The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly’s directive to the Surveyor-General to draw a new map for the state inadvertently sparks off a war of words between the people of Eastern Obolo and Ibeno local government areas on one hand and the people of Eket, Esit Eket, ONNA, Ikot Abasi and Mkpat Enin local government areas on the other hand. But what are the issues?
By Inemesit Ina
“I want to make two categorical statements. One, the map that exists today I met it. I didn’t draw that map. The second categorical statement is that it is very wrong the way we are administering our Federation. In a Federation, the Federal Government has the states as the federating units. And the matter ends there. The local government areas fall under the administration of the state, not of the Federal Government. That is another categorical statement.”
– Obong Victor Attah, Former Governor of Akwa Ibom State
“I advise them (House of Assembly) to drop the idea of drawing a new map because of PIA (Petroleum Industry Act) implementation as it could ignite crises in the already peaceful state. We must be our brother’s keeper.”
– Senator Chris Ekpenyong, Former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State
“This (the present) map did not go through the legislative process to receive the approval of the State House of Assembly and has not been gazetted. The directive of the State House of Assembly to the Surveyor General of the state is, therefore, to subject the mapping process to scrutiny to correct the plethora of complaints, distortions and manipulations in the present illegal map.”
– Chief Nduese Essien, Former Minister for Lands and Housing
“The remapping should be stopped. How do you remap without affecting somebody’s village?”
– Owong Effiong Bassey Archianga, Paramount Ruler of Ibeno
“Ibeno should be persuaded to abide by the law and successive judgments to stay on the land that we gave them. Ibeno was never there when Mobil arrived in 1969. I was there. Where Mobil is located in Stubbs Creek is Eket land in all eternity. Ibeno is not littoral. We did not give them where they are now.”
– Obong Etim Charles Daniel Abia, Paramount Ruler of Eket
“The map is the solution that will delineate where you are. Before Ibeno people arrived in Akwa Ibom State, the shore was there. They arrived by boat. The year is known. They did not bring any land in their boat. Eastern Obolo is encroaching ONNA land from the right. Ibeno is encroaching from the left. Eastern Obolo and Ibeno cannot be littoral in Akwa Ibom State. How did they get the land? Did they bring it by boat?”
– Edidem Raymond Timothy Inyang, Paramount Ruler of ONNA
“Tell the Assembly Members that we did not send them to the House to remap the state. To maintain peace, we should maintain the status quo. That is what we want. Let us live as brothers.”
– Ubong Harry John Etetor, Paramount Ruler of Eastern Obolo
“Mkpat Enin has access to the sea. Mkpat Enin is one of the littoral local government areas of Akwa Ibom State. It is wrong not to put Mkpat Enin on the map as a littoral local government area. Ikpa Ibom Clan in Mkpat Enin bounds on the Atlantic Ocean.”
– Edidem Akpan Akpan Ekpene, Paramount Ruler of Mkpat Enin
“Ikot Abasi people support the State House of Assembly’s resolution because the State House of Assembly is working within the ambits of the constitutional provisions as enunciated in Section 8 Sub-section 4 of 1999 constitution as amended.”
– Edidem Udo Joe Ntok Obom, Paramount Ruler of Ikot Abasi
“The Stubbs Creek Forest Reserve (Akoiyak Ekid) belongs to Ekid people of Esit Eket and Eket local government areas.”
– Edidem Ubong Peter Assam, Paramount Ruler of Esit Eket
When the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly passed a resolution in October 2021, directing the State Surveyor General to draw a new map for the state, the House probably did not envisage the firestorm it would throw up. The seeming innocuous move has now blossomed into a full-blown controversy.
Hardly had the ink dried from the House’s resolution that the people of Eastern Obolo, an Obolo (Ijaw) local government area, cried foul. To them, a new map meant boundary adjustment or even ablation of their small LGA. They hurriedly called a press conference in Uyo to denounce the resolution in very strong terms.
During the press conference, the Secretary General of Ilima, a socio-cultural organisation working for the promotion of the ideals of Eastern Obolo people, Dr Amah William, alleged that the new map, if approved, would distort the original map of Eastern Obolo and cede 17 of her communities to ONNA, Mkpat Enin and Ikot Abasi Local Government Areas (LGAs).
He argued that the ceding of the affected communities would confer on the LGAs the status of “littoral LGAs with unfettered access to the Atlantic Ocean to the detriment of the people of Eastern Obolo.”
“The purported new Akwa Ibom State map clearly and adversely affects the original map of Eastern Obolo LGA.
“By the said map, several Eastern Obolo communities such as Atabrikang, Iko, Edonwik, Okorombokho, Elekpong, Elile, Amadaka, Ikonta, Obianga, Amauka, Okorobilom, Uzubor, Isiotoyo, Amanglass, Bethlehem, Iwofe and even parts of Okoroete have been ceded to ONNA, Mkpat Enin and Ikot Abasi LGAs.
“For the purpose of clarity, Eastern Obolo, Ibeno and Mbo are the only littoral local government areas bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in Akwa Ibom State.
“Eastern Obolo alone has more than 56 oil wells located within its territorial precincts. Therefore, the so-called remapping or adjustment of the original map of Akwa Ibom State as it relates to Eastern Obolo is not only illegal and unconstitutional but manifestly mischievous, divisive, discriminatory, repugnant to the good conscience and a calculated land grabbing strategy which has failed, ab-initio,” William said.
Continuing, he noted that, “The purported boundary adjustment is a flagrant contravention of Section 8 sub-section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“We want to state unequivocally that the purported adjustment of the map of Akwa Ibom State as it affects Eastern Obolo LGA is null, void, illegal, unconstitutional and of no effect as you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.”
Soon, their brothers in Ibeno, the second Obolo LGA in Akwa Ibom, joined the cry. Their youths even physically protested in Ibeno.
In November, the people of the two LGAs, both created 25 years ago, addressed a press conference using the auspices of Ngba Ndiak Obolo, (Obolo People’s Assembly), their umbrella organisation. The tone was no less bellicose. The President of the organisation, Apostle Samuel Ekah, who is from Ibeno, stated: “…more so, the apprehensiveness of the Obolo people of Ibeno and Eastern Obolo LGAs based on the suspicions of the Obolo people of a grand scheme and conspiracy of the powers that be in the state to use the remapping agenda to cede certain Obolo ancestral lands and communities of Ibeno and Eastern Obolo LGAs to other neighbouring LGAs in the state.
