Introduction The Devil stole the peace of the Kalabari town of Abonnema when some seven paramount chiefs of the town under the aegis of the “United
The Devil stole the peace of the Kalabari town of Abonnema when some seven paramount chiefs of the town under the aegis of the “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” issued a newspaper publication suspending the Amayanabo of Abonnema, His Majesty Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel, as the Chairman of Abonnema Council of Chiefs and proclaimed High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs – Wait!
I am leaping ahead of the story. The Abonnema chieftaincy palaver did not start with the alleged suspension of the Amayanabo and the appointment of Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs as Regent. Let us retrace our steps …
Trouble actually trailed the installation of HRM Disrael Gbobo Bobmanuel as the Amayanabo of Abonnema in 2011, as tongues wagged that the ancient stool has a precedence of being occupied by the descendants of the royal family from direct sons to grandsons before the great grandsons and that Gbobo Bob-Manuel is lower down in hierarchy as his uncles and granduncles were alive and were interested in the stool.
The Amayanabo’s opponents claim that he was surreptitiously installed even when the burial rites of the last Amayanabo, late Morgan Bob-Manuel was yet to be concluded, describing the ‘secret installation’ as a coup d’état.
Reprieve came to HRM Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel when in 2014, a Port Harcourt High Court presided over by Justice Sika Aprioku, confirmed his installation as the Amayanabo of Abonnema.
Trouble is sometimes swifter than the swiftest mangrove spirit (Angala Owu); and one trouble spawned another for the newly installed Amayanabo.
On May 20, 2011, the day Chief Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel was installed, a plebian, a common town folk, someone known to everyone in Abonnema as just one other fellow, opened his mouth and accused the new Amayanabo of witchcraft.
A little bird hinted that while the former Amayanabo was still alive, Barr. Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel allegedly met a former governor of Rivers State at a recreation ground and introduced himself as the next Amayanabo of Abonnema. Not long after, the Amayanabo died. Trouble!
The witch cried in the night and the child died in the morning. What more proof do we need? the plebian, Adokiye Akamaka cried out.
Scandalized, the Amayanabo approached the courts, claiming huge damages from his ‘defamer’ who also died in what some persons think was as strange as the death of the former Amayanabo.
Fast forward to 2017, more than six years after the installation of HRM Disrael Gbobo Bobmanuel as the Amayanabo of Abonnema, dark storms began to gather. His former allies, those who allegedly facilitated his installation, are now in unholy alliance with the Amayanabo’s original opponents to the throne. Like our people would say ‘water has passed under the bridge’.
Dissatisfied with the situation of things, a group of seven ‘High Table Chiefs’ who are the arrowheads of what became the “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” presented an 11-point demand to the Amayanabo on behalf of themselves and the four other Main Houses.
11-point demand presented to the Amayanabo of Abonnema
- The fact that 11 (eleven) founding fathers of Abonnema are equal and that no one incumbent is greater than the other.
- That in the light of the equality of the founding fathers, all decisions relating to Abonnema should be by majority of the 11 founding fathers after same have been deliberated and endorsed by him.
- No Chieftaincy stool posthumously created after the founding of Abonnema should take precedence over the 11 founding fathers.
- That the incumbents on the founding stools of Abonnema should be treated with the dignity and respect, the stools deserve.
- The sitting arrangement in the Abonnema Council of Chiefs should reflect the order established when Abonnema was founded.
- None of the incumbents on the founding stools of Abonnema is expected to rise up for the Amayanabo of Abonnema when he steps into a Council of Chiefs meeting.
- A candidate for installation who has been screened and cleared by the Head Chief of his War Canoe should not be subjected to another screening by the Abonnema Council of Chiefs provided the screening fees had been paid.
- Installation of Chiefs should be performed in the Memorial Hall of the founding father to which the candidates relate by the Amayanabo.
- The Secretary of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs should emerge through election and not by appointment.
- In the event of an Iya Marriage, the marriage certificate should be signed by the Amayanabo and the incumbent on the War Canoe House to which the Iya women relate.
- There should be the immediate recall of the Ekine-Sekiapu Society since the decision to suspend them did not have the endorsement of the 11 (eleven) founding fathers.
