The Senate and the mace in a hazy mace

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Introduction

According to Wikipedia, a mace is a blunt weapon, a type of club or virge that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy, wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel.

democracyIn recent times, a mace is regarded as an ornamental stick carried by an official or placed somewhere as a symbol of authority. This has been used as symbol of authority in some clans. For example, in Igbo land, the symbol of authority is the “Ofo”. The Ofo is the sacred symbol of truth, justice, law and authority. It plays a role in sacrificial rituals, prayer, oath taking, pronouncing judgment, deliberating policy within the family or community and invoking blessings or curses.

Just barely a week ago, there was pandemonium as hoodlums stormed the hallowed Chamber of the Senate building, wherein, about 5 hoodlums brutally carted away the mace, the Senate’s symbol of authority in a ‘Shina Rambo – like’ operation. The allegedly led by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), who was then on suspension. He has denied the charge.

However, more interesting was that Omo-Agege who had been suspended for 90 days (initially 180 days, but reduced by the Senate President – Dr Bukola Saraki). His suspension followed his remarks that the amendments to the 2010 Electoral Act (with 2011 amendments), which reordered the sequence of the 2019 general elections, moving the presidential election from the first to the last in the sequence, was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari. Certainly not! I do not think so. I had in my previous interventions commended the giant strides by the National Assembly to change the previous format and have it vice-versa. I had argued, and I still maintain, that the smaller masquerades dance at the Village play ground before the bigger masquerades. Allowing the presidential election first will lead to a bandwagon effect. No one wants to be in the opposition.

I recall that the same Senator Omo-Agege had hurriedly run to court to file a suit to stop the Senate from suspending him when he got wind of plans of his suspension. Wait a minute! Why would heresort to self-help by gate crashing into the plenary section? To suspend a person, rightly or wrongly, means to exclude, debar, shut out, remove, evict, rusticate, or reject that person for that period. Such a person has no business in the House. How important is the Mace to the Legislative Arm of government? History has it that the Mace, has reportedly taken, snatched, removed or attempted to be removed from the legislative building at one point or the other. Such act ought to have been treated as an act of Treason.

Story from the blues
Following this ugly trend, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, gave the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Abubakar Idris, 24 hours ultimatum to ensure that the mace was returned to the Senate. The last time I checked, the Senate building is neither in a thick forest, nor in a secluded area far from the heart of Abuja. Infact, it is located in a high-breed area, near the Supreme Court and Aso Villa, well-fortified with mobile Police men, DSS and other security operatives on guard. How did the hoodlums gain access to the premises, let alone entering the hallowed Chamber of the Senate building when plenary session was still on?

In less than the 24 hours ultimatum given to the IGP, the mace was recovered under a flyover before the Abuja city-gate. It is said that a patriotic passer-by “saw” it and alerted the Police. Questions: How did it get there? Who kept it there? And, for what purpose? How did the entire layers of security apparatchik leading to the Senate collapse so suddenly that hoodlums could gain access to the Senate Chamber, carry the mace, push down and injure a female Sergent-At-Arms, all in full broad day light?

Memory lane of stolen maces
Going down memory lane, maces were used as weapons in the First Republic (Western Region 1965). This could be traced to the crisis that ensued between the leadership of the defunct Action Group (AG) and the then Premier of the region.

As a result of the crisis, Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had led some members of the Western House of Assembly to remove the then Premier, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and the Governor of the region. Consequently, thisaction split the lawmakers into two factions, thereby leading to crisis on the floor of the House. In the process, a member representing Badagry East, Mr Ebubedike, was said to have snatched the mace and made away with it and used same as a weapon to fight.

With the return of democracy from torturous decades of military dictatorship, Nigerians witnessed the second incident of mace snatching at the National Assembly, Abuja. A supremacy tussle between the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the Senate President, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, ensued.