“Reports abound in the news of the existence of a new map of Akwa Ibom State with a graphical representation of the wicked imaginations of the minds of wicked and unreasonable men who hold the truth in unrighteousness, which is traceable to a government parastatal in the State Government. The said map illustrates a planned further balkanization of our ancestral communities and lands into other existing LGAs to extend the territories and jurisdictions of these rumoured remapping-favoured LGAs to the Atlantic Ocean and thereby confer on them the status of a littoral LGA and by extension the enviable status of an oil and gas producing LGA, perhaps, in preparation for the benefits of the 3% PIA (Petroleum Industry Act) just recently passed by the National Assembly for the benefits of the oil and gas producing host communities in the country. While we do not seek to take on the duties of the traditional and governmental leaderships of these two affected Obolo LGAs, yet as holders of the trust and mandate of the Obolo people to speak on their behalf, we strongly condemn the remapping agenda based on the rumoured ulterior motives behind it and the potential it carries to open up our dear state to unwarranted conflicts that would destroy the peace and harmony we have always enjoyed intra-ethnically and inter-ethnically. We believe that the remapping agenda is ill-advised, ill-intentioned, ill-motivated and would do more harm than good to the Obolo people and Akwa Ibom State in general.”
The organisation appealed that “the Governor should ensure that the ill-advised, ill-intentioned, ill-motivated remapping agenda is discontinued to allow the people of Ibeno and Eastern Obolo LGAs to continue to live in peace and harmony with neighbouring LGAs.”
Apparently miffed by the cry of the Obolo, the people of Eket, Esit Eket, ONNA, Ikot Abasi and Mkpat Enin LGAs, who also belong to Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District as the Obolo, quickly shouted that they endorsed the House’s resolution and urged the Surveyor General to go ahead. To them, a new map meant justice.
“Akwa Ibom State does not have a map,” states the Chairman of Esit Eket Local Government, Mr. Iniobong Nnamso, who appears to be the arrowhead of the struggle of the Ekid (Eket and Esit Eket) people on the map issue. “What we have is a draft document. It was not gazetted. The House of Assembly took a holistic decision. It is a problem across the state, not just in our area. The current map violates several court judgments. The map should be drawn to show where every local government area starts and stops in line with extant judgments that clearly defined boundaries. It is not boundary adjustment. They are saying it is because there are areas that don’t belong to them that they are claiming.”
The National President of the Ekid People’s Union (EPU), the umbrella organisation of the people of Eket and Esit Eket LGAs, Dr. Samuel Udonsak, who is from Eket LGA, amplifies the position of his people: “The proposed remapping of Akwa Ibom is very welcome if it would address the anomalous boundaries imposed on the aboriginal owners by the settlers in line with judicial and historical facts.”
A renowned geologist, politician and former Special Adviser on Political Affairs to former Governor Akpan Isemin, Prof. Etie Ben Akpan, also from Eket, is equally critical of the present map: “The map is completely wrong. You cannot use somebody’s land that legal authorities have stated belongs to Eket people to draw a map for another local government area. It should not be the case. They never owned any land at all. There were some concessions for Eastern Obolo and Ibeno as settlers.”
If Ekid leaders are moderate in their tone, it seems not all their followers are. One radical group, Itid Afigh Union, has since returned fire for fire. In a statement in November signed by five leaders of the group, Manfred Ekpe, Dick Duke, Ekemini David, Ekanem Nda Edohoeket and Lady Emem Nkereuwem, it warned: “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 forefathers 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.”
The group added: “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-defence.”
Since then, there have been more incendiary statements and counter-statements from both sides complete with strong arguments laced with history. There have even been three separate violent incidents, recently, in remote villages involving Ibeno against Esit Eket, Ibeno against ONNA and Eastern Obolo against Ikot Abasi. And, given the history of communal violence in the area, chances are, that if peace is not maintained or enforced, things may get to the head and boil over in this oil and gas hub of Akwa Ibom. The Police Area Command in Eket has done a lot of trouble-shooting lately.
Curious to ascertain the truth in the various claims and counter-claims, this writer crisscrossed the seven LGAs in the last one month, sounding out stakeholders, visiting the contentious areas and poring over documents. And while in the field, there was this ringing admonition from an octogenarian former Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry and retired permanent secretary, Obong Obot Etukafia, himself a stakeholder in Ikot Abasi: “It is only the truth that can make people free. Peace can only be maintained when the truth prevails. The facts on ground speak the truth.”
But it was not the easiest thing in the world ascertaining this truth. If anything, one was confronted with all sorts of “truths”, some different from facts on ground.
What the House did
The House of Assembly had, in the resolution, mandated the Surveyor General of the state to produce a “generally acceptable, approved and gazetted map for the state.”
It also resolved that Governor Udom Emmanuel, upon approval of the new map, should immediately gazette it as the official map of the state government.
The House Committee Chairman on Information, Barr. Aniefiok Dennis Akpan, explained that the resolution was “borne out of concern and grievances from people of Akwa Ibom State.”
Akpan averred, “The House was concerned because of such agitations and grievances which led to the resolution that an acceptable map should be drawn to ensure that there is peace in Akwa Ibom State.
“The House urged relevant bodies who are in charge of remapping to ensure that an acceptable and concise map is produced and gazetted for the state.”
The lawmaker called on the aggrieved to direct their complaints to the office of the Surveyor General of the state, adding that it was not the duty of the State House of Assembly to produce a map.
The Member representing Eket State Constituency in the House of Assembly, Mr. David Lawrence, justifies the resolution which came as a result of his motion: “The motion was to call on the State Government to actually present an authentic map. Remapping is a fundamental issue that has to be addressed. You cannot run away from it. One of my colleagues, Aniekan Uko, from Ibesikpo Asutan, said his village is not on the map. As a representative of the people, I believed it was necessary to raise this issue to correct anomalies. It was the remapping of Akwa Ibom.”
He dismisses the present map as illegal: “The map is illegal. In fact, it was a crime against the state without people noticing. Anybody who is crying foul is guilty of something and we need to know what you are guilty of. We are not asking that any land be taken from anybody. If you don’t have skeletons in your cupboard, why are you afraid?”
Legality of the House’s Resolution
Some Eastern Obolo and Ibeno leaders question the legality of the House’s resolution.
Hear William: “We have filed a case in court against the State Government, the State House of Assembly and the State Surveyor General to stop the illegal remapping of the state. We will take it to any level. The State Surveyor General cannot on her own delineate boundaries. The State House of Assembly has no such powers. Their action is illegal.”
