Inside Eleme: Sir, can we meet you?
B.M. Wifa: Am popularly known as B.M. Wifa, a lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Inside Eleme: King Nkpornwi granted an interview to the effect that Eleme people should steer clear of the stool of Oneh-Eh Eleme, stressing that since the former king, HRM S.O. Ejire who had been in court with him over the stool of Oneh eh Eleme is dead ,he automatically becomes the king of Eleme What is your view as Counsel to the late King S.O. Ejire?
B.M. Wifa: Well, all I can tell you is that those views of the person who calls himself King Nkpornwi are baseless, completely baseless without any foundation in law.
Nkpornwi sued the late Majesty, S.O. Ejire, the Oneh-Eh Eleme X, who was the chairman of the Eleme Council of Chiefs in suit number NHC/19/2004 and sued Chief Philip Osaro Obele, claiming that Ejire was not properly elected as king.
That suit was dismissed, not only was it dismissed, but the counter claim, that’s the suit filed by Ejire was affirmed by the Court, in the judgment of Nchia High Court in November last year. So, there’s no basis and at no time had any court affirmed Nkpornwi as a king. The man who he challenged won the case. So he now appealed. In this appeal number CA/PH/28/2018 to the Court of Appeal; because of the tardiness in the prosecution of the appeal, that appeal has not been set down by the Court of Appeal for hearing at the time that Ejire died.
Well, in law I can tell you this, the only question that rises is: does Nkpornwi’s appeal even survive the death of his late majesty?
And if we are called upon by the court to do so, the court will readily affirm that, that suit, that appeal does not survive. Why, because it was personal to the majesty. You will know, all the Oneh Eh Eleme that have passed, after one, another one will come, after this, another one will come. So, it is not hereditary and is personal. So once the court or the law asserts, that that is the position, you cannot claim that that appeal will survive. So to all practical purposes, that appeal is dead. It’s only waiting for a formal pronouncement from the Court of Appeal to say that the appeal has died. So Nkpornwi has no legs to stand on to claim that automatically, because the man has died, the stool devolves on him. It may be his local logic in his village, but it has no basis in law.
Inside Eleme: Can Eleme people go ahead to elect a new king given that the stool of One-Eh Eleme is “lis pendens” as stated by King Nkpornwi’s Lawyer, Mr. Kio Esq.?
B.M. Wifa: We’ve answered that, we’ve answered that, you see we are in full agreement with the submission that, it is important to observe and adhere to the principle of Rule of Law, but are not quite convinced that the doctrine of lis pendens applies to this case. It’s if the thing is surviving, then you go and do some other thing contrary to the rights of the party, what it means is that, if you do so, the court will nullify it.
We believe and I think the law is quite clear on this, that what is at stake as I have already said is whether that appeal survives. And it’s quite clear to us that the appeal does not survive. And the people cannot be held hostage by any assertion by any person, Nkpornwi or his lawyer from doing what they ought to do. At the very worse, if they do anything contrary to the law, the court will set it aside. But there is no injunction whatsoever, no order of any court preventing them from doing so.
Inside Eleme: A final word of advice for the Eleme council of chiefs and elders and the good people of Eleme, to serve as guide to avert unforeseen crises that may be related to the stool following the demise of King Ejire.
B.M. Wifa: I have already said that the so called warning by Nkpornwi is baseless. At best, it will be an incitement to people to resort to violence. And I think the best thing is that the people of Eleme should ignore it as having no merit whatsoever in law or in fact. And as I said in my letter to the Executive Chairman of Eleme Local Government that we believe that their council can encourage the community to explore and implement without prejudices to the right of the parties, what the tradition provides.
It means that they can go ahead and perform their roles in line with traditional right as community. Nobody can prevent them from doing what the law does not prevent them from doing.