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Chieftaincy Dispute Puts Nchang Village On War Edge 

By Ernest Sumelong

A protracted chieftaincy saga in Nchang Village of Mamfe in Manyu Division of the Southwest Region, may soon degenerate into war, Nchang elite have warned. The crisis has reportedly led to division, destruction, threats to life and regular arrests of villagers. Elite of Nchang have warned that if care is not taken, the village may soon draw blood. The village is split into two camps; those in support of the Chief of Nchang, HRH Clarkson Tanyi Mbianyor Oben (derogatorily called Mbororo) and those that are opposed to him (Ghana). 

Tanyi-Mbianyor Clarkson Oben being presented to the Nchang people as their new Chief
 

"Nchang needs peace! Government should listen to the voices of the people and not impose a Chief on them by the use of force, intimidation and victimisation," a villager remarked recently.
The attention of The Post was drawn, following the recent destruction of the village market, resulting from a disagreement between the two camps on the collection of market tolls.

Seven Nchang indigenes were arrested and detained. There were accusations and counter accusations as to who orchestrated the destruction. At a certain point, the former Vice Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Rose Abunaw Makia, was fingered as having a hand in it. However, The Post learnt that her name was cleared from the charge and that the Regent of Nchang, kingmakers and elders, wrote a letter apologising to her for the misinformation by a villager.
 

Hon. Abunaw told The Post in a recent telephone conversation that the allegation was false. "I cannot meddle in other people’s affairs. The kingmakers and elders of Nchang apologised about the misinformation and we shared drinks together in the village. I cannot be party to disorder," Hon Abunaw said.

Presently, some Nchang elite, especially members of the Nchang Development and Cultural Organisation, NDCO, fault the appointment and installation of Clarkson Tanyi-Mbianyor Oben, former Minister of Environment and Forestry, as Chief. On its part, NDCO members have reportedly written many petitions and have tried in vain to get government’s attention, but government officials reportedly maintain that the matter has been resolved.

Genesis Of Conflict

The dispute reportedly erupted in 1997, following the death of Chief Ferdinand Tarkang Ayukeno in 1996. After his death, a meeting of kingmakers, traditional councillors and delegations of internal and external elite of Nchang was convened to discuss succession modalities. According to Nchang elite, given that the chieftaincy rotates between the two sections of the village (Lower and Upper Nchang) and from one Quarter to another, it was agreed that the next Chief was to come from the Lower section of the village, given that the late Chief was from the Upper section.

The Post also learnt that, among the five Quarters that make up the Lower section of the village, it was observed that that Arreytek and Njarenka were the only two Quarters that had never had the Chieftaincy stool. Thus, they were given the opportunity to each, present a candidate. Between the two proposed candidates (Martin Amicus Nchong and Samuel Mbianyor Tanyi), Martin Nchong was reportedly chosen by the Quarter to be presented to the kingmakers on an agreed date. Samuel Mbianyor (father of Clarkson Mbianyor) was reportedly rejected, since, according to Nchang kingmakers, he was found wanting in character.

Enter, Clarkson Oben

However, according to some Nchang elite, Samuel Mbianyor and his son, Clarkson, then manoeuvred to gain the Nchang throne.

Going by documents The Post got, on June 15, 1997, Samuel Mbianyor Tanyi wrote to the SDO for Manyu informing him that Clarkson Mbianyor Oben had been elected the future Chief of Nchang. "Then on the 21st of June 1997, some kingmakers were stealthily carried to the PWD Guest House in Mamfe town at night where they were informed that Mr. Tanyi-Mbianyor Clarkson Oben was to be officially presented to the SDO in the morning."

Meanwhile, Mbianyor’s presentation to the SDO was reportedly greeted by protests, and the people of Njarenka were asked to present another candidate. On March 18, 1999, The Post learnt, over 2,000 Nchang people marched to the SDO’s office in Mamfe, requesting the administration to suspend the installation that was to take place the following day.