Two meetings were held on the 22nd June and 26th June, 2017 during which more than half of the 11-points demand were agreed upon. But before the rest of the maters could be resolved, a thanksgiving ceremony in respect of the upgrading of the Amayanabo of Abonnema stool to First Class was held, during which the Amayanabo was said to have insinuated that his great great grandfather Owukoriye Ekine led the other founding fathers to Abonnema. This sparked off a chain of reactions.
Hitherto, the witchcraft allegation had given rise to legal tussles and the alleged disbandment of the Ekine Sekiapu Cultural Society – the highest cultural society and law enforcement body in Kalabari in the past, still dominant today in the cultural front.
Coincidentally, the courts were said to have given judgements against the Amayanabo at the time when his traducers were looking for anything to hold against him for daring to say that Owukoriye-Ekine led the founding fathers to Abonnema.
And so, they hid behind the court judgements to dust up the witchcraft saga and insisted that the Amayanabo must purge himself of the witchcraft accusation else he is unfit to be in office.
Two letters, authored by two persons previously on the different sides of the divide were written four days apart. The first letter captioned Ref: Witchcraft Allegation: Advise to Step Aside pending your performance of the traditional requirement was written to the Amayanabo by Chief Precious Elekima, the arrowhead that allegedly anchored the scheme that gave Chief Disrael Bobmanuel the revered Amayanabo stool. The second letter was addressed to the Abonnema Council of Chiefs and written by the main contender and direct opponent of the Amayanabo, Chief Awoye Kelly Bob-Manuel. It was titled Re: Witchcraft allegation against HRH DISRAEL GBOBO BOB-Manuel, Amayanabo of Abonnema.
Again, the little bird hinted that the Amayanabo had stepped on big and powerful toes, he has been unable to fulfill the promises he allegedly made to the big people that made him Amayanabo. He couldn’t use his position to impose them as paramount chiefs, he is unable to do for them what they did for him in 2011.
One thing led to another and what many thought was a storm in a teacup has grown into a whirlwind. The hawks and the hyenas are lurking all around. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold and anarchy threatens the land.
The first public shot fired against the Amayanabo was his “suspension” by ‘the united Founding fathers of Abonnema’.
The “Suspension” of the Amayanabo
In a letter suspending the Amayanabo and appointing Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs as Regent and signed by seven of the eleven chiefs on the stools of “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” and published in The Nation Newspaper of Tuesday, November, 21, 2017, the chiefs justified their action “On the basis of the decision of the High Court handed down on Thursday the 16th of November 2017 and the need to maintain the integrity of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs”.
They said that “having exhaustively deliberated the issues surrounding the allegation of witchcraft against you, we the undersigned, representing a majority of the incumbents on the 11 (eleven) founding fathers of Abonnema DO HEREBY give notice to you that you are SUSPENDED forthwith as Chairman, Abonnema Council of Chiefs unless and until you perform the self-cleansing exercise and in the manner prescribed by the Ekine Sekiapu Society of Abonnema”.
The Counter Suspension
Immediate, the supporters of the Amayanabo who are in majority in the Abonnema Council of Chiefs did a disclaimer to the “Notice of Suspension by the so-called ‘United Founding Fathers of Abonnema”.
They said “HRM Disrael Gbobo Bob-Manuel (II), Owukori (IX) has not been suspended by the Abonnema Council of Chiefs, and therefore remains the Amayanabo of Abonnema and Chairman of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs”. They rather placed the six signatories of the purported suspension letter on indefinite suspension.
“Facts the people must know” by the ‘united founding fathers of Abonnema’
However, in a printed publication the “United founding fathers stools” summarized their grouse against the Amayanabo as follows:
- Suspension of the Amayanabo is to enable him to step aside to clear his name of the accusation and his involvement in witchcraft (“An Aribo”).
- Attempting to fracture age long binding history of status of Eleven Founding Stools.
- Attempt to establish a hereditary Monarchy and Kingship of succession.
- Distorting history that his forebears founded Abonnema and led all other Founding Stools.
- Selective discrimination in appointing Abonnema Youths to opportunities at Cawthorne Channel projects by Shell Company and other work openings.
