THE MACE AND LEGISLATIVE PRACTICE IN NIGERIA BY ADEMOLA TAOFEEK ADEWALE

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Officially, Nigeria commenced her history in 1914 following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, by the British Government upon approval of the Queen of England, as a British Colony. Abubakar, M. (2000) asserts that “prior the advent of Colonial powers, there was no sense of Nationhood in the current boundaries of this Nation called Nigeria today. Instead, there were various ethnic groups having their own ways of governance and thus they required reconciliation in the political landscape of the newly created Nation”.

The present day National Assembly evolved from a Lagos-based Legislative Council which was established in 1914 by Lord Lugard, though it only acted as an advisory body and thus its resolution had no force of law; and it grew up in a steady trend with the attendant of series of succeeding Governors/Governors-General as a representative of the Queen of England in the Colony until when the famous independence Constitution of 1960 came into existence. At this juncture, composition of the National parliament changed in its structure significantly to consist of the Queen of England, the Senate and House of Representatives hence the introduction of Mace in the National Assembly as a symbol of Queen’s authority and its inclusion in the legislative practice in Nigeria.

“On 3rd October, 1960, Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s Representative, formally opened Nigeria’s Independence parliament before a distinguished assembly of people and diplomats.  Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, President of the Nigerian senate and Governor-General-designate read out the letters meant for the opening of the parliament”.  (http://medium.com/the-ecyclopedia-of-nigerian-speaking-people/oct-3-1960-18c7f3337aeb). The Queen’s Representatives left behind, the Mace that carries Queen’s crown as her symbol of authority for the Nigerian National Assembly; and Queen was recognized as the official leader in whose authority the Nigeria’s Parliament operates. The full sovereignty  for the Nigeria’s Parliament was not attained until formation and implementation of the 1963 Republican Constitution which eventually put an end to the reign of the Queen of England as the official leader of Nigeria’s Parliament ever since.

Sequent to official removal of Queen of England as the leader of Nigeria’s Parliament by the virtue of 1963 Constitution, the Mace in the National Assembly got a different look from what it used to be by replacing the Queen’s Crown with the Nigeria’s Coat-of-Arm as its head design. Noticeably, every legislative chamber in Nigeria today, both at the state and federal levels, has its Mace that is designed to carry coat-of-arm instead of queen’s crown except Kaduna State House of Assembly. In today’s Nigerian Legislature, Mace is considered to be the symbol of the House to function.

The workings of Mace as its significance in the legislature

In attempt to enumerate significance of the Mace, careful choice of words must be strictly adhered  to in order not to mistake them for functions of the Mace which we will later dwell into in this same chapter.

The word ‘significance’ grammatically means the importance portends by the presence of a thing or someone. Here, we mainly tend to examine the significance of Mace in the process of making laws. It was earlier mentioned in the definition of Mace that its presence gives sort of validity to the discussions and deliberations by the lawmakers in the chamber during plenary.

The significance of Mace, therefore, can be best explained under two main headings namely; Custodial and Pedestal stances.

Custodial stance

This is the first to mention. It must be established by the bureaucratic authority of the legislature that the legislative Mace is in the custody of the Serjeant-At-Arm Division of the National Assembly or Houses of Assembly as the case may be at the federal and state levels respectively.

Custodial stance is best described as a condition under which everybody (both the leadership of the House particularly and all other lawful residents) in the Country or State is conscious of the fact that the Legislative Mace is readily intact at the safe custody within the parliament.

 In this stance, the major significance of Mace is that it depicts an anchor of psychological readiness of the legislators, particularly the presiding officers as well the officials of the parliament in the course of carrying out the legislative duties that are required of them. However, any uncertainty about location of the Mace may give rise to restless, distractible and disruptive atmosphere within the polity particularly in the parliament.

Usually, it is expected of the Serjeant-At-Arms to, at all times, report the safety status of the Mace to the presiding officers: President of the Senate and his Deputy, Speaker of House of Representatives and his Deputy in the instance of the National Assembly; the Speakers and their deputies in the case of State Houses of Assembly.

