Do Eleme People Celebrate Criminals?
The general opinion among the various security agencies in Eleme is that Eleme People Celebrate Criminals. Is this perception true? What is/are the rationale behind such conclusion? Are the people culpable in the on-going criminalities in the area? I have written, lectured and consulted severally on the Eleme people’s apathy towards on-going crime and fear of crime in the area. Some of the factors militating against the masses direct participation in fighting crimes include:
1. Fear of retribution,
2. Fear of invasion by adversary,
3. Culture of loyalty,
4. Respect for cultists’ commitment,
5. Focus on personal needs,
6. Inadequate laws,
7. Police attitude,
8. Politicians’ roles,
9. Government commitment to cultists and their course, and.
10. Gender Cold War.
The Eleme social system is interposed with lots of roadblocks and checkpoints to regulate behaviours, control crimes and punish criminals. Among the various controls system are such institutions that everyone would want to belong in the society. They include:
1. Marriage Institution
2. Leadership Institution
3. Institutions of Crime Control
4. Traditional Courts
Every Eleme person, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old, religious or non-religious is a member of one of these institutions in the society. How do these institutions ensure that Eleme people do not celebrate criminals?
In his book, The People of Eleme (1988), Chief O. O. Ngofa observed that “Marriage is a natural sequence of growth and progress. So long as a man is not married, he continues in a second class status in the society. He never ties the full fathom of cloth, irrespective of his stature. He is not allowed to join other men during consultation”. In this statement are the strict limitations imposed on those yet to be admitted into the Marriage Institution.
In Eleme, marriage is regarded not only as a liberator and a status, but also confirms that the person concerned has acceptable character and background. He can be trusted in any affair and is regarded as a responsible person.
Eleme culture cherished marriage between Eleme and Eleme. The rationale behind this is to ensure that thorough background check and investigation are conducted at least to determine that the marriage is not contracted with someone with criminal history, health challenges, fertility problems, among other important issues.
Abraham was quite aware of the forgoing when he told his trusted servant not to take a wife for his son Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanite among whom he resides, “but to go to my country and to my kindred to take a wife for my son Isaac”. Like the Israelites, the Elemes do not just jump into marriage. They carryout extensive background checks and screening before considering contracting marriage. The Elemes know that marriage creates families; and the family is the basic unit of society. The Elemes believe that if the family decays the society smells, therefore are very mindful of whom they tie the nuptial knot with.
There are many Eleme people today, who no matter how rich or popular they are cannot marry in Eleme when full background check/screening is conducted as is tradition, so they hide under the cover of “one people” or “one Nigeria” or “one world”.
The Eleme culture frowns at crimes and condemn criminals, it rejects them and refuses them admission into leadership positions in the society. For someone to be appointed or elected into any traditional leadership position in Eleme, the person must be free from any accusation of stealing, murder, and witchcraft. He must be married and be adjudged to be good and has contributed to the defence, projection and development of the community.
Another prove that the people of Eleme do not celebrate criminals is the existence of well-defined traditional institutions of crime control and punishment. These institutions are explained in the table below.
Institutions of Community Policing and Crime Control
All towns and villages in Eleme have the same basic social structure that encourages the existence of agreeable human groups with specific social functions. These groups are responsible for policing the communities, maintaining peace and stability. Every Eleme man and woman, boy and girl belongs to one or more of these groups. The groups are:
Family group made up of smaller units agreeing with kindred lines.
Settles minor disputes between members of the same family.
Extended family which owns a hall and maintains one shrine, known as Nsi Eji
Settles disputes between members of the same family in matters of assault, stealing, boundaries, inheritance, adultery, witchcraft, invocation of juju, and other forms of misdemeanour.
Age grade to which all males belong
Settles disputes between people of the same age group resulting to assault, slander, issue of threat, invocation of juju, and other matrimonial cases.
Uninitiated adult men below Oku Ekpo
They promote communal work, security, control social decay, and perform traditional entertainment such as: wrestling, dancing, and singing.
Organization of Women selected on age and representative basis
Regulates the activities of women; ensures high morality and discipline among women.