- Financial Intransparencies and non-accountability in the reported receipts of over Four hundred million naira (#400,000,000), Odili’s One hundred million naira (100,000,000) and Government/LGA contributions/receipts.
- The suspended Amayanabo should stop playing to the gallery to conceal the facts. The suspicions, division and militancy exploitation, to demand the immediate exoneration by the suspended Amayanabo to cleanse himself of the witchcraft accusation and restore his honour, respect and dignity through the Ekine Sekiapu or in accordance with his conscience.
- The appointment of Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs as Interim Regent was designed amongst other attributes to stimulate the expediency of the suspended Amayanabo to cleanse himself of witchcraft.
- Finally, we appeal to the suspended Amayanabo to sacrosanctly and as custodian of our culture and tradition, to respect the honour and Dignity of the Amayanabo Stool to acquit himself of guilt and receive sympathetic considerations.
- We must all work together to reconcile Abonnema; without any external, partisan interference to our traditions and culture, but with love and God-fearing leadership and not to work against her unity through inordinate “do or die” insinuation and ambition.
Long Live the Unity and Prosperity of Abonnema
External partisan interference came almost immediately
The governor of Rivers State is not a man to let such an opportunity slip away without exploiting it to his political advantage. Nyesom Wike appeared on several national news platforms lambasting members of the ‘United Founding Fathers of Abonnema’ during a solidarity visit by the Amayanabo at the Rivers State Government House.
The governor said nobody had authority to depose a first-class traditional ruler without the approval of the Rivers State government. He berated the security agencies for allegedly aiding the opponents of the Amayanabo.
The careless handling of the situation by Governor Wike and his accusation of the Police and the Army have complicated the matter because the security agencies have vowed to investigate the allegation that the “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” used the security agencies to forcefully install a Regent in Abonnema.
The action of Governor Wike attracted wide condemnation. A Kalabari advocacy group called “Kengema Osaki” published in the Guardian Newspaper of Saturday, December 2, 2017. Page 30 what it referred to as “Wike’s unstatesmanlike response”. Below is a reproduction of the publication:
KENGEMA OSAKI GROUP
Wamina saki laa-te
GOVERNOR WIKE’S UNSTATESMANLIKE RESPONSE TO THE ABONNEMA CHIEFTAINCY PALAVER
We, members of the Chiefs and Elders Council of Kengema Osaki, a Kalabari socio-political advocacy group view with grave concern the escalating chieftaincy squabble in Abonnema, a Kalabari Community that has been peaceful and hospitable.
We particularly view the utterances of Governor Nyesom Wike on the matter as unstatesmanlike and below the expectation of Kalabari people from someone occupying such an exalted position – an opportunist who instead of playing a fatherly role sought to derive political capital from the crisis.
While we concede that the situation in Abonnema is not completely unexpected in human interactions, we totally frown at Abonnema indigenes who have deliberately orchestrated the crisis for their personal gains and for the political interest of their external paymasters.
It was Sir Walter Marmion Scott who said “Oh! What a tangle web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. We refer our Chiefs, brothers and sisters in Nyemoni (Abonnema) to this timeless warning; those that have decided to destroy their community just to gain societal and material ascendancy; the schemers and manipulators of our people. We remind them that the chicken always comes home to roost.
We decry the Governor’s hasty and selfish response when the matter was brought to him by the Amayanabo of Abonnema, HRM Disrael Bob-Manuel. The Governor did not bother about the truth, he took advantage of the situation for personal political gains. Did Uthman Dan Fodio not say that “conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it”?
We listened to Governor Wike on Radio and on Television as he shouted that “Nobody can remove a first class traditional ruler recognized by government”.
His voice was not conciliatory but arrogant, as if to suggest that the legitimacy of the stool of the Amayanabo of Abonnema resides solely in government and not with the people. The governor spoke as if he could go into Abonnema and proclaim an Amayanabo without the people. He couldn’t differentiate the revered stool from the occupant and spoke diminishingly of our people.
Governor Wike said “I wonder how old and elderly people could do this. They want to enjoy first class, when they were in government why didn’t they tell their people to upgrade the stool”.
