By: Nick Nwaneri, Calabar
The Supreme Court of Nigeria has maintained its ruling on the Obongship stool
“affirming the decision of the Court of Appeal, particularly the order made setting aside the selection and proclamation of first Respondent Abasi Otu as the Obong-elect by Etubom Conclave of the Palace of the Obong of Calabar.
Therefore, “it ordered that the Western Calabar Traditional Rulers Council shall conduct another process to select an Etubom from amongst themselves, including the First Respondent, who shall be the next Obong of Calabar, in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Etuboms Council, Palace of the Obong of Calabar, January 2002, and in strict compliance with rules of natural justice “.
However, “the Supreme Court, upheld the decision of the Appeal Court that Ani was not capped hence disqualified him as he cannot vote or be voted for”.
It ruled that “from the only evidence available to the High Court, the only impression that a reasonable man would htof the process by which the 1st Appellant (Abasi Otu) became a candidate not nominated by his Ruling House, who was screened by his vice chairman, and was furtively recommended as the most suitable candidate for selection as the Obong of Calabar.”
“Appellants (Etubom Traditional council) used their positions in Western Council unfairly to the disadvantage of 1 Respondant (Ani) in breach of the pillar of natural justice that a person should not be a judge in his own cause,”.
“It said, the trial court and Court of Appeal were ad idem that the way and manner in which the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) was selected and proclaimed the Obong of Calabar was not in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and I totally agree.”
Furthermore, “natural justice implies fairness and all that is reasonable.Justice is thus rightly regarded as “the bond of society”, the “cornerstone of human togetherness”. It is the condition in which the individual can feel able to identify with society, feel at one with it and accept its rulings”.
However, “the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) metamorphosed from being the chairman of the Western Calabar Traditional council that was entrusted with the task og selecting an Etubom from amongst themselves as the candidate for the Stool of Obong of Calabar, into a candidate for the Stool without notice to the other candidates”.
“As it is, his metamorphosis from chairman to candidate is a flagrant violation of the rules of natural justice, as no man should be a judge in his own cause “.
It also heard that the Respondents
(Etubom Traditional council) had claimed that they took the decision to select the first Respondent (Abasi Otu) as its candidate for the Stool because the first Appellant (Ani) was not qualified to vie for the Stool. It is true that the first Appellant is not qualified, but that is beside the point as far as the issue in this case is concerned”.
“The decision taken by the Western Council to select the first Respondent as its candidate is, undoubtedly, a breach of the site of natural justice, and it is settled that if a principle of natural justice is violated, it does not matter whether, if the proper thing had been done, the decision would have been the same. The decision must be declared to be no decision, see Adigun V. A.G. , of Oyo state (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.53) 678 and Salu V. Egeibon (1994) 6 NWLR (Pt.348)23 at 44, wherein this Court per Adio, JSC, also explained as follows “.
“if a principle of natural justice is violated, it does not matter whether if the proper thing had been done, the decision would have been the same, the proceedings will still be null and void.”
The judgement was delivered on Friday January 13, 2023 by,Justice Amina Adamu Augie of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Abuja.
“in other words, if the principles of natural justice are violated in respect of any decision, it is immaterial whether the same decision would have been arrived at in the absence of the departure from the essential principles of justice. The decision, must be declared to be no decision “.
“We also wish to bring to your notice the conflict of interest involved in the screening and selection of the candidates for the Obongship, Etubom Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu as an interested party in the Obongship is the chairman of the Efik Iboku Edit Edik traditional rulers council (Western Council) and hid fellow Etubom (from Adiabo) is the vice chairman, who presides at the meetings where candidates were screened”.
The judgement states “this is a serious violation of natural justice, it should be pointed out that Adiabo had produced the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Otu Ekpenyong Effah in 1985 at the expense of Ikoneto. Their surreptitious attempt to do so through the back door this time is most unacceptable.”