Symbolism and Use of the Mace
The Mace of the House of Representatives is the symbol not only of the Royal authority but of the authority of the House. As it has been stated that ‘the authority of the Speaker and of the House are indivisible’, it also symbolises the authority of the Speaker.
Before the election of a Speaker, the Mace is placed on brackets under the Table of the House and as soon as the Speaker takes his or her seat after being elected by the House, it is placed on rests on the Table (Standing Order 12).
When the Speaker is in the Chair, the Mace lies on the Table, with the orb and cross surmounting it pointing to the government side, that is, to the Speaker’s right. The only time that the Mace is not removed from the Table when the Speaker leaves the Chair is when he or she has temporarily suspended a sitting of the House (perhaps for a meal break). The Mace remains on the Table during the whole of the suspension.
The Serjeant-At-Arms is custodian of the Mace. Bearing the Mace upon the right shoulder, the Serjeant-at-Arms precedes the Speaker when the Speaker enters and leaves the Chamberat the beginning and the end of a day’s sitting.
The Mace, carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms, has become an important symbol of the authority of the Speaker and of the House itself. There is a view that the House is not properly constituted unless the Mace is present on the brackets in the Chamber.
The Mace also accompanies the Speaker on formal occasions such as his or her presentation to the Governor-General after election, when the House goes to the Senate to hear the Governor-General’s opening speech, and on the presentation to the Governor-General of the Address in Reply to the opening speech. On these occasions, the Mace is covered with a cloth or left in an antechamber before entering the Governor-General’s presence. Being the symbol of the Royal authority, the Mace is unnecessary in the presence of the authority itself.
History of mace
During medieval times, the Royal Serjeants-at-Arms were distinguished by their power of arrest without a warrant. To an increasing extent, their Maces – originally ordinary weapons of war, similar to a club – became their emblems of authority. They were stamped with the Royal Arms; and in an age in which few men could read or write, the Serjeants effected their arrests by showing their Maces and not by producing any form of written warrant.
The evolution of maces from weapons of war to symbolic representations has seen the flanged head decrease in size into an ornamental bracket, while the butt end, which carried the Royal Arms, has expanded to accommodate larger and more ornate Royal Arms and an arched crown surmounted by an orb and cross. As a result of the expansion of the butt end, maces began to be carried upside down with the crown uppermost.
The Nigerian Senate/House of representatives Mace: A Weapon Of Power
IN the last 16 years since Nigeria returned to civil rule, the legislative arm of government at the state and federal levels has always remained in the news for different reasons. One of such reasons is the power struggle and supremacy battle among members of the arm of government, who are considered as peers of equal standing before the law, with anyone elected or selected as leader being widely considered as a primus inter pares or first among equals.
In these ceaseless struggle for the control of the legislative arm, the mace, a staff with the coat of arms at its head, has always been a recurring decimal, with any group bent on changing the leadership of the arm always angling to first gain hold of the mace, which has come to be known as the symbol of authority in the second estate of the realm.
For observers and anyone that is conscious of the political environment, the mace is an authority in itself, jealously guarded and serving as the physical symbol of the legislative arm’s official performance of its duties of lawmaking, thus the perpetual struggle for its control and its heralding the coming in and going out of the Senate President or Speaker at any plenary session.
To underscore its importance, lawmakers are always quick to gun for the mace once there is a highly contentious situation on the floor of the legislative chambers, making those in possession of this symbol of the presiding officer’s authority to confer on themselves an advantage over the direction of the issue in question. The history of Nigeria’s democracy is replete with instances of mace-grabbing by hot-blooded elected representatives either wanting to bring legislative proceeding to an abrupt end or insisting that such proceeding must get to its conclusion in spite of stiff opposition from others.
However, a recent position by the popular human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has no provision for the mace as a symbol of authority in the National Assembly, has kick-started a fresh discourse about how and why the mace has come to attract the kind of respect it commands in the parliamentary processes and procedures.
Falana, who said this while moderating a community forum interactive session for vice chancellor aspirants at the University of Ibadan, few weeks ago, noted that the position became imperative following the crisis in the House of Representatives over the control of the mace.
“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 of Representatives shall meet or convene once it forms a quorum.
“You cannot go to court and say because there was no mace, the House of Representatives or Senate is illegally constituted,” Falana said.
In spite of its lack of explicit constitutional role though, the mace occupies a prominent position in most democracies. The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, describes a ceremonial mace 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. It goes further to inform that the mace, as used today, derives from the original mace used as a weapon. Perhaps, this history of mace as originally a weapon has not been lost in many members of parliaments who find it handy to attack their opponents particularly when angered and seek to challenge the authority of the presiding officer.