The irony is that while Governor Wike was grandstanding, the supporters of the Amayanabo in their published communique stated that “it is only the Abonnema Council of Chiefs that is vested with the power under Kalabari custom to suspend its Chairman where necessary” even as the opponents of the Amayanabo did not say that they have removed him from office.
Kengema Osaki considers the Governor’s comments as not only unfortunate, under the circumstance, but indeed opportunistic and disappointing, especially coming from a man in his exalted position, as the first citizen of the state.
Wike continued: “You use army to install somebody, if you are doing the right thing, do you need army? The people will install you, you don’t need any army, you don’t need any police”.
Did we hear the governor say “the people will install you”? So, what does he mean by “nobody can remove a first class traditional ruler”?
This rain of insults on revered and distinguished Chiefs and Elders of Abonnema exposed Governor Wike’s disregard for our people and his brazen attempt to stoke the fire of conflict, divide and rule the people and create unrest in Kalabari kingdom.
Kengema Osaki cannot understand what Governor Wike intends to achieve by listening to only one side of the matter and jumping into wild and provocative conclusions on the Abonnema situation, when he should have, like any right-thinking leader, called the feuding parties together to seek an amicable resolution to the situation.
We do not however completely blame Governor Wike for using the Abonnema Chieftaincy palaver to debase Kalabari traditional institution and insult our chiefs and fathers. We rather blame our Chiefs and Elders who washed their dirty linen in public and those who rushed the matter to Governor Wike.
We expected the Amayanabo of Abonnema to have exhausted the possibilities of resolving the Abonnema matter within the Kalabari Kingdom instead of running to Wike and saying “I am putting my head and all my chiefs and all my people’s head in your hand and in the hands of the Rivers State Government. We seek your protection”. By this act the Amayanabo exposed our people to Wike who ceased the opportunity to rubbish us.
Kengema Osaki noted that some media houses reported the Amayanabo of Abonnema as saying that Abonnema people have endorsed Wike for 2019. This to us, makes the entire episode a sad comedy.
We therefore call on Governor Wike to stop playing politics with everything especially our traditional institutions and the security of our people. The governor didn’t need to escalate crisis in a peaceful community like Abonnema for political reasons.
Our traditional institution is our symbol of identity and its sanctity should not be threatened by the very people who should uphold it. We call on the people of Abonnema to embrace peace and resist any attempt to be used by those who wants to destroy Kalabari.
Elder Lolo Tamunoemi Ibieneye
Claims and Counter Claims about who founded Abonnema
What are the remote and immediate causes? What is it that has stolen the peace of the land of (Nyemoni) Abonnema?
The heart of the Abonnema chieftaincy crisis lies beneath the claims and counter claims about the founding of the town and the original article of engagement among the founding fathers. Who founded Abonnema? Is Abonnema a Kingdom? All other matters are mere fallouts from these fundamental questions.
There are three contending claims concerning the founding of Abonnema. One of such is that Abonnema was founded in 1881 by Chief Young Briggs (Iniikeiroari) who came with Chief Bestman and Chief Membre to disvirgin the Island of Abonnema before the other chiefs later came to join them in 1882.
The second version has it that there are only four main founding Houses who got to Nyemoni (Abonnema) in 1882 and that all other houses are sub-houses to these four founding fathers. They are:
- Owukori (Manuel) group
- Oruwari (Briggs) group
- Otaji (Georgewill) group
- Iju (Jack) group
The third version says that eleven Founding War Canoe Houses left Elem Ama (Old shipping) and all moved independently and on equal status into Abonnema. These are:
- Owukori (Manuel) House
- Oruwari (Briggs) House
- Otaji (Georgewill) House
- Iju (Jack) House
- Opu Benibo (Graville) House
- Orubibi (Douglas) House
- Ngula (Black Duke) House
- Ajumogobia (Bestman) House
- Siri (Young Jack) House
- Kala Akpana (Don Pedro) House
- Membre House
Exponents of the “eleven founding fathers” version, say that the founding fathers first landed Opokuma before they sailed therefrom to Abonnema but it is the opinion of some persons that the ‘eleven founding fathers’ is a newly found movement or group that was unknown until recently. They say this group only surfaced after a court verdict between the Owukori Manuel House and Black Duke Oweredaba House which was given in favour of Black Duke Oweredaba – ‘a proponent of eleven founding fathers’.
