Editor's note: The recent invasion of the Nigerian Senate by some thugs and eventual theft of the Mace - a symbol of authority at the National Assembly, has continued to generate reactions among Nigerians.
In an article sent to Legit.ng, a social commentator and legal practitioner, Izu Aniagu, writes about the controversy generated by the theft of the Senate's mace.
Aniagu writes from Gombe state.
The meaning of what Nigerian politicians simply refer to as mace in a standard English dictionary will surprise even the most stoical English enthusiast. First, the Wikipedia online dictionary defines a Mace as a weapon with a heavy head on a solid shaft used to bludgeon opponents.
This means that if you're probably looking for what is allegedly snatched by a senator in the Nigerian Senate, you would have to be specific. It would be engaging in wasteful venture by not including the word 'ceremonial' to the mace'.
This means that the actual name of the Senate mace is 'ceremonial mace'. And If something is ceremonial, it therefore means that it is not lawfully imposed or legally recognised.
Ceremonial mace is defined as a highly ornamented staff of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace-bearer, intended to represent the official's authority.
Going by this definition, the ceremonial mace is or intended to be a formal symbol of the authority of the House and by no limits, contrary to current popular assumptions, transposes to a House itself.
And here is how the mace functions: On entering and leaving the Chamber - at the beginning and end of the sitting - the Senate president/Speaker is preceded by the Mace, which is carried by the Sergeant-at-arms on his right shoulder.
Also, when the Senate president/speaker is on the chair, that is, when the House is sitting the Mace lies on the table of the House, resting in the upper brackets.
Also, when the House sits as a committee, that is, when the Senate president/Speaker leaves the chair, the Mace is removed into the lower brackets or placed beneath the table.
However, when the mace is not in the House, as per practice, no business can be carried out. But to what extent does this propositions operate as a reality, especially when the constitutional candle is held to it? This question is what formed the basis of this essay.
Now, the issue is whether the absence of the ceremonial mace translates to or renders the House incapable of validly sitting? Put in other words, whether the proceedings of the House will be invalid, unconstitutional, null and void by virtue of such proceedings having been carried out without the presence of the mace which is the authority and symbol of the Senate?
Perhaps, if the above question has been raised and answered 24 hours ago, especially in the negative, by the Nigerian media and its coordinate there wouldn't be need for this article. Blind folded by their love for sensation and excessive hype, the media will often gladly sweep the Nigerian masses into a programmed frenzy.
But in every situation as this, there is always a victim. The victims oftentimes is truth and knowledge. This is because in the confusing public blabbering that ensues eventually, nobody actually finds a second to rationalise. Rationalizing is a hard thing to do and only few persons engages in it.
No wonder the general presumption that was immediately fed to the Nigerian public as soon as the mace disappeared was the fact that the Senate has been overthrown. In fact one of the Senators surprised the world by describing it as a coup against the upper chambers.
While the slightest act of pilfering should be frowned at, to describe a theft of stamp, seal, insignia, mace or any other ceremonial object as coup is and incredible height of ignorance!
The mace is the symbol of the authority of the House, no doubt. But the mace is merely a ceremonial object and does not add or take from the the powers of the National Assembly of the Federation as enshrined in Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The section provides in subsection 2 that: the National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the exclusive legislative list... It does not provide for the presence of the Mace before this powers can be invoked.
The constitution has no provision for the powers and qualification of the House to be attached or symbolised with a hand-made object. This omission is not unintentional. Although one may wish to argue that the Senate reserves some powers of subsidiary privileges, these powers - to make enactments and rules - must not rob the constitution of its spirits and intentions.
Therefore to symbolize the powers of the House with an object is like abandoning its inherent constitutional mandate.
We will agree there are numerous ceremonial accouterments that the world inherited from the flamboyant British Government and some of them are as elaborate as they are useless. It only takes the forthrightness of a law court to distinguish this accouterments from actual rules.
In the case of Umar v. Governor of Kaduna state, the court took the pain to rule that the House of Assembly can assume sitting/congregate notwithstanding the power of the governor to issue a proclamation for the holding of the 1st session of the House.
Also in that case, the court of Appeal held that the phrase "shall have power" to proclaim used in subsection 3 of section 105 of the 1999 Constitution is only to inform the elected Governor of the power he posses as a Governor and not necessarily a compulsory requirement.
Flowing from this thought, it can also be glimpsed that the President or Governor is not compulsorily required to take the traditional oath of office or inauguration before he can validly assume office.
If this is the case, it may further seem right to say that once validly elected, the tenure of the President or Governor and that of House members automatically begins to run from the day of the expiration of the last elected office holder and does not even matter if the new person is not sworn in or proclaimed.
This is because once elected, the office inures and habituate in the person and is not subject to any formalism or protocols to take effect.
If the House and the president/governor do not compulsorily have to be proclaimed and sworn respectively before assuming duties how much more is the significance of presence of the mace before powers of the House can be exercised?
In Mauritius, for example, the mace used is a gift of the British House of Commons. And while it is a significant symbol and always present when the House is in session, the ability of the House to sit to exercise its authority would not be affected if the mace were absent.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Legit.ng.
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Meanwhile, Legit.ng had previously reported that a member of the House of Representatives, Hon Joseph Akinlaja (Ondo-PDP), said deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu’s wisdom saved Nigeria a greater embarrassment on Wednesday, April 18.
Should the Nigerian senate be scrapped? - on Legit.ng