These are Ancestral Spirits – that is, spirits of all who have lived and died. They are known as Oku Eji and dwell in a separate spiritual kingdom known as Eta Eji.
They exercise spiritual power and authority and are believed to be ever watchful, powerful and able to help or punish any person. They communicate through dreams and their feelings merely conjectured. They administer divine justice by blessing the good and punishing the bad. And since they cannot be seen or heard, there is always no appeal against the decisions of Oku Eji.
These are deities or gods such as Ejilee, Onura, Ebaajor, Mbie, Ejamaaejor Ogbenwata, Ndorwa, Osarobinmkpa and others. They are known as Oku Ejor and dwell in a separate spiritual kingdom known as Eta Ejor. They are believed to be somehow senior and superior to Oku Eji.
They act as agents to Obari (God). They communicate directly through the human consciousness of the Priest or Medium. In this way they reveal secrets, prescribe remedies or answer questions put to them, and administer divine justice.
The Traditional Ruler (Oneh Eh Eta) and his elders (Oku Ekpo)
They constitute Owe Ebo Ete and adjudicate in disputes between two or more persons or between two families concerning land tenure, divorce, custody of children, stealing, boundaries, inheritance, adultery, witchcraft, invocation of juju, defamation of character, rape, elopement, and so on.
Group of Initiated men with the Highest Judicial Powers and Authority.
They constitute Owe Nkporon and adjudicate in more serious matters requiring urgent or detailed investigation such as murder, witchcraft, inheritance, land tenure, divorce, custody of children, stealing, boundaries, adultery, right of burial, invocation of juju, rape, and so on at the appropriate levels of the society.
Oku Nyoa are group of initiated elders led by One Nkiken (Land Priest/Traditional Prime Minister). Nkiken (Earth-Spirit) is the only Deity that directly relates to the foundation of a community or village and its protection. It is the mother that sustains all living things and receives all of them back to its stomach. The position is hereditary and it is confined to the lineage or family of the original founder of the community.
One Nkiken (Land Priest and Leader of Oku Nyoa) exercises spiritual and administrative powers. He performs Ajija ritual for cleansing of Pregnant but unmarried girls and Owaraekpaa Osila (first daughter ritual). He appoints and installs Oneh Eh Eta on the active advice of Oku Nkporon; receives and performs the duties of Oneh Eh Eta if One Eh Eta is found guilty of gross misconduct or upon demise of an incumbent, until a successor is appointed and installed. He ensures that things are done in accordance with custom and tradition. He commands the respect of the gods in the community.
The existence of these groups helps to solve the problems of crime and criminality in the society. They help maintain law and order. They control behavior in society. They are the pivots upon which the community revolves. They solve social decay and render communal services. These institutions maintain the center of gravity in all aspects of human relations and dealings. But, are these institutions still relevant in the modern Eleme? Why are they not as active as they used to be? How comes the modern legal system is bent on reducing their powers and rendering them moribund? Will the society be better for it, if these institutions are revitalized, empowered and encouraged to participate actively in community policing? Your answers, comments, observations, suggestions and updates are very necessary.
There are three authoritative government functions in Eleme – rulemaking, rule application, and rule adjudication. These are the three old functions of separation of power in Eleme except that an effort has been made to free them from their overtures – rulemaking rather than ‘legislation’, rule application rather than ‘executive’ and rule adjudication rather than the ‘judiciary’.
The traditional political system of Eleme has been stressed by no differential and diffused character of political and social structure. It would be noticed that the Chieftaincy in Eleme fulfil at one and the same time the rulemaking, rule application and rule adjudication functions and specialization is not consciously related to the idea of fulfilling roles at all.
The process of rulemaking is direct and democratic. At the clan level, representatives are sent from the sub-clans to take part in a clan meeting. The sub-clan is divided into communities and villages, and the communities are further divided in lineages and sub-lineages. The lineage is again divided into what is called “Oku Otor” i.e. people of the same family. Each Oku Otor has “Ekpone” (head of the Oku Otor), who is the source of authority for all others. No member of the Oku Otor can take decision or perform any act without consulting Ekpone.
