The mace as a symbol of authority
At nearly all levels of life, there are symbols of authority and power which are closely associated with the bodies they represent.
For example, the Ada kevbe Eben which started out as weapons of war, are so inextricably linked to the Oba of Benin, that anywhere they are seen, people immediately know that the Edo culture is on display.
But, whether the ada and eben are present (kevbe translates ‘and’ in English), or not, every Bini man knows that authority is vested in the person of the Oba, not in the instruments.
Should either instrument be tarnished, or should someone not fear the wrath of Ayelala and steal them, their absence does not diminish the Oba’s authority.
In Nigeria, the government has some symbols of its authority.
In no particular order, some of these are: the coat of arms, the country’s official seal and symbol of the power of the Presidency; the flag; and the mace, an ornamental stick atop which sits a reproduction of our coat of arms, which serves as the legislature’s symbol of authority.
Of these symbols, the mace has managed to be the subject of contention a number of times, and as recently as last week, when a suspended Senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, allegedly led some thugs into the Senate chamber, and resuming an old Nigerian pastime, forcibly removed the mace, bringing an end to proceedings.
In the confusion, only one Senator, Shehu Sani, seemed to understand that the absence of the mace was not fatal to plenary.
It is this mentality, that the mace is vital to the validity of a legislative plenary session, that has led to at least five dramas in the past.
In 1962 there was a political crisis in the then Western Region that led the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, to contemplate the imposition of a state of emergency on the region.
The leader of the opposition, Obafemi Awolowo resolved with some members of the Western House of Assembly to remove Samuel Akintola, the region’s premier.
During plenary on May 25, 1962, a fight broke out, and O. Ebubedike, the member representing Badagry East deployed the mace as a weapon, before making away with it.
The Western Region, and the whole of Nigeria went downhill from that day, culminating in the coups of 1966 that plunged Nigeria into a period of instability that we are yet to fully recover from.
Since Mr. Ebubedike’s infamous action, there have been at least four other attempts to remove the mace, most notoriously by then Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, in 2000.
The fundamental difference between all the other attempts, and Okadigbo’s was that Okadigbo moved the mace to his village during a recess.
All the other incidents Ebubedike (Ibadan, 1962), Chidi Lloyd (Port Harcourt, 2013), Usman Gangara (Kaduna, 2013), and Terkimbi Kyange (Makurdi, 2015), occurred during plenary sessions.
To my knowledge, the mace in the Kaduna State Assembly was never recovered, and even though Gangara was eventually impeached, Kaduna had to get a new mace.
These incidents question our values as a people.
A mace is at its core a blunt weapon, a club that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver blows.
It typically consists of a heavy shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of either stone, or iron.
The mace was invented during the Upper Paleolithic age, before the advent of agriculture, to ward off competing hunter-gatherer bands who sought to gain access to scarce water and food resources. As a weapon of war, it was often deadly.
For a heavily armed Persian knight in the era before Christ, a mace was as effective as a sword or battle axe.
The earliest ceremonial maces were actually weapons meant to protect the king’s person, borne by the Sergeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip Augustus.
By the 14th century, these sergeants’ maces had started to become increasingly decorative, encased in precious metals.
As a weapon, the mace fell out of use with the disappearance of heavy armour. The oldest mace still in use was commissioned in a small town in Yorkshire in 1415.
The English, from whom we evolved much of our parliamentary practice, are still a little prickly about how the mace is handled.
As late as 2009, a UK MP was suspended from the Commons for five days for contempt for dropping the mace on an empty bench. But that is where the similarity ends.
Since we transited to an American style democracy that dispenses with most parliamentary terms and practices, the mace has lost any real importance, even the ceremonial importance is doubtful.
At best, the mace is a symbol of authority, but the repeated attempts to kidnap it in a belated, often desperate attempt to secure power shows that we tend to chase shadows rather than substance.
The authority of any elected Nigerian legislature is ultimately vested in the people, not a repurposed war relic from an era before the invention of farming.
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