By Mike Ebonugwo
The outrage and condemnation triggered by the reported seizure, yesterday, of the mace
belonging to the Senate, Nigeria’s Upper Legislative Chamber, clearly underscores its importance as the authentic symbol of legislative authority in Nigeria.
Indeed, in the frequent power and leadership succession struggles over the years, control of the legislative arm was usually paramount. In other words, he who has possession of the mace, the staff with the coat of arms at its head, is adjudged to have control of the legislature and by extension, the ruling power calculus in the country.
This also explains why the mace is jealously guarded, especially during period of political turbulence engendered by a face-off or cold war between the executive and legislative arms of government.
Incidentally, what happened at the Senate yesterday was a re-enactment of a familiar scenario that dates back to the First Republic. Indeed, history credits the first mace-snatching to one Mr. Ebubedike, a representative of Badagry East in the Western Region House of Assembly. Following a disagreement in parliament in 1965, he was said to have seized the mace which he wielded like a weapon to attack the Speaker and other parliamentarians.
In the resulting free-for-all, chairs were thrown by the factionalised members who also used other weapons at hand to attack themselves.
Years later, precisely in the year 2000, The Senate, with the late Dr Chuba Okadigbo as its President, was embroiled in controversy over the mace going missing. The Senate President later reportedly admitted having the mace in his custody for safe-keeping in order to fend off some “traitorous” senators hell-bent on impeaching him under the promptings of the executive led by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Although a team of police men was sent to his house to pressure him to relinquish the mace, Dr Okadigbo reportedly stood his ground and refused to make any concession until he was eventually impeached.
Another remarkable mace-grabbing incident occurred in July 2013 in the Rivers State House of Assembly. This followed a violent clash in chambers between 27 lawmakers loyal to then Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the five lawmakers loyal to then Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike who is currently the governor of the state.
Pandemonium broke out when the five lawmakers loyal to Wike claimed they had impeached the Speaker of the House Otelemabama Amachree. In the violent struggle to seize the mace, some of the warring lawmakers were seriously injured and subsequently hospitalised.
A minor but similar scenario to that of Okadigbo played out April last year in the Anambra State House of Assembly when some members attempted to impeach the Speaker, Mrs. Rita Maduagwu. Sensing the intention of majority of the 28 members of the House, Mrs Maduagwu reportedly absconded, or more appropriately sneaked out, with the mace.
Unsuspecting members only realised that their speaker had absconded when the bell to signal her arrival in chamber rang and she was nowhere to be found, and the mace missing. In the event the majority leader, Victor Okoye, moved for the adjournment of the house.