The Ekpone posse law, he executes the law and passes judgment on those who disobey his order. He offers sacrifices to the gods and liaisons the family with the ancestors. Any matrimonial disputes or quarrels are mediated by him. In return, he is accorded respect, obedience and honour by members of the family and others outside the family depending, of course, on the charisma and will power of the Ekpone to hold together his subjects.
Above the Oku Otor level we have the next kin group – the lineage or extended family called Oku Oɂe. The head of the Oku Oɂe is known as “Ekpone Oɂe” – a very important figure in the community who holds the title of “One Nsi Oɂe”, a symbol of authority of the ancestors, which is very important and mystical in Eleme traditional political system. The One Nsi Oɂe who must be an initiated member of “Oku Nyoa” is seen as the intermediary between the Oku Oɂe and the ancestors. He is the fountain of authority in the community. He serves the “Oɂe” shrine (“Nsi Eji Oɂe), assisted by the next older person who is being prepared to succeed him at the appropriate time.
In Eleme, wisdom is associated with age and it is commonly believed that the oldest man is wiser, is closer to the ancestors, and is respected by them. And so, the oldest man is usually the One Nsi Oɂe. He is usually the priest of “Nsi Eji Oɂe”. He makes laws, he also adjudicates.
Rulemaking function is also performed by adult male members of the clan in a general assembly called “O’elabo of the Clan”. The O’elabo is made up of the Oneh Eh Eta (the chief), and the elders (Oku Ekpo) collectively referred to as Oku Nkporon, the Egbaraeta, leaders of thought and representatives from each village and community.
The procedure for rulemaking at the caln level is democratic, but the final decisions taken depend on the elders when they retire to a “tete-a-tete” meeting known as “Ola”. The “Ola” group finalizes all discussions made in the meeting and decides on decisions to be adopted. The Ola group consists of Oku Nkporon (group of initiated men with the highest power and authority and made up of representatives from each community). Matters often discussed in such assemblies ranges from land disputes, imposition of levies, to war, peace or defense.
The Oku Nkporon also performs the functions of executing and adjudicating the laws they have helped to enact. The output structures are also multi-functional. Other structures such as Oku Omu (age grades), Egbara Eta (uninitiated men), Mba Eta (organization of women selected on age and representative basis), also perform rulemaking, rule application and rule adjudication functions.
All these structures and functional roles of the political system condition have influenced the political thought of the Eleme people. It should be seen clearly therefore, that the traditional court referred to is not a particular permanent building but interplay of several forces – political, social, cultural and otherwise for the highest good of the people.
There had been the belief in the mystical powers of the chiefs. People respected the chief (Oneh Eh Eta) because of his power to make libation and sacrifices to ancestors and as a result, they have better harvest. It was through myths that the chief was able to hold his people together. It was only the chief who can call on the gods to punish or not to punish evildoer in the clan; apart from him, no other person can do it. The importance of the myth was that it helped in the effectiveness of rulemaking and rule adjudication.
The chief was an essential element in the system. The community was held together not only by economic and social links – such as living and farming together – but by spiritual and religious links, as already discussed. There was a strong religious element in the Chieftaincy; the chief was the link between the living people and the spirit of their ancestors; and he performs many duties such as making sacrifices and libations which were essentially those of a priest.
Similar conceptions are found in other parts of the world. The Kings of England, for instance were thought to have magical or miraculous powers of healing a certain disease by touch, and as late as the reign of Queen Anne (1702 – 1714), people were regularly brought to be cured by the touch of the royal hand.
Since the chief in Eleme and his people were linked in this spiritual way, it was difficult to fit strangers into the system. This may be one reason why strangers tended to live in settlements of their own outside the town or village. This personal link between the chief and the people was distorted by the new legal system introduced by the European invaders on one hand and the lopsided Nigerian Constitution on the other hand.
The system developed among the people different idea and thought about wealth, power and authority. Wealth to them was not accumulation of wealth in the form of commercial or industrial capitals. If wealth was accumulated, it took the form of consumption of goods and amenities. Wealth to them was meant to be used for the benefit of all and the support of additional development; hence the people of Eleme believed strongly in extended family system and African socialism.