The Chairman of Ibeno Local Government, High Chief William Henry Mkpah, who is obviously championing the Ibeno struggle, equally questions the legality of the resolution: “The law says, for you to do such exercise, the communities involved should accept. It is far beyond the powers of the State House of Assembly. The creation of a local government area is a national issue. It is the business of the National Assembly and the National Boundary Commission. It is unnecessary tension the State House of Assembly has created in the state.”
A former Commissioner for Lands and Housing, Engr. Iroigak Ikann, from Eastern Obolo, too, focuses on legality: “The Surveyor General cannot draw a map because the map of a place is not an arbitrary demarcation to satisfy anybody’s will. It is a demarcation of the administrative boundaries of the area.”
The octogenarian Paramount Ruler of Eastern Obolo LGA, Ubong Harry Etetor, himself a former Member of the old Cross River State House of Assembly, also queries the legality of the resolution: “Is it the right of the House of Assembly legally to remap an area? Is that what we sent them to do? Does the Surveyor General have right to remap a local government area? Let them convince me of the benefits of remapping for Eastern Obolo. They have not consulted with anybody.”
His far younger but fierier Ibeno counterpart, Owong Effiong Archianga, reads political meaning into the whole thing: “The remapping cannot stand. It was a federal process. Where will you annex? There is no way you will want to annex somebody’s land where problem will not arise. I feel the Governor is innocent of this matter. Some people want to destabilise this government. They don’t want the Governor to have a successor. This is a very political crucial time.”
An influential businessman and politician from Ibeno, Chief Charles Ukoette, is also unsparing of the House’s resolution: “It is not necessary. You are heating up the polity. The Governor should call the House of Assembly to order because what they are doing now is going to affect the Governor and the succession plan.”
Etebom Isaiah Okonko, the Clan Head of Iko in Eastern Obolo (unlike Ibeno which is a mono-clan LGA, Eastern Obolo has two clans, Okoroete and Iko), is no less outraged: “I am completely and bitterly against the remapping. To remap Eastern Obolo is to scatter Eastern Obolo. The House of Assembly has no constitutional power to remap the state. It is the Federal Government that has. The map should remain as it is.”
To the Chairman of Eastern Obolo Local Government, Mr. Abraham Odion, his people have spoken collectively on the map issue. He declines to give a personal opinion, referring this writer to Etetor and William for more information.
A lawyer and activist from Ibeno, Barr. Diamond Akpanika, questions both the legality and the motive of the House’s resolution: “Apart from the fact that this attempt by the House of Assembly to remap Akwa Ibom offends on the clear provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the people of Ibeno are extremely worried about the sincerity of purpose of the members regarding this audacious exercise.”
But the Eket-born Leader of Eket (Akwa Ibom South) Senatorial District, Chief Nduese Essien, who served two terms in the House of Representatives for Eket/Esit Eket/Ibeno/ONNA Federal Constituency from 1999 to 2007, counters that the state legislature acted within its constitutional powers.
One of his successors in the federal house, Barr. Bassey Dan-Abia Jr, from Esit Eket, sounds even more vociferous: “If the House of Assembly has no power to ask for a map, then who has? The present map is illegal. It is not the official map of Akwa Ibom State. It was criminally contrived to cause tension. It was never gazetted. It has never been accepted. We are asking for a map!”
The incumbent representative, Otuekong Patrick Ifon, from ONNA, equally rises to the defence of the state legislature: “The House of Assembly has the legal right to ask the Surveyor General to draw the map. I advise everybody to sheath his sword and allow the Surveyor General to do her job. If there are issues that can be politically solved, the Governor can step in and solve them.”
Nnamso of Esit Eket, who is also the State Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), endorses the resolution: “The House of Assembly is right. That map has no legal backing because it was not gazetted.”
The Chairman of ONNA Local Government, Elder Iniabasi Ekanem, believes the House’s resolution will solve the problem once and for all: “I support the State House of Assembly’s resolution. We want to put the records straight. And basically, Eastern Obolo and Ibeno know the truth. That is why they are making the noise.”
His Eket counterpart, Mr. Akan Tommey, too, is convinced the House acted in order: “Akwa Ibom State does not have a map that is gazetted. The State House of Assembly is trying to work on that. Whatever the outcome, Eket people will take it.”
Etebom Etteudo Ikott, the Clan Head of Eket Offiong, one of the two clans of Esit Eket, apparently, sums up the position of Ekid people: “Our position is that there is need for a true map of Akwa Ibom State to right and correct some anomalies. The directive of the House of Assembly, upon implementation, will correct and right all wrongs, ease tension, avoid implosion. So, it’s quite commendable.”
His counterpart in Oniong, ONNA, Etebom Samuel Johnson Efik, is equally convinced that a new map will address distortions in boundaries. “They (Eastern Obolo and Ibeno) should allow the government to do the right thing to ensure peace and unity,” he admonishes. “What the House of Assembly is doing is following due process and not inciting violence. It is rather ensuring peace because the alternative to this would have been for the people of ONNA, Eket, Ikot Abasi, Esit Eket and Mkpat Enin to pick up arms against these their small oppressors.”
A former Chairman of Mkpat Enin Local Government, Dr. Imowo Udobia, who has championed the Mkpat Enin struggle against Eastern Obolo for long, is very enthusiastic about the House’s intervention: “The House of Assembly’s directive to the Surveyor-General of Akwa Ibom state to draw a new map for the state, especially as it affects the southern LGAs of the state, is supported by me. It is one directive that very many of us in the affected communities had been anxious about for a very long time. For it is done in good faith and it will bring to an expected end, decades of scrambling for land and unwarranted violent attacks on land owners by land grabbers. Also, for once, some LGAs, who were created without boundaries between them and their mother LGAs and supposed neighbours, will be properly located within their environment for the sake of peace. And the existing map especially on the southern fringes is an illegality of a sort because it was a conspiracy against the state and original owners of the land in the different LGAs.”
His clan head, Etebom Moses Udosen Ukpong of Ikpa Ibom, agrees: “The House of Assembly has the constitutional right. This is Akwa Ibom. The House of Assembly is a home-based arm of government that knows land problems. We support fully the House of Assembly in asking the Surveyor General to draw a map to correct mistakes and stop these conflicts. It will bring peace and not fight. If they (Eastern Obolo) want fight, they should fight with Atlantic Ocean and leave our land.”
