Monday, June 27, 2011

Prof Ekpo Eyo’s funeral


Disquiet in Calabar over burial plans

Four days to the 1 July burial date of the late Professor Ekpo Eyo, Nigeria’s first indigenous chief of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); a row is brewing between the deceased’s widow, Augusta; and, her in-laws mauricearchibongtravels can authoritatively reveal.

Prof Ekpo Eyo passed on at his Maryland, USA home; on Sunday, 29 May, 2011. He was until 2006 a Professor of Archaeology at University of Maryland, USA; and, had earlier; from 1967 to 1986, served as Nigeria’s museum chief for a record 18 uninterrupted years.

Although the late Prof Ekpo Eyo hailed from Adak-uko in Creek Town, Calabar, Cross River State; he enjoyed decades of a happy married life with his Yoruba-born spouse as well as lived and worked in Lagos for dozens of years.

The burial of Professor Ekpo Eyo is billed to take place at Victoria Vaults and Gardens (VVG) in Lagos. According to plans, the interment will be preceded on 30 June by other activities, including a Service of Songs at National Museum Lagos as well as a Requiem Mass at Presbyterian Church in Yaba, Lagos about 11am on 1 July. The burial, slated for around 3pm, will be immediately followed by a Reception at Lagos Museum, Onikan.

However, there is growing disquiet in Calabar regarding this plan to bury him outside of his home area in Nigeria, on one hand; and, alleged attempt to completely occlude members of the deceased’s larger family from the funeral arrangements.

Moreover, critics of the currently unfolding plans believe the late Prof. Ekpo Eyo deserves better in terms of final farewell ceremonies leading to his interment. They submit, inter alia, that Ekpo Eyo’s body deserves to lie in state at National Museum Calabar; for example.

It could be recalled that National Museum Calabar inside the Old Residency was once billed for demolition, but that evil plan was scuttled because Efik natives on whose land the estate stands, rallied against the planned destruction of the historic building, which housed the offices and residence of the Consul, Oil Rivers (later Niger Coast and Southern) Protectorate; when Calabar served as capital of a section of the then emerging Nigeria until 1906.



Many observers reminded that Ekpo Eyo, as Director of the then Federal Department of Antiquities, lent support to the noble struggle to preserve this structure, which is today, one of Nigeria’s most visited National Monuments.

Additionally, the late professor of archaeology, anthropology as well as legendary museologist and museographer was Etie-ibot Ufok, head of his clan or olori-ebi as the Yoruba would say.

In Efik culture, that is a weighty position; which goes with much responsibility. Instance: The Obong of Calabar and Paramount Ruler of the Efik Nation is usually select by a conclave comprising the Etubom of each Maxima Family.

A Maxima Family consists of many an Ekpuk. Each Ekpuk is made of numerous houses (singular in Efik, Ufok). The foregoing and more, therefore, alludes to virtual taboo to bury Prof Ekpo Eyo outside his ancestral home, we were told. Could a Diokpa, an equivalent of Etie-ibot Ufok among our Delta Igbo brothers; be buried outside his home area?

Sources revealed that after several entreaties to Mrs. Ekpo Eyo to alter her plans yielded no fruit, the widow’s in-laws were left with no option than to solicit the intervention of Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke.

In deed, a passionate plea was sent to Governor Imoke last Thursday, 23 June; imploring him to interceed, and “kindly salvage us from this impunity and shame”.
This particular prayer, titled Open Letter to Sen. Imoke, Governor of Cross River State: Concerning the Burial of Prof Ekpo Eyo OFR, signed by Mr. Ekpe Esien Ita, an engineer and first-cousin of the late professor; states: “Prof Ekpo Eyo, a prominent son of Cross River State who died in Maryland, USA is about to be buried in Lagos on July 1 by his Yoruba-born wife in utter disregard to traditional norms and entreaty from the man’s family members. To worsen matters, this man was the family head of both his paternal and maternal families”.
Ekpe Ita again: “Along with other family members, we have tried our best to persuade Mrs. Eyo not to do this, to no avail. I am appealing to you as the father of this state to consider this matter and see how this embarrassment to the state and its people may yet be averted”.
In life, Prof Ekpo Eyo was mentor to countless students of archaeology, anthropology, museology and so on; now, even his passage has thrown up issues to engage scholars in these fields as well as sociology, journalism and much more.
Consider these
Where should a man be buried? Is it where he spent the better part of his life or closer to his roots?
Should a dead man be buried in his widow’s homestead; and, must a dead wife be buried among her widower’s ancestors?
Are you in a cross-ethnic wedlock? Where would you prefer to be buried?
We’d be delighted to hear from you…
-         By MAURICE ARCHIBONG
Below, is full text of Eng. Ekpe Esien Ita’s Open Letter to Gov. Liyel Imoke:
Your Excellency,

CONCERNING THE BURIAL OF PROFESSOR EKPO EYO, OFR

Please permit me to brief you on a matter of urgent public importance and seek your intervention.

Prof Ekpo Eyo, a prominent son of Cross River State who died in Maryland, USA is about to be buried in Lagos on July 1 by his Yoruba-born wife in utter disregard to traditional norms and entreaty from the man’s family members. To worsen matters, this man was the family head of both his paternal and maternal families.
I am a first cousin of Prof. Along with other family members we have tried our best to persuade Mrs. Eyo not to do this, to no avail. I am appealing to you as the father of this state to consider this matter and see how this embarrassment to the state and its people may yet be averted.
Prof Eyo was the pioneer Chairman of the State Tourism Bureau, the body that coordinates and manages all aspects of our tourism industry, which Cross River State is the reference point. He was also one of the immortalized millennium personalities whose names are engraved on the obelisk in the Millennium Park. Apart from being the longest serving Director-General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (18 years) he was an archeologist, anthropologist, art historian, museologist and museographer, all of international repute. In essence he was one of the products of this state that brought honour to the state. He was famous the world over and well respected as an authority in his chosen fields.

Your Excellency, is it fair or even right that such a son should be buried outside his state of origin? Other Nigerians who are aware of what is developing – Ibos and Yorubas alike, are swearing that this cannot happen in their places. Your Excellency, kindly salvage us from this impunity and shame.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am by no means saying that someone cannot be buried somewhere else outside his place of origin. Rather, I am saying that as a traditional norm of all Nigerians and indeed most Africans and other races, a man at death returns to his hometown and is “gathered to his people” just as Jacob in the bible was. (Gen 49: 29-33). The circumstances that can warrant a deviation from this age-long principle must be extreme and exceptional. Such circumstances are not manifest in Prof Eyo’s case. The man owned properties in Calabar and was a member of Hope Waddell Parish of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria in Calabar.

So the reason not to want to bury Prof Eyo in his hometown cannot be because the conditions or atmosphere are unfavourable here. It is simply a self-serving decision taken by Mrs Eyo in utter disdain of Prof Eyo’s family. Prof Eyo has an elder sister and a younger brother here in Calabar along with a host of other relations. If the body can be brought from United States to Nigeria one wonders what extra difficulty it is to convey it from Lagos to Calabar.

This is a man, I suspect; the Government will readily have granted permission for him to be buried in Old Residency Museum premises in Ekpo Eyo Drive (already so named after him) for Prof Eyo had become synonymous with museum in Nigeria.  

In final submission, I beg Your Excellency to kindly do something to arrest this situation.

Thank you

Yours sincerely,

Ekpe Esien Ita (Engr.)

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