The growth of the Eleme traditional legal system has been slow and steady. All towns and villages in Eleme have the same basic structure that encourages the existence of agreeable human groups with specific socio-political functions. We have seen that these groups helped in maintaining peace, order, and stability in pre-literate Eleme. There were age grades to which all males belong called Oku Omu. The family group made up of smaller units agreeing with kindred lines called Oku Otor; and the extended family, which owned a hall and maintained a shrine known as Oku Oɂe.
The hierarchy of the community was made up of the chief (Oneh Eh Eta) and the elders (Oku Ekpo) called Oku Eta, and another group of initiated men who have the highest rulemaking, rule application and rule adjudication status called Oku Nkporon. By this arrangement, all imaginable situations were speedily dealt with by the appropriate group, thereby sustaining peace and order in the whole clan.
Disputes between people of the same age group (Oku Omu) relating to assault, defamation of character, issue of threat, invocation of juju and minor matrimonial cases were dealt with by Oku Omu. Disputes between members of the same family in matters of stealing, assault, defamation of character, issue of threat, invocation of juju, adultery, boundaries, inheritance, witchcraft, and other forms of misdemeanour were settled by Oku Oɂe. The aggrieved member may sue the other party or the elders may in the circumstances intervene directly.
Disputes between two or more persons or between two families concerning divorce, land tenure, custody of children, rape, stealing, assault, defamation of character, issue of threat, invocation of juju, adultery, boundaries, inheritance, witchcraft, elopement and so on were settled by Oku Eta.
Owe Ebo Ete (Oweboete) Court
Apart from the above arrangements for settling of cases and disputes, the system also recognized two traditional courts which sit in the chief’s palace or in the disputants’ community town hall. These are “Owe Ebo Ete” and “Owe Nkporon”. Both courts operate at the community level, sub-clan level, and at the clan level. Whenever Oku Eta sits as a court it is called Owe Ebo Ete (Owe Ebo Etate). Owe Ebo Ete is presided over by the chief (Oneh Eh Eta) while the elders constitute its membership. Its decisions on matters brought before it is final and binding, but an unsatisfied party reserves the right to appeal to a higher level Owe Ebo Ete or to the highest court called Owe Nkporon.
Since the traditional legal system in Eleme does not differentiate between criminal and civil cases, each matter is taken on its merit and as it affects the co-existence of the parties concerned as well as the larger community. The remedies sought are generally declaration of title, compensation or restoration. That is, to establish ones right, to be cleared of accusation, to recover property or to obtain a public declaration.
Suing before the Owe Ebo Ete court involved the aggrieved person going to the Oneh Eh Eta (chief) and complaining. He would state his claims and relief sought as well as the possibility of calling witnesses. He has to pay the prescribed fees and he would be advised on the materials for other related processes. The chief would try to dissuade the complainant from suing with money but if he refused, he would be asked to sue with the prescribed fees and ordered to appear on a date convenient to the chief depending on the nature of the case. He may however, agree with the date or meet the chief to adjust the date after explaining his reasons.
On the appointed date, the chief, One Nkporon (spokesman of the community), and elders would constitute the Owe Ebo Ete court. Both parties would state their cases and call witnesses. Members of the court might ask questions to elucidate the points in dispute. The disputants would be allowed to cross examine each other and the witnesses would also be questioned to clarify issues. Thereafter, the court would rise for consultation and on their return, the verdict would be given. The party at fault would be seriously reprimanded and asked to pay appropriate fine. The guilty party may choose to obey the judgment of Owe Ebo Ete court or to appeal against the judgment.
Owe Nkporon Court
Owe Nkporon is the highest court in Eleme. The clan head (Oneh Eh Eta) presides over its sitting and members are drawn from the rank of Oku Nkporon who have completed all the processes of “Oba Nkporon”, and are therefore entitled to join in the court’s routine consultation called “Ola”. The processes of getting the Owe Ebo Ete and Owe Nkporon courts to sit are the same but Owe Nkporon is more expensive than Owe Ebo Ete and its decisions are final.