On their part, Ikot Abasi leaders prefer to speak as a group. Flanked by the Chairman of Ikot Abasi Local Government, Elder Joshua Affia, a former Chairman, Surveyor Ufot Udoinyang, the President-General of Mboho Ikot Abasi, the umbrella organisation of Ikot Abasi people, Mr. Ufok Frank Enoidem, the immediate past Member representing Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo/Mkpat Enin Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr. Akpan Micah Umoh, Etukafia, who is the Chairman of the Ikot Abasi Elders’ Forum of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), a former Member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo State Constituency, Obong Uyio Udosen, and the State Financial Secretary-elect of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), Pastor Udo Isaiah, among others, the Paramount Ruler of Ikot Abasi LGA, Edidem Udo Joe Ntok Obom, declares his people’s support for the remapping. “We are speaking as the Paramount Ruler-in-council,” he emphasises to this writer at his palace in Ikot Abasi as the others concur. “Everybody in Akwa Ibom State knows that Eastern Obolo is staying on our land.”
The Positions of Attah and Ekpenyong on the Legality Issue
Former Governor Victor Attah, who seems to be very conversant with the map issue, does not doubt the power of the House of Assembly to act on the issue: “Everybody is represented in the House of Assembly. There is nothing sacrosanct. No map is drawn from heaven.”
Attah, a passionate advocate of true federalism, vehemently rejects arguments that the state legislature is dabbling into the exclusive preserve of its federal counterpart: “It is the state that has the power. It is not the Federal Government that will come and decide for anybody. I can shout on the rooftop that the Federal Government has no business with this. All this fight about boundaries is because the Federal Government keeps interfering in things that have nothing to do with the Federal Government, particularly about land. Under the military, the Federal Government arbitrarily created local government areas. Whoever had representation in the military ruling council had local government areas created for them. It didn’t relate to the reality of who belonged where. All these quarrels would not happen if creation of local government areas was done properly. I am hoping for the day that Nigeria would revert to a proper federal system.”
His former deputy, Dr. Chris Ekpenyong, who is presently representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District in the Senate, too, does not contest the power of the state legislature on the map issue.
But Ekpenyong, a former Member of the old Cross River House of Assembly, urges caution. He sees the issue as a hot potato that should be dropped: “I love peace. I love justice. When there is no justice, there is no peace. If they want to redraw a map, they want to escalate crisis which they won’t be able to stand. It should be a matter of horse-trading. It should not be a matter of drawing a map and trying to forcefully claim a land.”
The Surveyor General’s Position
It appears the remapping has commenced.
Speaking through her Information Officer, Mrs. Nsisong David, the State Surveyor General, Mrs. Emem Isang, says the process is on course and details would be given once it is completed.
All About Access to the Sea
In the present map, only Eastern Obolo, Ibeno and Mbo have access to the Atlantic Ocean, making them the three littoral LGAs of the state.
Leaders of Eastern Obolo and Ibeno allege that the move to draw a new map is aimed at unjustly giving their bigger neighbours in Eket, Esit Eket, ONNA, Ikot Abasi and Mkpat Enin access to the sea. Conversely, leaders of the Big Five do not hide the fact that they want a new map to be drawn to reflect what they consider the realities on ground, essentially that they all have access to the sea.
The whole contention is, therefore, over access to the sea.
Says Essien, former Minister for Lands and Housing: “Eastern Obolo, Ibeno and Mbo claim to be the only littoral LGAs because the illegal map appropriated to them land that has never belonged to them. Ibeno settlements at the estuary of Qua Iboe River are only seven villages which could not qualify for a LGA. The neighbouring land to the seven villages were added to make up a local government area but that addition would never transfer ownership of land to Ibeno considering the ancestral rights of Ekid people backed by several court rulings. This also applies to Eastern Obolo. Mbo has no justifiable claims to littoral status. The coastal land of Akwa Ibom State, from Okposo through the Stubbs Creek forest reserve called by Ekid as Akoiyak, Ine and to the mouth of Qua Iboe River, are the exclusive property of Eket and Esit Eket people.”
The Paramount Ruler of Eket LGA, Obong Etim Charles Daniel Abia, an octogenarian former Accountant General of the old South-Eastern State (now Akwa Ibom and Cross River States), insists that the two Ekid LGAs are naturally littoral: “Eket land starts from the mouth of Qua Iboe River to Okposo II. This boundary has been mutilated by Ibeno leaders who happened to be in government during the military regime. Ibeno had only seven villages, four in ONNA and three in Eket.”
Ifon declares that “you cannot exclude ONNA, Eket and Esit Eket from access to the sea where records show these people have had access to the sea long before you settled.”
The Paramount Ruler of ONNA LGA, Edidem Raymond Inyang, Efik, the Oniong clan head, and a community leader in the clan, Barr. Ntiense Mbosoh, all contend that Eastern Obolo and Ibeno are claiming Oniong villages in and around the Atlantic Ocean.
“Before Eastern Obolo started encroaching my village, in particular, our boundary took us to the Atlantic Ocean,” says Efik who is a lawyer. “If you look at the map, ONNA is resting on Eastern Obolo whereas it was never so. Ibeno and Eastern Obolo are encroaching on ONNA land.”
The Paramount Ruler of Mkpat Enin LGA, Edidem Akpan Akpan Ekpene, is explicit that Mkpat Enin has access to the sea through her largest clan, Ikpa Ibom, which is close to both Oniong, ONNA’s biggest clan, and Okoroete, the headquarters of Eastern Obolo LGA.
Udobia is puzzled about Mkpat Enin’s non-littoral status: “If almost the entire land area inhabited by Eastern Obolo is Mkpat Enin land, how come Mkpat Enin is not a littoral LGA and Eastern Obolo, who don’t own land, is? The truth is that who ever created Eastern Obolo as a local government didn’t create an area for them to operate. In other words, they didn’t demarcate any boundaries between them and their host and, because no boundaries were given to them, they thought it wise to unilaterally create those boundaries for themselves as it were. This has been the reason for the heightened communal crises in the area after the local government area pronouncement.”
A veteran physician and politician also from Ikpa Ibom, Dr. Sidney Udofot, says his village, Odoroikot, in particular, has access to the sea: “The people of Odoroikot derive their livelihood partly from the sea. They have direct access to the Atlantic Ocean and benefit from the resources therein. Nothing has happened recently to alter the status quo.”
Ikot Abasi leaders blame their area’s non-littoral status on the present map: “Based on the skewed map of Akwa Ibom State, that has been in circulation over the years of which the people of Ikot Abasi have always rejected, Ibeno and Eastern Obolo local government areas have come to believe that they are the only littoral local government areas. Such notion gives comfort to them but the fact is that they know the truth and the circumstances of history.”
Etukafia has a poser: “What is the truth of the matter? You go to the ground and see where the people live. You go to the map it is something else. So, what does that tell you?”