Pedestal stance 

This can further be divided into sub-headings as thus:

(a) Shoulders Carriage: Right and Left (b) Table-brackets movement: Upper and lower bracket.

Shoulder Carriage: The Serjeant-At-Arms is the one who is statutorily charged with the responsibility of ensuring safe custody and carriage of the Mace; leading the Presiding officer into the chamber with the Mace for the commencement of the day’s plenary session. It is, therefore, worth noting that carrying the Mace on either right or left shoulder goes with different meaning for different occasion.

Right Shoulder: Placement of the Mace on the right shoulder of the Serjeant-At-Arms while leading the presiding officer to the chamber signifies convergence of a plenary session for the day’s legislative business.

Left Shoulder: Occasionally, the Mace finds its way to the left shoulder of the Serjeant-At-Arms for another different significance on a different occasion of such like a day of inaugurating the House or Senate where all the Members-elect or Senators-elect would converge in their respective chambers for their official inaugural ceremony to acquire full statutory membership status of the Senate or House as the case may be.

The Clerk to the National Assembly, in case of the National Assembly, is required to lead and perform the inaugural ceremony of the House after which the elections of the presiding officers would be conducted as well the swearing-in ceremony by the Clerk to the National Assembly and his senior officers of the Chambers like Clerk of Senate, Clerk of House of Representatives, Clerks-at-the-table among others. The excerpt below states thus:

The Clerk to the National Assembly (CNA) presiding over the proceedings and the confirmation of the Return of wrist on the appointment day and time as stated in the proclamation issued by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the first meeting of the Assembly, CNA standing by the Presiding Officer’s chair calls the Assembly to order. After congratulating the Members-elect for winning the election in their respective constituencies, he will proceed to the confirmation of the Return of Writs by calling the names of the Members-elect state by state and constituency by constituency in alphabetical order.
NSNL, National Assembly Abuja; 2007:201

 Prior to the elections of the presiding officers for the Senate or House of Representatives, the Clerk will be led to the chamber, where convergence of the members-elect awaits him, in company of the Serjeant-At-Arms carrying the legislative Mace on his left shoulder. This signifies upcoming inauguration of the members and elections of the presiding officers for the House or Senate as the case may be.

Table-bracket Movement: This explains another significance of the Mace in law-making process. Placement of the Mace on the Centre-law-table situated directly in front of the Clerk-At-The-Table at the first step to up the Presiding chair’s table; either on the upper or lower bracket provided by its designs for hanging-firm the Mace horizontally connotes two different meanings to the whole dimensions of legislative process within the chamber. Let us take them one by one to explain the significance of placing the Mace on upper and lower brackets during a legislative session.

Upper Bracket Movement

The Serjeant-At-Arm who leads the Presiding officer into the chamber shall wait for the Presiding officer to seat down on his or her designated presiding chair before he will consciously place the Mace on the upper bracket of the law-table horizontally which grants the Presiding officer a required legitimacy to commence the legislative business for the day in the chamber.

The main significance of placing the Mace on the upper bracket of the law-table right before the Presiding officer is that it depicts an on-going plenary session of the House within the chamber.

During the plenary session of the House, it is characterized that any chosen legislator, amongst those who signified their intentions to speak on any matter-arising on the floor of the chamber, shall only be allowed to do so only one time but no more during that plenary session. This simply means that every legislator can only speak once upon his/her recognition, by the Presiding officer, to speak on any debating issue during plenary hence he/she makes submission, conclude and seat down till another topic is raised and led by the leader.

Please note, significance is that the Presiding officer remains seated on the lonely presiding chair at the topmost height of the three-floor-podium in the chamber. There are three floors arranged with seat(s) on the podium in the chamber; the topmost floor is occupied with a lonely seat reserved for the Presiding officer; the second floor is meant for three seats with a special one in the middle of the three, kept in between the other two seats, are for the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the legislative House (Senate or House); the last floor down is occupied by the seats for Clerks-At-The-Table.