It is however to the credit of the occupants of these stools that they are today referred to as “High Table Chiefs”. They pride themselves with the fact that every other chief in Abonnema belongs to one of these houses.
A fourth dimension, which says that the Owukori House led the other founding fathers to Abonnema was recently introduced during the thanksgiving for the elevation of the Amayanabo’s stool to a First-Class Stool.
The Crux of the matter
Here lies the crux of the matter – the Pandora box. Proponents of the various positions do so with all the energy they can summon to defend the pride and integrity of their ancestry.
The protagonists for the Young Briggs Oruwari primacy say that “the moral issues bedeviling Abonnema Council of Chiefs is their inability to say the truth about the origination of “Nyemoni” Abonnema”.
They insist that the founding of Abonnema has been chronicled in the annals of the history of the Niger Dalta peoples by several independent historians and anthropologists.
They say the war Canoe Houses didn’t arrive Abonnema at the same time. Young Briggs and the Oruwari House landed in November, 1881 and then Iju Jack House under the leadership of Da Kaladokubo arrived because Briggs House and Iju Standfast House where trading partners from time immemorial. The rest of the compounds came afterwards in 1882. The Manuel House came last.
“How Abonnema was founded and how the people settled and their trading activities could be found in various literatures authored by various eminent personalities such as Talbot, G.I. Jones, Igwe, Kenneth Dike, E.J. Alagoa etc. These are people who are not members of Abonnema community but they have written the correct history which is now being suppressed.
“Even now, there is a pending court case between Oruwari House and Ekine House. In any case, there was nothing like Owukori House until recently. The only known Owukori House is in Buguma. The Owukori memorial Hall, epitaphs “Owukori Fubura”, and the Owukori square are all in Buguma.
“Da Ekine has laid claim and won a case between Bobmanuel House and Ndokubo Quakers at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Bobmanuel House that there was no Owukori House in Abonnema. The Owukori estate was no more in existence from the old shipping, it was shared in three places. A portion to Ekine, A portion to Wokoma and a portion to Omekwe Horsfall. Da Ekine came on his own not with Owukori Stool”.
The Briggs proponents say that it is only Abonnema people that deny the fact that Abonnema was founded in 1881 by the Oruwari Briggs house led by the late Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs, Late Chief Ajumogobia Bestman Briggs and Late Chief Ariibimiari Awesim Memberre Briggs. They say that until all these rights and recognitions are duly given, Abonnema will continue to suffer from this periodic impasse.
For Opu Alabo T.O. Graham-Douglas, Head of the Orubibi Douglas House and champion of the claim that Abonnema was founded by eleven founding fathers:
“No founding father is higher than the other and because each War Canoe Chief assembled and equipped his war canoe, manned by warriors and weaponry and sailed to the new settlement of Abonnema without support or assistance from any other founding chief”
Alabo T.O. Graham-Douglas warned that any attempt to annex Douglas House by Manuel House or tamper with the independent status of the Douglas House shall be stoutly resisted.
But the proponents of the “Four Founding Fathers” see nothing wrong in referring to the other seven groups as ‘sub-houses’ because though they came into the new town on their own, they were part of the four major houses when they were at Elem Ama (the old town). The agitations by these seven houses are seen as the action of stubborn and heady children pointing fingers at their fathers.
Protracted Crisis in Oruwari House
Another issue that fuels crisis in Abonnema is said to be the protracted crisis in Oruwari House. Investigations revealed that since 1857, the Oruwari Briggs stool has been an exclusive reserve for the Late Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs and his descendants.
But in 1997, the Abonnema Council of Chiefs recognized Chief G. N. Alabaraba to allegedly spite the Oruwari House and the then occupant of the Oruwari stool Late Chief R. R. Briggs for allegedly isolating the Oruwari House from the Abonnema Council of Chief. It is argued that before Chief Godwin Alabaraba was accepted by the Abonnema Council of Chiefs, Chief R. R. Briggs was already on the stool of the Oruwari house.