Owe Nkporon can hear a fresh case brought before it as well as appeals coming from Owe Ebo Ete or lower levels; however, Owe Nkporon cannot be delayed unduly by any of the parties in a dispute. Once proper information has been communicated to the parties regarding the date of hearing, venue, and time, the court would proceed to hear the disputants, collect evidence, cross examine the parties and witnesses, visit to locus (where applicable), and give its verdict, even though the other party failed to put in appearance.
Where a case is taken on appeal from the community level to the clan level or to a higher level court, it is the practice of the court to request for evidence that related the ruling of the lower court. This is the simplest and cheapest way of obtaining justice in the shortest possible time. Although some persons have tried to brand these processes devilish and fetish; the law has also proscribed and labelled same as heathenish and we are aware paying heavily for it in terms of rising crimes and criminality.
The powers of the community are also limited by the fact that they cannot confiscate any of the property of unresponsive ones since that is against the law. Banishment and public ridicule is also having less effect as people can easily run out of their community and in fact, the whole Eleme, to the nearby urban center where they can easily make new friends and get on with a life devoid of those cultural constraints.
The use of Ogbe to protect one’s life and properties, elicit the truth from an offender and ensure confidence has also come under the harmer of the modern judiciary. However, as Chief O. O. Ngofa noted:
“Inspite of the fact that modern judiciary frowns on the invocation of what they call ‘harmful juju’ the practice of invoking the local deities is on the increase in Eleme, irrespective of the rather high fees and protracted sacrifices that are associated with its invocation and revocation”.
Ogbe was once an important instrument of investigation. The invocation of investigative juju as a practice of the people has come to stay despite the onslaught of Christianity, civilization, and modern judiciary but, the efficacy of ogbe has faded considerably.
The result of the concerted dislodgement of the culture and tradition of the people of Eleme is a crash of the value system as against an upsurge of anti-social activities such as increasing levels of violence, robbery, murder, kidnapping, fraud, vandalism, cultism, adulteration, impersonation, immorality of all kinds and types and several other forms of malpractices and crimes.
The church is complaining; its instruments of modern socialization have failed to instil discipline and morality in the people. The school is at crossroads, confused and stranded; it is either its storehouse of modern socialization materials has been exhausted or the operators have lost focus. The government is worried; its modern legal system has failed to inculcate fear and check increasing anti-social activities. The society is no longer at ease, it is drifting, and things are falling apart, crimes and fear of crimes everywhere. Perhaps the Religious and National Values Curriculum now introduced into our Schools would do the magic, in the next ten to twenty years, as we pursue the goals of harmonising such key values as honesty, regard and concern for the interest of others, justice, discipline, right attitude to work, courage and national consciousness.
Conclusively, it is wrong to opine that Eleme people celebrate criminals. The system speaks for itself and the people proud themselves as honest, hardworking, industrious and progressives. You can never see Eleme person escorting a criminal to or from court, or celebrating a criminal at any event.
The average Eleme person may appear to be weak and fearful but always own up to his integrity. He hates corruption and avoids violence. He believes in honesty and self-discipline. The Eleme culture encourages Eleme people to stay at home, work hard and make a respectable living at home. Perhaps, this accounts for why majority of Eleme people do not travel very far and long. Criminals are not needed, nor are they tolerated or celebrating in Eleme society. The Eleme tradition hates criminals and has a way of isolating them so that they do not corrupt others in the society. There is nowhere in the Eleme tradition that celebrates criminals, or considers criminals as heroes or role models. The Eleme people see criminals as evil and pandemics; and isolate and keep them away from society.
Besides, the average Eleme person knows that Elemeland has a way of rewarding good and punishing evil. Instances abound where a whole family has been destroyed and the compound abandoned due to heinous crime committed by one of its members. A close look will reveal to you that no public fund looter in Eleme has gone unpunished. Eleme do not celebrate criminals; rather it ensures that the criminal and beneficiaries of crime are punished to deter others and sanitize the society.
What we are experiencing in Eleme today is as a result of the loss of values in the Nigerian society. The unfolding events in which the future of Nigerian youths is being used by politicians should call for the concern of all.