The theft of the Senate mace by suspected thugs on Wednesday makes it the second time the upper legislative chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly would lose its symbol of authority temporarily in controversial circumstances since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.
The thugs invaded the chamber and made away with the mace shortly after suspended senator, Ovie Omo-Agege, entered the chamber.
Mr Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central Senatorial District, was suspended last week for alleging that his colleagues were against President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election plans.
He has since denied any role in the scandal, while the police early on Thursday said the mace had been found.
Wednesday’s incident was not the first time the Senate would temporarily lose its mace.
The Senate temporarily lost its mace in 2000 when Chuba Okadigbo was its president.
Mr Okadigbo, now deceased, presided over the Senate between November 1999 and August 2000 when he was replaced with Pius Anyim from Ebonyi South.
Although, the mace could be said to have been desecrated on both occasions, the trigger and the manners of execution were remarkably different.
While Wednesday’s incident was outright theft of the mace after the chamber was invaded by thugs, that of 2000 resulted from a crisis that engulfed the Senate for weeks.
Mr Okadigbo, who represented Anambra North Senatorial District on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was alleged to have been involved in contract scandal during which senators opposed to him sought his removal from office.
At the height of the crisis, the senate president in a bid to avoid his ouster, adjourned the Senate and took the mace away from the National Assembly to an unknown location.
He was reported to have taken the mace to Ogbunike where he hid it for weeks.
A former senator, Joseph Waku, explains the difference between the two incidents.
“In that case (2000), there was no breakage. We took it, it was not stolen. It was during our vacation. We were on vacation,” he said.
“It was during Obj’s (President Olusegun Obasanjo) time and it was during a crisis.
“There was a plan to remove Okadigbo and we got wind of it and adjourned and took the mace. But the then Deputy Senate President, Haruna Abubakar, attempted to reconvene the Senate. They went and arranged for a fake mace but we intercepted it. Haruna wanted to preside as acting senate president.”
Mr Waku would not disclose where Mr Okadigbo took the mace to, preferring to do so in a book he is working on.
He however said the late senate president did not take the mace away from Abuja to his village, Ogbunike, in Anambra State as claimed by opponents, saying “we knew the mace had not crossed Nyanya (a satellite town in the federal capital territory).”
The former senator who represented Benue North Senatorial District likened Wednesday’s invasion of the Senate to an attempted coup. He said the perpetrators should be brought to justice.
He said, “It is not just our democracy but also our security. The person behind this should be brought to book. That (National Assembly) is an institution. It is an attempted coup. He should be tried for treason.
“The mace is the symbol of authority of the National Assembly and the senate president is the chairman of the National Assembly. So it is an attempted coup and should be treated as such.”