Akpan, the geologist, proffers a live-and-let’s-live solution. He suggests that all seven LGAs be given access to the sea in the new map: “Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Esit Eket and Eket all have access to the sea naturally. We are fair to them. This land is not their land. They don’t want us to have access to the sea. They just want to take the land, somebody’s land. But we want them to also have access to the sea.”
Mbosoh agrees: “To reduce the tension once and for all, give Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Esit Eket and Eket access to the sea through their natural villages that are at the coast. All the seven local government areas should have access to the sea and the tension would go down because what is giving Ibeno and Eastern Obolo the impetus to claim our land is the map. They are emboldened by the map.”
The Village Head of Ikot Oyoro in Ikpa Ibom Clan of Mkpat Enin LGA, Eteidung Sylvester Akpan Inyang, backs the proposal as well: “We want everybody to have access to the Atlantic Ocean. They (Eastern Obolo) have no land. For the sake of peace, let everybody have access to the sea. If that does not happen, there won’t be peace because we cannot leave our land for them to inherit.”
Archianga and William reject the proposal outright.
Mkpah warns that applying Solomon’s judgment to create such access to the sea would balkanise Ibeno: “My colleagues are asking for the child to be shared into four. Everybody takes his own share. But I am saying please, if you share, the child will die. So, the Governor should intervene by telling the House of Assembly not to share the child. Cutting Ibeno into four will kill Ibeno.”
Etetor, who served as the pioneer elected Chairman of Eastern Obolo Local Government between 1997 and 1998, sounds sarcastic: “Why do they want access to the sea? Have Ibeno and Eastern Obolo fenced the shoreline? Tell them to reason well. They are leaders. They should not bring problem. Eastern Obolo was created 25 years ago and the shoreline was there before the creation of the local government area. If ONNA, Mkpat Enin and Ikot Abasi want access to the sea, include Itu, Abak and others. All the 31 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State should be represented on the shoreline so that there will be peace.”
“Settlers” versus “Aborigines”
In 1996, Eastern Obolo LGA was created from Ikot Abasi LGA while the defunct Uquo Ibeno LGA was split into two to produce Uquo (later renamed Esit Eket) and Ibeno LGAs. Seven years earlier, the old Ikot Abasi LGA was divided into Ikot Abasi and Mkpa Enin LGAs while the old Eket LGA was separated into Eket, Uquo Ibeno and ONNA LGAs.
The seven contending LGAs have coalesced into two groups: The Obolo (Eastern Obolo and Ibeno) and the Ibibio (Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Eket and Esit Eket).
The Ibibio consider themselves the “Aborigines” and see the Obolo as “Settlers.”
Akpan, the don, reveals that the leaders of the five Ibibio LGAs have formed the Coalition of Aboriginal Coastline Local Government Areas. “We are the aborigines,” he asserts. “They want to take everything in the land. If we were to follow the Privy Council judgment of 1918, you will see that they have no land. Eket people gave them (Ibeno) land. They just came as settlers.”
Mbosoh, a vocal member of this coalition, is starker in his argument: “What we are saying is that the draft map of Akwa Ibom State, as it stands today, has no legislative nor legal backing. That map concedes the whole waterfront from Ikot Abasi to Mbo to two local government areas which are from the same stock, Andoni. Now, they want to be called Obolo. That concession has ceded the entire waterfront of Akwa Ibom State to these brothers of ours who are not indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. They are settlers. This map threatens the collective existence of Akwa Ibom State. This map threatens the littoral status of the Ibibio local government areas of Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Eket and Esit Eket. This map threatens to make Ibibio Nation a landlocked nation whereas Ibibio Nation has had access to the sea from time immemorial.”
Udobia concurs: “The only relationship between ONNA, Mkpat Enin, Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo people is that the last occupy land that aboriginally belongs to the first three. Eastern Obolo have been tenants on their land for decades on consideration of the fulfilment of certain customary rites (royalties). To date, no boundaries have been demarcated for a definite territory for Eastern Obolo other than the one they forced on their hosts. This is how funny it has been for decades.”
The dichotomy leads to the argument of who arrived first.
Inyang, the ONNA monarch, is unambiguous that it is the Ibibio.
His Eket counterpart, Abia, is specific about Ekid versus Ibeno: “There is no doubt that Ibeno people arrived as refugees from Andoni. They were at war with King Jaja of Opobo. Their presence here is just about 136 years. When you read Talbot’s book, you will see.”
Ikott, the Esit Eket clan head, toes the same line: “Ibeno came to meet to meet Eket and Esit Eket effectively occupying the littoral area. By the judgment of the Privy Council, they are settlers who have no right beyond where our forefathers gave to them.”
Nnamso is insistent that the entire Ibeno land exists on Eket and ONNA land: “Every part of Ibeno land is either owned by Eket or ONNA. Ibeno people don’t own any land in Akwa Ibom State except the areas that were given to them by the indigenous Akwa Ibom people. Eket gave them Mkpanak, Iwuochang and Upenekang. ONNA gave them Okoroutip, Ntafre, Opolom and Atabrikang. Ibeno people living on Eket land does not make it Ibeno land. They are Ijaw. They are from Andoni. They are not aborigines. It is as simple as that. Ibeno and Eastern Obolo are people who migrated from Andoni in Rivers State and were given accommodation by the Ibibio of Ikot Abasi, Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Eket and Esit Eket. It is laughable to say that Ijaw people settled in Akwa Ibom before the Ibibio.”
Itid Afigh Union delves into history and anthropology: “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 later the colonial policy in the area, had been well documented. According to folklore supported by anthropological findings, the Ibeno people are not older than 270 years in their present location, which is too young a period for an aboriginal community in the light of Ibibio/Annang history. 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 Onniong (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 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 Iboe Church.”
Ukpong of Ikpa Ibom argues that the whole of Eastern Obolo belongs to his clan and Ukpum Ete Clan in Ikot Abasi: “Ete gave them land on their side. Ikpa Ibom gave them land on our side. Ikpa Ibom Clan, with 31 villages, is larger than the whole of Eastern Obolo in size and population. They are strangers. They came for fishing.”
His claim is supported by Eteidung Raymond Udia, the Village Head of Ikot Ekong, the Ikpa Ibom village that was at the frontline of the communal war with Okoroete in Eastern Obolo in 1991: “Ikpa Ibom gave Okoroete land because they were fishermen. Okoroete was a fishing settlement. Okoroete is Ikpa Ibom land.”