Controversies trail Installation the Amayanabo
Opponents of HRM Gbobo Bob-Manuel say that he was not the rightful person to be on the Owukori stool, this brought about internal problems amongst the Bobmanuel house. This even gave rise to the witchcraft allegation leveled against the Amayanabo.
The plot to install Chief Gbobo was allegedly orchestrated by Chiefs Ibim Briggs, David Briggs, Precious Elekima and Patrick Dele Cole. These Chiefs did not want the most eligible person, Chief Awoye Kelly Bobmanuel because they felt he was disrespectful of people and is said to have deviant characteristics.
These Chiefs were said to have gone into alliance with the late Chief Inye Georgewill to install the current Amayanabo.
In doing this, they turned majority members of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs against Chief Awoye Kelly Bob-Manuel from ascending the Owukori stool and becoming the Amayanabo.
Some persons had alleged that huge amount of money exchanged hands but one of the “conspirators” chiefs, said no money exchanged hands.
Opponents of the Amayanabo say that since the installation of Chief Gbobo Bobmanuel, the Abonnema Council of Chiefs and the entire Abonnema has not known peace.
They say he is grossly high-handed, taking decisions without consultation. He imposes decision on the council without consultations with the High Table Stools. Unilaterally, appointing individuals in matters concerning Abonnema without approval or knowledge of other substantive members of the council.
The “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” said that on his assumption of the First-Class Status, the Amayanabo increasingly became “subjectively autocratic with disrespect for elders and members, shouting down persons who are not in agreement with his views”.
Furthermore, they accused him of derecognizing the eleven founding fathers as equals, and decided to work with only four major stools: The Oruwari- Briggs, the Otaji-Georgewill and the Iju-Jack working with the Owukori-Bob-Manuel stool that he occupies.
According to the “United Founding Fathers of Abonnema” led by Opu Alabo T.O. Graham-Douglas, the Amayanabo’s action is an “insult to the status of the independent and autonomous Founding Stools of our Ancestors, the dismembering of the status, honour and prestige of the forefathers who founded Abonnema”.
They are angry that the Amayanabo has deviated from the laid down administrative procedure of discussing first with the High Table Chiefs and communicating decisions to the generality of the Council of Chiefs. They see the Amayanabo’s direct communication with the Council of Chiefs as an act designed to diminish the prestige and respectability of the Founding Stools.
The battle against the Amayanabo by the Alabo T.O. Graham-Douglas-led “United Founding Fathers” can therefore be described as a fight to restore the right and dignity of the stools they occupy in the face of perceived denigration.
Confederacy Vs Monarchy
The straw that broke the Camel’s back was the Amayanabo’s alleged claim recently that Late Chief Ekine Bobmanuel led the rest of the other 10 war Canoe Houses into the new settlement called Abonnema from the old shipping. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
A Chief from the Young Briggs House said: “The Head of Owukori Manuel House has always been Chairman of the Abonnema council of Chiefs and Amadabo and not Amayanabo of Abonnema. All through the rulership of past Amadabos, they contended themselves as Paramount Heads of Owukori House and Amadabo of Abonnema but Disrael Bobmanuel on the contrary, styles himself as Imperial Majesty, King etc. whose forbears founded Abonnema, leading all other founding stools as surrogates.
“There was no time the Abonnema Council of Chiefs agreed that Owukori Stool is the ‘Amayanabo’ and ‘King and Royal Majesty’. If he says that he is a King, who are his subjects in Abonnema. Are Iju (Jack) House, The Oruwari (Briggs) House, The Otaji (Georgewill) House is subjects”?
How did the Owukori become the ‘Royal House’?
Not much is known about how the decision was reached by the founding fathers to ask the Head of the Owukori House to double as the Amadabo of Abonnema.
Unauthenticated oral tradition has it that when the four founding groups arrived Abonnema, Kala-Dokubo of Iju House was the eldest, then he was followed in age by Iniikiiroari Young Briggs, then Akpana (Georgewill) and Owukoriye-Ekine was the youngest among them. They however unanimously appointed Ekine as Amadabo.
Some say that the founding fathers may have appointed Owukoriye-Ekine as Amadabo because he was King Amachree’s great grandson. They say King Amachree gave birth to Adida who gave birth to Owukori and Owukori gave birth to Ekine. This may have been part of the consideration.
