A three-member judicial committee of the Northern Regional House of Chiefs has declared as inappropriate, the enskinment of Alhaji Abuba Naasimong, as chief of Bunkpurugu.
The committee announced its verdict on the Bunkprugu chieftaincy dispute on Thursday, August 29, ending often chaotic and sometimes deadly succession litigation between two Bimoaba royal tribesmen -Jamong and Jafouk- which has for three and a half decades, rattled state treasury and crippled economic progress in the North-East regional border town.
The committee, made up of two chiefs from Dagbon and the Gonjaland traditional areas, had scheduled the ruling two weeks earlier but deferred it due to "technical reasons."
On Thursday, in the Northern Regional capital, Tamale, leaders and prominent members of the feuding factions across the country stormed the gated compound of the Regional House of Chiefs, to witness and listen to the final proceedings.
There were also pockets of supporters and sympathisers, some of whom were clad in white attires and others holding cans of talcum powder, in unwavering anticipation of victory.
Before the judgement was announced, lawyers for the feuding parties were given the opportunity to give their final remarks.
“From the evidence that came before us," the House of Chiefs' lawyer, Abdul Fatawu Yakubu stated, " only two families have in the past succeeded the Bunkpurugu skin and our ruling is that, it is only those two families who are royal families to Bunkpurugu and only they can succeed the skin.”
However, the lawyer continued: "The second respondent [Alhaji Abuba Nasimong] who was enskinned by the Nayiri could not trace his royal lineage from the time the Bunkpurugu skin was established in Ghana. He also traced his royal lineage from the time the Bimobas were in Togo so his claim to royalty is not founded on enskinment in Ghana but rather enskinment in Togo. But the skin in Togo is different from the skin in Ghana, so we cannot allow him to prevail because that will create a lot of confusion".
"It will mean that all those royal families from Togo are also qualified and we cannot accept that situation. It is a very technical issue at this point…you see chieftaincy there are two criteria, royal family and royal lineage. You can come from the royal family but you don’t have royal lineage…either you come from the matrilineal line when the skin is patrilineal or you coming from a patrilineal when the skin is matrilineal," the lawyer further interprets.
The ruling, therefore, means, the enskinment of the second defendant, Alhaji Abuba Naasimong, was found to be customarily and traditionally inappropriate.
Background to protest and violence
The Jamong and Jafouk families have been in battle over the Bunkprugu chieftaincy skin since 1986, when a member the Jafouk family was enskinned chief of the area.
The dispute renewed 2006 when the current chief, Naa Alhaji Abuba Nasinmong, another member of the Jafouk family, was again enskinned by the Naayiri, overlord of the Mamprugu traditional area.
Aggrieved by the development, the Jamong family, which has claimed sole legitimacy to the Bunkprugu skin, dragged the rival family and the Naayiri before the House of chiefs.
Violence broke out in 2014 and persisted leading to significant loss of lives until late 2016, when both factions agreed to a permanent ceasefire.
Both families are members of the Louk clan of the Bimoaba ethnic group with the same ancestral roots believed to hail from a village called Loukporuk in neighbouring Togo. But the Jamong family argued, it was the first to settle in Bunkprugu and therefore, the only legitimate family to occupy the skin.
Although there are other clans within the Bimoba ethnic group such as the Buuk, Temong and the Bawk, the Louk clan was first to settle in Bunkpurugu and therefore, became the caretakers.
The Jamong family asked the House of Chiefs to determine the true royals of the Bunkprugu skin and declare the Naayiri, overlord of the Mamprugu traditional area, unfit to select Bunkprugu chief.
The family accepts the Naayiri as the landlord of the entire Mamprugu land but protests his decision to meddle in the Bunkprugu chieftaincy successions.
Quickly after the ruling, members supporters of the petitioners -Jamong family- celebrated at the courtyard and threw powder on their leaders.
Their lawyer, James Owura Mensah, also stated: "Now the war is over. We should all come together and then develop Bunkprugu. I believe they are all brothers and sisters and I don't think there will be any trouble again in Bunkprugu."
"I am not a trouble maker" - Naa Abuba declares
The contested chief and second respondent who has ruled the area for 12 years now, Naa Abuba, however, chastised the judgement but declared he wanted peace.
"I want to tell you something important [that] if not because people want other people to be having quarrel among themselves, Jafouk family, we have 2,297 houses in Bunkprugu and the whole Bunkprugu land, we are the majority who sold land to people to build in Bunkprugu. So how come Bunkprugu cannot be our own? So I will stop and thank everybody. Me, I don't have problem and I will never create a problem, I want peace," Alhaji Abuba told reporters.
Plans to appeal judgement
The disputed chief later told JoyNews in an exclusive interview that, the decision could "not be accepted" and that plans were underway to possibly appeal the judgement at higher authorities.
"It cannot be accepted; I'm telling you. They have to do something about it...Experienced people have to sit down and look into the ruling and correct the judge’s mistake because, he's not the only judge in Ghana," he said.
According to National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO (2015), then Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo District since 1985-2015, recorded 21 ethnic conflicts in different communities, which led to the loss of many lives as well as displacement of some members to other communities.
Communities such as Jimbale, Kambatiak, Kpemale and Bunkpurugu recorded over 50 dead victims, 857 houses burnt from both land and chieftaincy related clashes.
And some 13,768 people migrated to other neighbouring communities, regions and nearby communities such as Nankpanduri, Tamale, Brong-Ahafo, Accra, Togo and Burkina Faso between 2007 and 2015, to save their lives.