Ikot Abasi leaders claim the whole of Eastern Obolo as belonging to Ukpum Ete Clan which also bounds Ikpa Ibom Clan. A village in Ete, Ikot Akpan Udo, has been embroiled in a bloody communal conflict with Amazzaba Community of Eastern Obolo in the last decade. Their words: “In spite of the skewed Akwa Ibom State map, Eastern Obolo people have always wanted to have their boundary with Ikot Abasi to be physically delineated but Ukpum Ete has always resisted such because, historically, the whole of Eastern Obolo LGA is on Ukpum Ete land and it is difficult to know where to put the boundaries. The present area called by Eastern Obolo was given to Ijaw migrant fishermen by the people of Ukpum Ete on condition that they will be paying tribute annually to Ukpum Ete which they always did. This is an incontrovertible fact that Eastern Obolo elders won’t deny if asked because evidence abound.”
They, however, wave an olive branch: “But as law-abiding citizens, it is hoped that pressure will be brought to bear on Ukpum Ete Clan on the need to accept whatever amicable position the State House of Assembly will come up with, in the interest of peaceful co-existence and to put and end to loss of lives and property among the people of Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo. Ikot Abasi people are ready to work with not just Mkpat Enin, ONNA, Eket and Esit Eket but also willing to work with Eastern Obolo to resolve issues that will bring peace and equity to our maritime communities within the concept of maintaining peace and the rule of law.”
William, the young Eastern Obolo activist and historian, considers the “settler” appellation insulting: “We are not settlers. And it is deeply insulting for anybody in this 21st century to refer to a people who have inhabited that place for centuries as settlers. If we are settlers, why didn’t they chase us away?”
He counter-claims that Eastern Obolo settled first on the disputed land before Ikot Abasi and Mkpat Enin.
Archianga, the Ibeno monarch, makes a similar counter-claim. According to him, Ibeno arrived before Ekid: “We are not settlers. Eket people are our children. We produced Eket people. Ask them about their origin.”
Akpanika is more elaborate: “When Ibeno settled at the current abode and began eking for their living from making of salt which they got from the fresh mangrove and seaweeds, and fishing which ultimately became their most prominent occupation, their first contacts with any humans were the Ibibios called Ukat in Ubium in those days where they exchanged their fishes in a barter arrangement for vegetables and other farm produce which were the preoccupation of the Ubium then. The thick forest lying between Ibeno and Ukat were inhabited and the people had to make brave efforts to cross these forests because of its dangerous nature being riddled with large and dangerous game like tiger and elephants, among others.
“Between 1701 and 1708, Ibeno was involved in a war to preserve its habitation against Nna Biget of Bonny. There are documents of history that it was during this war that some dissidents of that war left Ibeno to form the present day Eket. The progenitors of Eket left Ibeno led by their oldest and most respected leader, one Okpo Eti. D. W. Jeffreys, District Officer, Eket, 1928, supports this claim. William D. Spence, District Officer, Eket, 1931, while writing an investigation report to aid the establishment of Native Administration in Eket Division in 1931, also recorded this. Spence record shows a most in-depth interactions with the early Ekets whom he claimed mostly confessed to having left Ibeno for their present settlement in Eket, but that their earliest place of settlement was Effoi from where they separated to their first nine original clans. Those nine clans had five larger clans and four others not so large, and those five subsequently subsumed the smaller four. G.I. Jones, District Officer and historian also corroborated these facts in his intelligence report of the Ekets.
“There are also historical facts and confessions that before and until the coming of S. A. Bill and the introduction of Christianity in Ibeno through the Qua Iboe Mission in 1887, the Ekets were always returning to Ibeno every December to worship the only god they knew: Abasi Ibeno – the goddess of Ibeno. All the historians who served as District Officers or cadets in the Colonial Government maintained this sacred fact! Even Justice Webber, the judge who sat at the Privy Council in Calabar in the matter between two Ibeno village heads which Eket later joined as interested party, in his judgment, alluded to the fact that Ekets were paying money and gin as tributes to their Ibeno overlords, but that to his mind, such tributes were paid to enable Ekets worship Abasi Ibeno, the superior god they knew.
“The first interaction between Ibeno and Eket occurred while the people were navigating back to Ukat to conduct their trade by barter; suddenly they discovered these people whom they knew to have left Ibeno during the war. Ibeno now called them Ekwid, meaning we have seen them. That is the name which Ibeno calls Ekwid to this day. Incorruptibility and unchanged!”
Ikann, from Eastern Obolo, introduces another angle to the argument, asserting that everyone is a settler: “Who came with land? You should know that everybody is a settler. We are not recent settlers. Records show that we are the first settlers in that area. Ibibio are majorly farmers. We are majorly fishermen.”
His monarch, Etetor, stretches this angle further: “The Paramount Ruler of Ikot Abasi said during a meeting at the Deputy Governor’s Office recently that the land we are living belongs to Ikot Abasi. I want to point out that he started to be landlord from Eden. And if Adam and Eve were the progenitors of human race, it means his landlordship started from Adam’s time. They did not migrate from anywhere. It is only Eastern Obolo and Ibeno that migrated. They dropped directly from Eden.”
Okonko, the Iko clan head, thinks along the same line: “Is Mkpat Enin the Garden of Eden? The land was never given to our forefathers by them.”
An Historian’s Verdict
Dr. Uwem Jonah Akpan, a cerebral journalist and historian, is fast gaining a reputation as an authority on ethnic history and relations in Akwa Ibom State.
Two years ago, he stirred the hornet’s nest when he tore to shreds Ikono/Ini’s widely-accepted claim to being the cradle of the Ibibio, Akwa Ibom’s dominant ethnic group, in his controversial book, “Ikono, The Cradle of Ibibio Nation: A Refutation.”
According to him, he has researched widely into the history of various people in the state. And it is difficult to doubt him. Pose any question about the history of any part of the state and be ready for him to regale you with facts, dates and figures. He is simply inimitable.
Akpan, who lectures in the Department of History and International Studies at the University of Uyo, is not afraid to delve into claims and counter-claims of the coastal Ibibio and the Obolo about who arrived their present abodes first.
Hear him: “I have carried out extensive research in those areas. I have also lived in and travelled widely across Ibeno. Ibeno and Eastern Obolo are recent arrivals in the state. Ibeno is living on Eket land while Eastern Obolo is living on Ikpa Ibom land.”
He promises to give a more detailed position once he returns to Uyo from holidaying in his village in Etinan LGA.
A Plethora of Judgments
Both sides hinge their land claims on the law.
Ekid leaders, particularly, are quick to display a plethora of judgments in their favour.