Even on Owukoriye-Ekine’s paternal lineage, oral history has it that King Robert of Kalabari gave birth to Kalagbaa who gave birth to Awo. Awo gave birth to Owukori who gave birth to Ekine.
Other persons however say that Owukori was not chosen as Amadabo because he was a direct descendant of Amachree, rather the age of the stool in the council in the order of installation may have been considered. Owukori became a Chief before Oruwari stool was established in the old shipping.
They stated however that the chairmanship of the council has nothing to do with founding. There can be no question about the independence and co-equal status of each of the original four paramount heads.
“If Owukori Stool becomes vacant, Abonnema is headed by the person on Oruwari stool and has all the rights and privileges to perform all the duties of Amadabo. If Oruwari is not there, then the occupant of Otaji stool performs that function and in his absence, the occupant on Iju stool performs the role. Afterall, Chief Gbobo was admitted as Owukori by Late Chief Nye Georgewill.
“But this Amayanabo believes he has ‘divine right of kingship’ and rates himself like the Obas, Obis and Emirs which is completely strange to the Abonnema Chieftaincy institution. Abonnema is a confederacy and not a monarchy”.
Some persons insist that there has never been Amayanabo of Abonnema. Chairman of the Council is always referred to as Amadabo. Only Amachree Stool is called Amayanabo in the History of Kalabari. This position is however weakened in the face of some other Kalabari communities that have since adopted the title of Amayanabo for their traditional rulers.
It is however a general position that the issue of ‘King’ and ‘His Royal Highness’ and all such claims are strange to the Abonnema Chieftaincy Institution. There are four co-founders of Abonnema, equal in status but the Amadabo or Amayanabo is the first among equals and he rules in consultation with the other three co-founders and in some cases with the representatives of the ‘sub-houses’. What we have in Abonnema is collective leadership and there has never been difficulties because there is no hereditary kingship.
The David Briggs Saga
The acceptance by the Amayanabo of Chief David Briggs, Chairman of Rivers State Post Primary Schools Board into the chieftaincy stool of Duein Ala, despite the disapproval of Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs, is regarded as one of the immediate causes of the Abonnema Chieftaincy showdown.
According to oral tradition, the ancient Duein Ala Stool ceased to exist for over two hundred years because it was bought over by the Da Amacheree House in the old shipping. That was why Oruwari himself couldn’t establish the stool even though his origin could be traced to Duein Ala. Oruwari had to create his own stool because a mere mention of Duein Ala could have deprived him of being a chief or even cost him his life.
However, the late Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs against all odds recreated the Duein Ala Stool in Abonnema for his first son the late Chief Charles Ebuye Dokubo Young Briggs whose matrilineal origin was also Duein Ala.
The Stool is therefore the exclusively reserved for Late Charles Briggs and his biological descendants within the Young Briggs House. The stool has been vacant since the last incumbent died.
Tussle for the Duein Ala Stool
A version of the story says that Chief David Briggs was approached since 2011 by the family to fill the vacant stool which he initially objected to but recently accepted due to persistent pressure.
But Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs the head of Young Briggs House objected to it on the grounds that Chief David Briggs has no locus standi to the stool because he is not a descendant of Late Charles Briggs and his (David Briggs) grandfather was not an adopted son to Late Chief Charles Briggs.
Opponents of David Briggs say that he is already a Chief in Ideriah House and cannot be a Chief in one house and assume the headship of another independent house, even if he were to be from both houses legitimately. It is untraditional in Kalabari kingdom to do so.
Furthermore, they say David Briggs was not presented by any recognized substantive members of the Duein Ala House as a nominee before the Young Briggs House or the Oruwari House. They therefore considered the Amayanabo’s acceptance of Chief David Briggs, despite being informed of the origin of the Duein Ala stool through a letter, as a divisive tactics and a direct disregard to the Young Briggs leadership under Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs.
Chief David Briggs’ supporters dismiss these claims, saying that he was properly nominated and installed as the Head of Duein Ala House and that it was not unusual for someone to be a chief in two different houses at the same time. They say that Chief David Briggs has all the rights to the stool.
Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs has since installed another person, 87 years old Chief Jacob D Briggs who is said to be the direct grandchild of Late Chief Charles Briggs.
The Political Dimension
Not a few persons have read political motives into the immediate causes of the Abonnema Chieftaincy impasse. The overwhelming clamour for a Rivers State Governor of Kalabari extraction is said to be a source of serious concern for the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.
This is made even more worrisome for the PDP-led government because a very popular son of Abonnema, Chief Barrister Dumo Lulu-Briggs is waxing strong as a possible governorship candidate of the opposition APC.
Political watchers are saying that the unthinking outburst of Governor Wike over the Chieftaincy issue gives him away as jittery over the prospect that Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs could be the governor’s main opponent in 2019.
The Initiative for Peace has begun
To stem the dangerous tide, a peace mission made up of Religious Leaders, Executives of the Nyemoni Improvement Society (NIS) and selected political personalities across party lines, has waded into the matter in order to find a lasting solution to the crisis.
The aim is to get the Amayanabo and the “United Founding Fathers” to return to the negotiating table and find amicable solutions to the problems.
In the interim, a publication from NIS urging cessation on all media confrontation by the feuding parties has been released.
Abonnema is known to have enough internal capacity to resolve internal problems, no matter the enormity and it is hoped that well-meaning persons would galvanize this agelong capacity to find a lasting peace in (York City), Abonnema. Below is the NIS publication:
ABONNEMA CHIEFTAINCY CRISIS: APEX SOCIO-CULTURAL ORGANISATION, NYEMONI IMPROVEMENT SOCIETY (NIS) APPEALS FOR PEACE
NYEMONI DEIN BIM
The attention of the Nyemoni Improvement Society (NIS) is being drawn to the chieftaincy imbroglio ravaging our dear Community, Nyemoni, which over the past weeks is gradually degenerating into unimaginable crises situation, which if not nipped now can snowball into a state of anarchy, strife and lawlessness in our dear community.
Abonnema is a very civilised society with decent and well exposed persons and thus it will be fool-hardy for us to sit and watch our collective inheritance (Nyemoni), York City, drift into a state of lawlessness. It is on this note, the NIS being the apex socio-cultural organisation charged with the responsibility of ensuring peaceful co-existence and development of Abonnema, after due consultation with various segments of the community, resolved to constitute a high powered ‘Peace and Reconciliatory Committee’ that will liaise, meet, interrogate and reconcile the various warring factions of the Abonnema Council of Chiefs and restore lasting peace and unity in Abonnema.
While the committee sets out to interface with the two groups, the NIS passionately appeals to all the parties to please, in the name of God, the Amatemeso, the progenitors of the various chieftaincy stools they occupy and the love for Abonnema to sheath their swords, and give the committee an enabling opportunity to mediate and restore lasting peace in our dear Native Land – Nyemoni.
Furthermore, the NIS hereby appeals to all our traditional rulers and chiefs that, while the peace and reconciliation move is on, none of the parties should in whatever guise, issue further press releases, advertorial or social media releases directly, indirectly or engage in any action or inaction that will further heighten the tension in Abonnema.
In furtherance of the above, the NIS, hereby urges all sons and daughters of Nyemoni, no matter your stance on either of the divide to please cease forth with from issuing or making comments in the social media on the Abonnema chieftaincy crises. Please let’s not destroy our dear “York City” – Moni, washing our dirty linen in public does not only amount to destroying our age long revered traditional institution, but also afford outsiders the opportunity to ridicule and destroy us further.
To our brothers, sisters, friends and those who profess to love Abonnema, all we need from you now is prayers, and no more further press releases for or against any of the divide. If you cannot pray for Abonnema, then leave her alone, Nyemoni is endowed with indefatigable capacity to resolving her internal crisis.
To the men and women of God of Abonnema extraction, pastors of churches in Abonnema, clerics of Kalabari extraction and all well-meaning men of God that love Abonnema and, peace, the NIS prays you all to rise and go to God in prayer for peace in Abonnema; surely, He will hear our cry.
Please, if you love Nyemoni, forward this message to all groups, sons, daughters, well-wishers and in-laws of Nyemoni.
God bless Nyemoni.