royalty is qualified by birth, then the royalty in Efikland has been traumatized and so bastardized that the Efiks might need to have a single Royal Family through which potential monarchs would be groomed. This, I think, will help solve the problem of exclusion that has wreathed so much havoc on the unity of the Efik nation.

Finally, may I enjoin all our people to rise up and join in the battle to halt expansionist incursions into our lands. We have already lost the Idombi territory to the Cameroons. Because our people are not well versed in the Bakassi geo-politics, they speak in terms of Bakassi Peninsula without including Jock (Mainland) Bakassi on which Usakedet, Amoto and Archibong Town lie.

A similar but worse situation faced us when the South-Eastern State Government enacted the Development Administration Edict 1971, and the Traditional Rulers Edict 1973, which ceded territories of Mbiabo previously in Western Calabar under the Obong of Calabar, to new traditional authorities in Itu.  They were to be taken over in a boundary dispute after the creation of Akwa lbom state, and the people later exterminated and chased out of their homeland They remain refugees till this day.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I call on all the Efiks at home and in the Diaspora to rise to the challenge of development, which should start with the development of the Efik language. May I sincerely congratulate APELLAC and CHIEF EFFIONG UKPONG AYE for this show of commitment to community cause.

Dated at Calabar this 20th day of October, 2001.

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