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Sealing of traditional ruler’s council secretariat in Cross River raises tension

CROSS RIVER, Nigeria – There is tension over the sealing of traditional ruler’s council secretariat in Henshaw Town in Calabar South local government area of Cross River State. The sealing of Henshaw Town Council Secretariat was done on May 23rd 2019 following an order by one of the contestants to the stool of President in the Council, His Royal Highness (HRH) Inyang George Duke Henshaw.

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The sealing was for the period of three weeks but it has been sealed up till date and has now become a matter of litigation in a suit no HC/186/2019.

Based on this, the funeral rites of the General Secretary of the Henshaw Town Council, Prof Effiom Ewa Magnus Henshaw who died some months back cannot be done.

Consequently, there is apprehension in Calabar South local government area over the continuous sealing of the secretariat. The family of the deceased who preferred anonymity said that delay in the burial of their late father, uncle and brother was posing a serious concern to them.

“The deceased was a highly respected member of the community and his burial shouldn’t have been kept so long. The traditional rites have to be performed at the Council secretariat, more importantly as he was one of the foundation members that establish the secretariat. The continuous sealing of the secretariat following the protracted legal battle between two factions of elders in council over substantive president was worrisome” he stated.

“The frustrations being experienced in the proposed burial arrangements of the elder statesman was as a result of a faction of the Etuboms (royal fathers) in the Etubom council following a legal tussle between two opposing factions of elders in council over who becomes or emerges President of Henshaw Town Traditional Rulers council.

”As a result of the tussle, family of the deceased cannot inter the body of late Prof Effiom Magnus Henshaw whose body can only be interred after certain traditional rites are performed at the Secretariat of Henshaw Town Council which is now sealed by opposing faction”.

Interestingly, when the matter came up in the High Court 9, Moore Road in Calabar, the Claimant, His Royal Highness (HRH) Etubom Nyong Effiom Okon and three others and the opponents, HRH Etubom Effio-Ita Effiom and eight others, their lawyers, Yinka Muyiwa and William Awan respectively argued their case conspicuously and tendered several documents.

Muyiwa said the President of the council, Elder Etubom Duke Henshaw was allegedly ill and unable to carry out the duties and responsibilities attached to the office and urged the court to declare, HRH, Etubom Nyong Effiom Okon as substantive president He averred that nothing wrong if Etubom Duke Henshaw whom according to the claimants has become allegedly ill, and unable to carry out the duties/responsibilities of his office of President of Henshaw Town Council be so declared.

The claimants said that because of the legal tussle for leadership, the defendants took the law into their hands, using thugs to lock up Henshaw Town council’s palace. The claimant, Etubom Nyong Effiom Okon prayed the court to order for reopening of the sealed palace so that peace can reign in the community. Muyiwa further argued that Elder Etubom Duke Henshaw had written a letter to the Etuboms in council, authorizing HRH Etubom Nyong Effiom Okon to take over from him as president of Henshaw town Council since he is no longer strong to attend to the responsibilities of the president’s office due to his ill health.

Muyiwa drew an inference from relevant authorities in law that a similar incident had in the past happened whereby, a president was ill and transited power to someone else among his members of elders in council and upon return from sick bed, he wanted the power back to him, unfortunately, the recipient vehemently refused to give the throne back to him.

The Claimant stressed that upon approach to the court to perhaps seek redress, both the High Court and Appeal court upheld that the acting president should continue in office. Muyiwa further argued that if the courts upheld such a judgement in favour of the acting president, then it will be ridiculous for “this honourable court” to allow a man “incapacitated” by ill-health, and who has officially transited power to still continue in office because his supporters feel so.

But counsel for defendants, William Awan opposed the claimants and strongly urged the court not to recognise Etubom Effiom Okon as president irrespective of the letter which had claimed was given to him by the incumbent president of Henshaw town Council, pointing out that by the constitution of the Henshaw Town Council, the office of the president has no tenure, therefore, it is for life. Thus, Etubom Duke Henshaw remains president until he dies.

Bar William Awan, argued that by the constitution of Henshaw Town Council, the office of the president has no tenure, therefore, it is for life irrespective of the health status of the holder. Awan posited that besides, the incumbent President, Elder Etubom Duke Henshaw is hale and hearty.

In a brief interaction with journalists at the court premises shortly after the matter was adjourned to December 12 for judgment, Muyiwa said that because the defendants have refused to be sincere that the Henshaw Town President is incapacitated by ill-health, they have refused to recognize the acting president, alleging that the factional group influenced the locking up of the palace.

“If the palace is not opened, the late Chief, Prof Effiom Aagnus Henshaw cannot be buried. By the tradition of the people of Henshaw Town, certain funeral rites must be performed in the palace, not outside the palace. So if the palace is not opened, they cannot bury him,” he said.

The Presiding Judge, Justice Emmanuel Ayade later adjourned the matter to December 12, 2019, for judgement.

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