Lower-bracket Movement

A movement of the Mace from the upper bracket of the law-table during plenary session connotes temporary closure of the plenary in order to proceed into the Committee of Whole. This is another monumental significance of Mace. Usually, a motion shall be moved by a legislator, during a plenary session, and also seconded by another legislator before the Presiding officer shall rule on the adoption of both the motion and its seconder hence dissolving the plenary house into a Committee of Whole. Here, in the committee of whole, legislators enjoy privileges of speaking more than once on any topic raised for a debate so far such a legislator is called upon to speak as many opportunities accord him by the Presiding officer, usually the Deputy Senate President or Deputy Speaker presides over a committee of whole in respect of the Senate or House respectively.  

Mace-grabbing and disrupted legislature (National Assembly)

The modern and very bad precedent of mace stealing and head battery in Nigeria started in the Western Regional Assembly.

The first part of it was mace snatching!  We have gone on to witness how members of the National Assembly have replicated this act with some sophistication and brazenness. Who can forget that hilarious yet shameful act by Late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, former President of Senate who raced to Ogbunike – his hometown, to hide the Mace of the Senate, in a bid to stall his impeachment? The Oyi of Oyi even boasted that he kept the Mace in custody of a seven foot python. All these dramatic actions depict the import of Mace in the legislative practice, particularly in Nigeria.

The second part of this was the introduction of the mob as weapon of intimidation and buccaneering. At the heat of the Regional crisis in 1962, the Member representing Ajeromi/Ifelodun/Badagry in Lagos was Igbo man – Hon. E. Ebubedike, from Ozubulu in present day Anambra State. Hon. Ebubedike on the 25th of May 1962, was the Honourable member, who broke the Mace -the insignia of authority of the Parliament and threw it at the Speaker of the Parliament- Hon. Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, which ignited the fracas that eventually led to the closure of the Parliament and the eventual declaration of the State of emergency in the Western Region on the 29th of May 1962. This incidence later snowballed into military take-over on the 15th of January 1966. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/05/the-story-of-non-indigenes-in-lagos/

At every instance of Mace grabbing or snatching, the Parliament is destabilized; it becomes the rule of the jungle where lawlessness becomes order of the day. They have mastered the skill of using the mace as a weapon of choice to teach their colleagues a lesson in parliamentary civility and protocol. They are world champions in causing the Mace, which is the symbol of authority, to disappear, thereby incapacitating the House to be called to order, when it serves their interests. The mobs rule supreme, the ugly incidence holds everyone to ransom. Government activities are crippled and everyone is apprehensive.  It is utterly divisive and distracting.

The legislature is usually an essential vehicle in ensuring political stability in the Country, as the direct Representatives of the people. 

Many of our Legislators rarely cover themselves in glory, their behavior and performances have usually been abysmal and the executive arm of government has contributed to the subservient nature of the legislature. In every crisis that happened within the leadership of National Assembly, political interest and intervention of the Executive arm of government to ignite conflict of interests among the Legislators is usually traceable. The insistence of former President Olusegun Obasanjo on a strategic plot to remove former Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Gahali Umar Na’aba was a clear example of Presidency’s involvement in orchestrating crisis within the leadership of National Assembly which usually raises tension in the polity by extension. Similar incidence was experienced in the National Assembly during the Rt. Hon. Olubunmi Ette saga, tension was heightened, House divided, and snatching of Mace was attempted amidst up-roaring. 

The State Houses of Assembly were unable to resist the temptation to follow suit in this ugly trend of Mace snatching and grabbing; they are even the worst offenders as at today. The Governors have been heavily involved in choosing or imposing their loyalists in the top echelon of the State Assemblies. This is to forestall impeachment of the Governor or to make life difficult for him. Most State Houses of Assembly are merely rubber-stamping bodies, doing the bidding of their Governors. To take out a sitting Governor, you will need to dislodge his loyalists like the speaker or majority leader and this usually happens at the behest of political godfathers.