“The solution to this is that there is a judgment that was given over 100 years ago which should be adhered to,” says Nnamso, the Esit Eket LG boss, as he rummages through a 144-page document containing various judgments and reports in favour of Ekid over Ibeno.
The said over a century-old judgment is over a court case instituted by Chief Ntiero, the head chief of Mkpanak and one Ikpak against Chief Ibok Etok Akpan, the chief of Upenekang, now the headquarters of Ibeno LGA, over ownership of Stubbs Creek, where the Qua Iboe Terminal (QIT) of the International Oil Company (IOC), ExxonMobil, is presently located. Ntiero and Ikpak wanted “a declaration that the land between the creek known as Stubbs creek and the sea extending from the mouth of the Qua Iboe River eastwards along the sea shore to the Child Point is the property of Big Town (Mkpanak); for an injunction restraining the defendant and his people from interfering with the plaintiffs’ right of ownership and 50 pounds damages for trespass.”
Chief Edoho Eket of Eket applied to join the case which was initially an intra-Ibeno affair. The case then became Chief Ntiero and Ikpak vs Ibok Etok Akpan and Edoho Ekit.
In the judgment delivered on February 28, 1916, Justice A. Webber of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Calabar, now the capital of Cross River State, dismissed the claim of the plaintiffs, Ntiero and Ikpak.
The judge held: “The evidence shows almost an exclusive occupation of these swamp lands by the Ekets. The more Southern Ekets undoubtedly used the swamps for fishing – until the creeks were widened and deepened (Stubbs and Wideham) there was no definite division of the swamp. It was a continuation of swamp (known by Ekets as Okoyak) from southern Eket to the seashore with the creek now known as Widenham on the right of the swamp.”
Edoho Eket and his people ended up benefiting from what was originally an intra-Ibeno land tussle. Although the Ekid, who were joined as second defendants, did not counter-claim, Webber went on to grant them a declaration of title to the swamps.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, Ntiero and Ikpak appealed to the appeal court, the full court of the West African Court of Appeal. The full court, in its judgment delivered on December 5, 1916, upheld the decision of Webber but reasoned that since the Ekid had not asked for a declaration of title, there was no reason for granting it.
On a further appeal to the Judicial Commission of the Privy Council in London, the appeal was again dismissed and the decision of the full court affirmed. This decision is reported in Vol. 3 Nigeria Law Reports pages 10-15.
Next, the Esit Eket LG boss speaks of a more recent case instituted by Archianga and nine other Ibeno chiefs for themselves and on behalf of the people of Ibeno Clan in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State against the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Mobil Producing (Nigeria) Unlimited, Obong E. C. D. Abia and 12 others.
His words: “Where QIT is located was given to Mobil in 1969 and had a 40-year rent. At the end of the rent, Ibeno took Mobil, NNPC and State Government to court over renewal of rent for the land. They lost at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal.”
The Chairman produces a certified true copy of the April 15, 2011 high court judgment against Ibeno. In the judgment, Justice Charles Ikpe of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, sitting in Eket, held: “In summary I have found in this case that by virtue of the exhibits 2 and 3, that the cause of action accrued to the Claimants in the year 1970. I have disagreed with the proposition of the Claimants that the Claimants are seeking a harmless declaration and that by merely inviting the Court to interpret certain documents, the Claimants are not caught by the Limitation Law as they were not seeking the recovery of land. I have held that whichever way, the Claimants, by this instant process, have taken a tangible action, which action will ultimately lead to the alteration of the integrity of some presumed existing legal right over the land in issue and turn around to vest specific other rights in the Claimants howsoever.”
Ikpe, who is still in service, then ruled: “The Court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain this Suit. The suit is accordingly struck out.”
He, however, awarded no cost “in the hope of promoting cordial relationship between the parties.”
Nnamso equally makes available a certified true copy of the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Calabar, dated June 26, 2012, on Archianga’s appeal against the high court’s judgment. In the judgment, the appeal court ordered “that the appeal be and it is hereby dismissed for lack of merit” and “that the decision of the High Court contained in the Ruling delivered on 15/4/2011 is hereby affirmed.”
Still to buttress the Ekid argument, the Chairman presents the Main Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Dispute between The Eket, Uquo, Ibeno, Mbo and Onna (1993).
In the report, the commission, chaired by Justice H. O. I. Akpata J. S. C. (retd.), stated: “The legal doctrine or principle of estoppel makes it imperative that a judgment of a court of justice is conclusive as to the settlement effected by it and that the parties and their privies must be bound by the finding of facts in the case. The judgment is also conclusive between the parties and their privies as to the grounds on which the judgment was based. The Ibenos of Mkpanak cannot be heard claiming again in any guise the land between the creeks known as Stubbs Creek and the sea extending from the mouth of the Qua Iboe River eastwards along the sea shore to the Child Point. The finding of fact that the Ekets had almost an exclusive occupation of the swamp land and that they used the swamp for fishing and that the swamp extended from southern Eket to the sea shore cannot now be controverted by the Ibenos of Mkpanak and Ukpenekang.”
Nnamso clarifies: “We are not contesting Mkpanak and Upenekang. We are talking about Stubbs Creek. They don’t own any village in Stubbs Creek. What Ibeno is doing is land grabbing. Upenekang and Mkpanak are entering the land in violation of court judgment. Which other court upturned this judgment? Every village in Stubbs Creek is a fishing settlement of Eket people. Every village in Eket and Esit Eket has land in Stubbs Creek.”
On his part, Dan-Abia, who is the National Secretary of EPU, displays a certified true copy of a November 18, 2002 judgment of the Akwa Ibom State High Court, sitting in Eket, in the case between the Village Head of Ine Akpautong, Chief Ubong Peter Assam (now also the Paramount Ruler of Esit Eket) versus the Surveyor General, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Ine Akpautong is a fishing settlement in Stubbs Creek claimed by both Esit Eket and Ibeno.
Justice Andrew Okon (now retired), who delivered the judgment, gave a “declaration that the Village of Ine Akpautong in Esit Eket Local Government of Akwa Ibom State is entitled to be shown and located on the map of Esit Eket Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State as produced by the 1st defendant (Surveyor General).”
Okon went on to give two orders. One: “It is ordered that the 1st defendant shall produce Maps of Esit Eket Local Government Area and of Akwa Ibom State and Locate the plaintiff’s Village in its correct position thereon in order not to disenfranchise its people.” Two: “It is also ordered that the defendants shall ensure that in any electoral or other delimitation of villages, the plaintiff’s village, Ine Akpautong, is duly and properly located in Esit Eket Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.”
