The activities of ekpo masquerade in Akwa Ibom state has gotten to the peak therefore becoming unbearable. This current situation needs to be handled with kid gloves because lives are at stake. Three examples below will suffice.
On 05/10/2016, there was a serious fight in the street of Udoette in uyo which nearly claimed life. It all started when a masquerade stopped a tricycle requesting for money. On trying to collect the money, another tricycle unintentionally scratched the ekpo masquerade. The ekpo removed his mask; swear by the dead father that he must stab the tricycle rider if he fails to give him a thousand naira for treatment. That was how others (both other ekpo and humans) joined in the fight till it was finally settled.
More so, students from Ikono People’s High School in Ikono Local government area reported of how this same ekpo masquerades made it a daily task to be beating and intimidating students as they were returning from school. The condition worsened when nothing reasonable was done to shield the students. The students were discouraged going to school as a result of the beatings they have been receiving in the hands of the masquerades. Many students stayed back from school for months till the activities of the masquerades subsided. This is very appalling.
The last straw that broke the Carmel’s back was on Wednesday, 5th October 2016, when a group of ekpo masquerades close to 10 in number blocked Udo Ekong Street, off Udoette in Uyo and did a thorough snatching which caused hold up along the street. In my own way, I would say that this was “robbery” because none of the persons they collected money from gave them voluntarily. They stopped numbers of tricycles and requested money from not only the riders but also from the passengers they carried. This was extremely unfair.
The most annoying part of this last occurrence was that they used their machete on people who refused to comply. They even forced individuals to collect more than the desired amount they wanted to give as they were threatened.
Why should this be happening in a state capital? Does it mean that nothing can be done about it? Does it mean that pedestrians and vehicle users do not have their freedom of movement any longer as a result of the activities of ekpo masquerade?
Personally, I have been intimidated severally by this same ekpo masquerade in the course of preaching the good news as a Jehovah’s Witness, in my daily activity to and from school and many other instances. Does it mean that my rights as enshrined in the provisions of the constitution will be curtailed by this vicious and unscrupulous activities of the ekpo masquerade? Obviously, the law will settle.
The aim of this work is to examine the constitutionality or illegality of the activities of the ekpo masquerades vis-à-vis the provisions of the constitution and otherwise. As a custom, it will also seek to expound on the validity of such custom under the Nigerian legal system. I will try to be concise but pointed to the best of my ability.
The questions that should be bored in mind are: what provision(s) of the constitution have they (ekpo) breached? As a custom, how do we settle this cacophony between the constitution and the tradition (custom) of ekpo masquerade? The question will be addressed seriatim.
What provision(s) of the constitution have they (ekpo) breached?
The recent but vicious activities have clearly breach the right to the freedom of movement as envisaged under section 41 of to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) as amended (herein after referred to as the constitution).
Section 41(1) provides as follows “every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move FREELY throughout Nigeria and reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom”. (Capitalized for stress and emphasis)
Can we not boldly say that the tricycle riders, their passengers, the students and other pedestrians who were victims of the above developments were denied of this right of theirs? The above provision of the law is clear as A B C and does not need any further explanation. The ekpo culture should no longer be used as an instrument of law breaking, infringing on others constitutional rights, depriving others of both natural and constitutional rights of freedom of movement.
It should be noted further that the aggrieved parties who have been deprived of their fundamental rights can bring an action against the ekpo masquerade and claim damages accordingly. The fact that an individual has chosen to disguise himself to ekpo masquerade does not exonerate him of the liabilities of his actions, being a civil misconduct or a criminal offence.
As a custom, how do we settle this cacophony between the constitution and the tradition (custom) of ekpo masquerade?
In resolving this issue, it is pertinent to say that customary law is recognised in Nigeria as a source of Nigerian law but with conditions. However, one thing that people fail to put into consideration when orchestrating custom is that custom and tradition can “never be imposed on the people”. I will explain.
In the celebrated case of Owonyin v Omotosho (1961)1 ALL N.L.R at 309, Bairamian F.J described customary law as “a mirror of accepted usage”. From this case, it is deduced from the dictum that for a custom to be applicable, it must be the prevailing law or action in the community in question. A custom should not be a way of life that majority of the people in the locality are complaining of.
In the light of the above, how many people in Akwa Ibom (Uyo metropolis precisely) really value and treasure the ekpo masquerades and its activity? Even if most people value and appreciate it, should it be imposed on the rest of the people who do not appreciate it? Should others be subjected to torture, ostracism and inhuman treatment for refusing the said culture as we have heard from the proximity of Akwa Ibom state?
Section 38 of the constitution which provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion succinctly answers the above questions. Section 38(1) provides as follows: “every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change religion or belief and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in the public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching practice and observance”.
From the wordings of the above section, no one should be forced, tortured or ostracised on grounds that he excludes himself from a custom, practice, observance (ekpo masquerade inclusive). As a matter of conscience or religion, there are persons who do not welcome the activities of ekpo masquerade, they should never be questioned and the custom in question should never be imposed on them. Besides, customary law is subject to amendment for it is flexible in nature. See Lewis v Bankole (1908) 1 N.L.R 81
It is also important to note that even after a custom has been established as accepted in the concerned community, it must necessarily meet the statutory requirements laid down for its applicability. The requirements are as follows: (i) the custom must not be repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. (ii) The custom must not be incompatible either directly or indirectly (by implication) with any law for the time being in force. (iii) The custom must not be contrary to public policy.
Where custom clashes with the constitution, what happens?
In Nigeria, there is no other law that is superior to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN). Section 1(1) 0f the constitution states as follows: “this constitution and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Section 1(3) states further as follows: “if any law is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution, the constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void”
The combine effect of section 1 (1)&(3) has ipso facto declared the activities of ekpo masquerade unconstitutional and illegal ab initio as it clashes with any of the provision of the constitution of Nigeria. It therefore means that the beatings, snatching and intimidation of the ekpo were unconstitutional and a rape of the constitution and should not repeat itself.
From the foregoing analysis, I am poised to say that “the length of food of the ekpo custom is being measured and is capable of measurement”. Never again should these masquerades parade themselves as alpha and omega of the road. If this custom and tradition cannot be operated in a way that will not cause havoc and uproars, then it should exist at all.
I hereby urge the Nigeria police force and other security agencies, indigenes of Akwa ibom state, village heads, clan heads, paramount rulers and other concerned individuals to help us look at the possible ways we can curb this menace. It is not good to let this miasma continue this way.
[author ]Edikan Ekanem is a student of University of Uyo, a writer, a columnist, a literal observer, an analyst, a critic but remains politically neutral. He can be reached at: 08130015006, firstname.lastname@example.org.[/author]