In 2002, there was a serious crisis of superiority between Enugu State House of Assembly and former Governor of the state, Chief Chimaroke Nnamani which tempted the later to lock up the Assembly complex, for days. The state legislators found their ways, with the Mace, to the National Assembly Complex Abuja where they had a couple of plenaries before checking them back to Enugu state to embrace lasting political solutions.  

Regulation of procedure by the National Assembly, and its compliance risks analysis

Regulation of Procedure

Under this subtopic, an attempt is made to underscore the available constitutional provision that empowers the Nigerian National Assembly, a bicameral legislature, to regulate its own procedures, that is, how it would operate as an institution which has a corporate status under the law; that can sue and be sued. To a very large extent, the Legislature as a Government Institution represents the democratic values of the Nation; the lawmaking organ; and more importantly it housed the people’s mandates and representations vis-a-vis the presence of the elected Representatives in both the Senate and House of Representatives. It is not out of order to note that the manner in which the National Assembly conducts its regulated operations must be dignified and explicit enough to attract national and international respect within the allowances of law. However, if any of its conducts reads ultra vires particularly acting in a way that is capable of jeopardizing the citizen’s or national interest, litigation against the National Assembly may become unavoidable.  In other words, the laid down procedure for getting some of the constitutionally empowered responsibilities must be carefully followed by the National Assembly hence its required regulation of procedures.

The provision of section 60 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that states thus “subject to the provision of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have powers to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House” was holistic. Notably, the Legislative Houses (Powers and privileges) Act of the National Assembly was birthed from the constitutional empowerment as provided for in section 60 of 1999 Constitution(as amended); and by extension, the creation of Senate and House Standing Rules. Like every other legislature in the world, Nigeria’s Legislature guides and regulates its activities and operations with creation of the Legislative Houses (power and privileges) Act; and subsequently the Standing Rules.

Compliance Risks Analysis

What is Compliance risk? It can be defined as exposure to legal penalties, financial forfeiture and material loss that an Institution or organization faces when it fails to act in accordance with the extant laws and documented regulations, internal policies or prescribed best practices. It is otherwise known as Integrity Risk.

The Nigeria’s Legislature, both at the Federal and state levels, are expected to regulate their procedures based on the provision of section 60 of 1999 Constitution. Considering the articulations of imminent significance, workings and relevance of the Mace in the legislative practice of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, being treated as indispensable legislative accessary, in Nigeria.  One may be tempted to ask a pertinent question thus ‘is it not proper for the Mace to have been captured as a working tool in the guiding procedures of the Legislature? Running through both the Legislative Houses (powers and privileges) Act as well the Standing Rules for Senate or House of Representatives, Mace was not given such prominence. In the Senate standing Order, sections 36, 37 and 38 mention the duties of Sergeant-At-arms as custodian of Mace; safe keeping of the Mace and Sergeant-At-Arms as the lead of all other security agencies serving in the National Assembly respectively.

On several occasions, the Nigeria’s Legislature at the Federal or State, have experienced ugly scenarios where Legislators went after the Mace during crisis, in anticipation of disrupting the plenary of the concerned House, believing that the Mace is crucial to the continual existence of the House; and its absence, no House performs its constitutional responsibilities. It was on this premise that a Nigerian legal luminary and Human Rights Activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN was quoted thus in a National Newspaper “Mind you, I think there are law professors here, in the entire constitution of Nigeria, there are 320 sections, nowhere is mace mentioned. It’s part of the old parliamentary system. What the constitution says is that House shall meet or convene once it forms a quorum”.  In spite of this uncontestable submission made by Mr. Falana, SAN, the Mace is still enjoying the treatment of being indispensable in the legislative practice, the Legislators are neither considering an option of including the Mace as a legislative working tool, at least, in the Standing Order of the House to justify such prominence aside the general defense that the Mace enjoys within the confides of conventional practice.

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