Dan-Abia argues that the non-enforcement of this judgment after nearly 20 years is one of the reasons a new map is necessary: “My Paramount Ruler is from Ine Akpautong. This judgment has not been enforced and has not been obeyed. That is why you have pervading tension. This judgment clearly justifies, buttresses and gives credence to the recent resolution of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly for the readjustment of the map.”
Not done, Dan-Abia, additionally in a bid to justify Eket’s claim to Stubbs Creek, presents another document in which the State Government approved payment of compensation to Edo Group of Villages in Esit Eket for land acquired for the expansion of QIT. The letter, dated 9th March, 1998, signed by S. I. Akpadiaha, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Military Administrator, and addressed to the Hon. Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, read in full: “I am directed to refer to your letter No. MOA/COM/15/Vol. X/279 of 17th February 1998 on the above subject matter and to convey to you His Excellency, The Military Administrator’s approval for payment of N18,340,000.00 (Eighteen Million, Three Hundred and Forty Thousand Naira) only to Edo Group of Villages through Mrs. Joyce Udom of United Chambers as compensation for part of the Stubbs Creek Forest Reserve acquired by Government for expansion of Mobil Qua Iboe Terminal.”
The approval of then Military Administrator, Navy Captain Joseph Adeusi, was in response to a request by his Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Colonel Okon Essang (retd.). The first paragraph of the commissioner’s letter read: “Edo Group of Villages are original land owners of 171,088 hectares of that parcel of Stubbs Creek Forest Reserve now acquired by the Government for expansion of Mobil Qua Iboe Terminal. Over the years since the establishment of the Reserve, this Ministry has been paying 20% of revenue derived from the Forest to the community as royalty while the villages retained the rights of fishing, tapping of raffia palms, cutting of sticks for building and hunting within the Reserve.”
Abia, the Eket monarch, harps on the Mobil versus Ibeno case: “Ibeno took Mobil, NNPC and Federal Government to court and we joined in the case. The claim was that where QIT is belongs to them. They lost the case at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal. It was thrown out. It was decided that the land doesn’t belong to them. In any case, how can you reverse a decision that was taken by the Privy Council in the British Empire?”
Essien, the ex-minister, points out that since the 1918 ultimate judgment “Ibeno has been making several attempts to reverse the Privy Council ruling through several courts, tribunals and armed conquest without success.”
He declares that “the illegal map is another effort.”
Still on litigation, Inyang, the ONNA monarch, says Eastern Obolo have four court judgments against them: “There are four cases where they (Eastern Obolo) have claimed land and lost all. These are proven cases. They did not have land anywhere. That is why they paid rent wherever they stayed.”
One of such cases is the 1941 Down Bellow case at the West African Court of Appeal. There are two others in 1947 and 1948, respectively.
Mbosoh of Oniong clan in ONNA, who brandishes multiple legal documents on the land dispute, relies on a particular court judgement to back his clan’s claim: “There is Akata case of 1948. The case established Akata as the natural outlet to the sea for ONNA people. Okoroete people were fishing at Ntung Akata and refused to pay royalty. In that case suit No. 291/46, Chief Etok Abasok, the village head of Ikot Akpatek (Mbosoh’s village) and clan head of Oniong clan and Chief Joseph Ekaette of Ikot Edor sued two Okoroete fishermen from Opobo Division (now Ikot Abasi LGA), claiming the sum of Ten Pounds as drink money (tribute) for staying and fishing at Ntung Akata fishing port for two years. Two Ibeno sons joined the defendants but eventually apologised when they lost the case. It was settled with Okoroete people paying traditional fine to Oniong people.”
Ikot Abasi leaders talk of court victories over Eastern Obolo in 1925 and 1943. They, however, decline to produce copies of the judgments.
Udobia says his clan, Ikpa Ibom, in Mkpat Enin, also has a court judgment against Eastern Obolo: “Let it be registered that the entire land from Ikot Abasi to Eket is Ibibio land (West African Court of Appeal judgment, 1943). Ikpa Ibom Clan also obtained judgment in Suit No. HET/23/77 to the effect that the land belongs to the people of Ikpa Ibom and not Eastern Obolo. And Eastern Obolo is not Ibibio rather Andoni settlers on Ibibio land. In 1992, a commission of enquiry set up by Akwa Ibom State Government over the communal crisis between Eastern Obolo and Ikpa Ibom clan in Mkpat Enin produced a white paper that recommended to the State Government that some villages in Eastern Obolo be included in Mkpat Enin LGA for the sake of peace in the area. Now, look at it, does this not suggest to you that Eastern Obolo people are living in Mkpat Enin land and the other part of it in the land of Ikot Abasi?”
Ekpene, the Mkpat Enin monarch, appeals that “government should follow the court orders in favour of Ikpa Ibom against Eastern Obolo.”
But those judgments are not handy.
Ibeno leaders say they, too, have court judgments in their favour.
Hear Archianga: “I have been winning them in cases at the State High Court. They have appealed at the Court of Appeal. They are the people who sued. Mobil used them to sue us on ownership of the land at the State High Court, Etinan. We won them. They now appealed. In 2016/2017, Mobil incited Eket people to sue us. That case was ruled in favour of Ibeno. It was decided with N50,000 in favour of Ibeno. Eket was asking that the land belongs to them. They have never won us.”
He does not agree that the 1916 and 1918 judgments favoured Eket: “It is a lie. In 1916, an Mkpanak man, Chief Ntiero, instituted a case against Chief Ibok Etok Akpan from Upenekang that the land from Mkpanak to Okposo belongs to Mkpanak. Chief Edoho Eket was drying fish for the Upenekang man. The Eket man said he was also a stakeholder in the case. The case was dismissed against Edoho Eket. The ruling was that the land belongs to Ibeno people. That was the ruling.”
Akpanika seems to be the legal and media brain behind the Ibeno struggle. But neither he nor his monarch could present copies of judgments in their favour. “I may not have those judgments,” replies Akpanika to a request by this writer.
Unlike his Ibeno counterpart, Etetor of Eastern Obolo is not relying on any court judgment: “Was that judgment not there when the Federal Government created local government area for Eastern Obolo? Let them blame the Federal Government for creating local government areas for Ibeno and Eastern Obolo.”
Next issues: Who Drew the Present Map? Paramount Rulers with Disputed Villages, The Violent Past, Peace Maintenance, Attah’s Panacea, Ekpenyong’s Account of the Land Concessions for the Location of Ibeno Local Government Secretariat, The PIA Connection and The Implications of the Map Controversy on the 2023 Senate and House of Representatives’ contests in the seven LGAs.
© Inemesit Ina