This led some loyalist Senators of Obasanjo to move for impeachment of Okadigbo. Okadigbo knew the significance of the mace in legislative proceedings. So, he sneaked away surreptitiously from the Senate floor with the mace,in a bold bid to truncate his impeachment process.He was still impeached weeks later by the OBJ – led moving train.

Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, the then Governor of Rivers State, was in 2013, involved in a power tussle that involved two political blocs in the State. There was a division of members of the State House of Assembly, those led by Amaechi and the others by Nyesom Wike. 27 members were loyal to the governor and five pledged loyalty to Wike, the then Minister of State, Education.

Five Wike’s loyalists had moved to impeach the then Speaker, Hon Otelemabama Amachree. Those loyal to Amaechi were 27 members. They snatched away the mace. Three of the five members were injured in the process. Nigerians watched this National horror live on television.

In 2013, the mace also mysteriously disappeared from the Kaduna State House of Assembly during the political crisis in the House. it was an attempt to impeach its Speaker, then Alhaji Usman Gangara. The Speaker who was found culpable of this was later suspended.

The legal implications
Without much ado, the Deputy Senate President had tagged such behavior as an act of treason. I completely agree with him. The grund-norm of Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution, specifically condemns same, in its Section 1 (2). It reads:

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
Furthermore, Sections 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Priviledges) Act, deal with unapproved conducts of strangers, offences relating to admittance to the Chamber of strangers, obstructing members or officers in the performance of their duties, and the obstructing members or officers in the performance of their duties, and the power of arrest.

Section 14 (1) provides that no stranger in respect of a Legislative House shall be entitled to enter or remain within the Chamber or precincts of the Legislative House without the authority of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of the House.Section 14 (2) states that: notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, where two or more Legislative Houses sit in session for the transaction of business in the same place, then while anyone of those Legislative Houses is sitting, no person who is not a member or officer of that House shall be entitled to enter or remain within the Chamber or precincts of the House without the authority of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of the House.

Section 15 deals with offences relating to admittance to the Chamber or precincts. It provides:
Any person who-
(a) being a stranger enters the Chamber or precincts of a Legislative House without permission duly granted under the authority of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, thereof contrary to the provisions of section 14 of this Act, or being therein with such permission refuses to leave at the order of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of the Legislative House; or

(b) being admitted to the Chamber or precincts of a Legislative House as a stranger contravenes any rule made by the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of the Legislative House under the standing orders of that House relating to the admission of strangers; or

(c) attends any silting of a Legislative House as representative of any newspaper or journal after a general permission granted under the standing orders of the House to the representative or representatives of that newspaper or journal has been revoked, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a tine of fifty naira or to imprisonment for three months or to both such fine and imprisonment.
Section 16 dwells on obstructing members or officers, and creating disturbances, etc.

Section 17 deals with power of arrest. It provides:
An officer of a Legislative House may, without an order from a magistrate and without a warrant, arrest-

(a) any person who commits any offence contrary to section 15 or 16 of this Act in his presence;

(b) any person within the Chamber or precincts of the Legislative House whom he reasonably suspects of having committed an offence contrary to either of the said sections.

Indeed, Section 18 provides that strangers may be removed on orders of President or Speaker.
Sections 412 (b) of the Penal Code is in pari material with section 41 (c) of the Criminal Code. Both sections are agreed that any person who levies war against Nigeria or any part of the Federation in order by force or constraint to compel the President or the Governor of a State as the case may be, to change his measures or counsels, or in order to put any force or constraint upon or to intimidate or overawe either House of the National Assembly or, as the case may be, the House of Assembly of a State; etc, commits the offence of treasonable felony. Upon conviction, such a person is liable to imprisonment for life.

From the foregoing, the acts of those hoodlums are not only condemnable, but is also treasonable. They must be punished adequately in accordance with the law. If not properly handled and dealt with, this might just be a fore shadow of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead towards the 2019 general elections. We must now begin to worry. God forbid!!!

Thought for the week
“At the end of the day, the goals are simple: safety and security.” (Jodi Rell).


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