However, the then SDO for Manyu, Charles Nzegge Onyong (late), reportedly went ahead to install Clarkson Mbianyor in the presence of heavily armed troops. Also, on November 28, 2002, kingmakers and elders of Nchang Village wrote an eleven-point letter to the Minister of Territorial Administration, calling his attention to what the elders termed ‘Mbianyor’s contentious appointment’, urging him to reverse the decision.

Meanwhile, the Nchang people claim that Chief Mbianyor is not a bona fide indigene of the village and, consequently, following traditional law and customs, cannot be Chief of the village.
The people also frowned at the fact that Mbianyor was never presented to the Nchang population as is the tradition.

Arrests, Detentions, Victimisation

One of the fallouts of the crisis is what some Nchang elite describe as routine and selective arrests of villagers that oppose the Chief. Certain Nchang villagers also claimed to The Post that Tanyi-Mbianyor has been using his position in government to "punish his kinsmen who oppose him, orchestrate terror and stall development in the village."

On his part, the Southwest Regional Secretary of the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, NCHRF, Chris Tambe Tiku, who has reportedly intervened on several occasions in the feud, confirmed to The Post that soldiers and gendarmes are often made to arrest and intimidate villagers.  "We found out that there is a lot of animosity in the village. The village is currently divided. Our main concern was the human rights issues that kept coming up, especially the frequent arrests of indigenes.

In one of our investigations, we noticed that there were rampant arrests of indigenes for non payment of market dues. We also had to intervene at the level of the gendarmerie, where some of the arrested indigenes were kept. Some of those who were detained testified that they gave bribe before they were released," Tambe Tiku said. The Human Rights Regional Secretary suggested that a conflict resolution plan be designed to address the situation. "There is the need to bring the various parties together and dialogue so that we don’t find ourselves in the Bali/Bawock situation," he said.

"People also complain of victimisation. They say that most Nchang elite who hold positions of responsibility have been stripped of their positions because they do not side with the Chief. This has also brought about lots of animosity, since the villagers believe that they have been forced with somebody who does not work for their interest," Tambe Tiku said. Corroborating Tambe Tiku, Barrister Eta Besong Jr, Counsel for some of the arrested youth, regretted what he saw as the human rights abuse prevailing in Nchang.

Mbianyor Reacts

But those supporting Mbianyor argue that he is the rightful Chief and that he followed the right procedure to be appointed and installed. They contend that the Nchang Development and Cultural Orgainsation is fanning trouble against the Chief. They also denied claims that Chief Mbianyor victimises and punishes subjects that oppose him. Clarkson Mbianyor told The Post that the allegations against him are unfounded. He questioned how a chieftaincy problem of 12 years ago could cause the destruction of the village market.

Meanwhile, a 62-page report Chief Mbianyor wrote to the SDO of Manyu in December 2006, traced the succession in Nchang Village Chiefdom since 1875 to his selection as Chief. He demonstrated with the aid of documents and photographs that the villagers voluntarily and freely endorsed his selection.

While some Nchang elite claim that Chief Mbianyor is not a bona fide son of the village, Mbianyor himself traces his pedigree from his great grandfather, who, according to him, was a child of Nchang. He (in his report) accused members of NDCO of setting the villagers against him.

"Since my installation in March 1999, the members of NDCO have been carrying out acts of intimidation, and threaten to use violence on any villager who listens to the Chief," partly reads the report. Besides, he also accused members of NDCO of refusing to hand over documents of his predecessor, embezzling village money to the tune of FCFA 1.5 million and physically obstructing councillors from collecting market tolls.

Mbianyor declined commenting on the arrests and detention of Nchang villagers because, according to him, it is still under investigation and any comments on it could be seen as interfering in the judicial process. In the meantime, hopes of a peaceful resolution of the Nchang chieftaincy seem far-fetched, since there appears to be many parties with vested interests who would not want to budge or make concessions to give peace a chance.

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