Mace-grabbing and its use as an assault weapon in Nigeria dates back to the first republic when Mr. Ebubedike representing Badagry East in the Western Nigerian parliament seized it as fight broke out among members. It became the prime instrument of attack during the factional melee where chairs and other dangerous instruments were freely deployed. The late Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, once boasted that he took the Senate’s mace to his village, Ogbunike, where he claimed that a seven-foot python was protecting it from his disgruntled colleagues who wanted to impeach him.
More recently, members of the Rivers State House of Assembly demonstrated how the mace could be used to devastating effect. In July 2013, pandemonium broke out inside the main chamber of the House as some of the 27 lawmakers loyal to the Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and the five lawmakers loyal to the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, engaged themselves in a free for all over the leadership of the House. The five lawmakers supporting Wike had declared that they had impeached the House Speaker, Otelemabama Amachree, but the majority members loyal to Amaechi responded with one using the mace as a weapon and when all was said and done, three lawmakers were seriously injured and had to be rushed to the hospital.
It would appear that the history of the mace does make it attractive to warring members of parliaments to use in their fights. Wikipedia also recalls that the earliest ceremonial maces were indeed practical weapons intended to protect the king’s person, borne by the Sergeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I. But by the 14th century, these sergeants’ maces had started to become increasingly decorative, encased in precious metals. “The mace as a real weapon went out of use with the disappearance of heavy armor.”
In the British Parliament, ceremonial maces represent the authority of the Sovereign, currently Queen Elizabeth II and the Parliament cannot lawfully meet without the mace, representing royal authority, present in their Chambers. In the United States, when the House of Representatives is in session, the mace stands to the right of the chair of the Speaker of the House. When the House is meeting as the Committee of the Whole, the mace is moved to a pedestal next to the desk of the Sergeant at Arms. This immediately indicates to members entering the chamber that the House is in session or in committee.
Like in various legislative chambers in Nigeria, there have been violent incidents involving the mace in the parliaments of other countries, some of which have more advanced traditions of democracy. Despite the abuse it has been subjected to over time, it has however continued to play its role as the symbol of authority of the Nigeria legislatures.
Commenting, a lawyer and former Deputy Speaker in Osun State between 1992 and 1993, Honourable Niyi Owolade, noted that the mace is the parliament’s symbol of authority, noting that the historical development of the parliament has made the mace so important that there is nowhere in the world that a parliament would sit without that symbol of authority.
He stated that the mace dated back to the medieval ages, stating that without the mace the parliament could have an informal session where the speaker or senate president would be chairman and other members will just sit. “But if the House or Senate wants to sit to make laws, something must show that it is in session and that thing is the mace. It has always been that way from time immemorial,” Owolade said.
Owolade disagreed with Falana’s position, noting that though the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was entitled to his opinion, the fact that it is not any section of the constitution that a mace should be present before a legislative decision is binding does not mean that the mace can be jettisoned.
“It is not everything that can be in the constitution; there is what we call convention. The constitution is not the only thing that makes up the rules and laws of any country; you have what you call convention. It is a parliamentary convention that if you don’t have the mace, you cannot sit officially. If that is not the case, some bunch of people can just gather themselves; sit somewhere and say they have made laws. You cannot sit authoritatively without the mace; that is why the mace is jealously kept. If you go to any parliament, the mace is always jealously guarded by the Sergeant-at-Arms; he carries it ahead of the speaker/senate president when he is coming to sit and immediately after the sitting, he takes it out ahead of him. The legislative arm cannot have any official sitting without the mace,” he said.
Hon. Fatai Moruf, a House of Representatives member from Lagos State in the 7th Session of the National Assembly, asserts that the Speaker of the House cannot attempt to preside over the assembly unless the mace is in place. “It is the symbol of his authority. If it is not there, the Speaker cannot sit. I think it is the law from the outset. But when we are in Committee of the Whole, we lower it because the Speaker is not referred to as the Speaker at that time but the Chairman.”
Morouf blames the tendency of members to seize the mace on the fact that wherever it is taken, the Speaker can preside over a session of the assembly there. “The Speaker can sit anywhere as long as the mace is present. That’s why it in the custody of the Speaker,” he told Sunday Tribune.
Hon Etim Bassey, also a former member of the House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom State, concurred with him and added that “for any resolution to be taken in the legislature, the mace must be present.” if it is not there, he said, “it is like a president traveling but without his protocol or diplomatic immunity with him. If you take out the mace from the legislative session, it becomes like just any other social or cultural meeting. “
A former Majority Leader of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Honourable Michael Okunlade noted that while he could not challenge Falana’s position, he has never heard any legislator taking that line of thought, maintaining that Falana has raised a poser that should be looked into. He, however, stated that it is a parliamentary convention that cannot be faulted, as it is the custom the world over.
Okunlade, who was one of the G7 lawmakers who moved against the speaker of the House and ended up in former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala’s bad books, when asked how important the group considered the mace in its struggle to unseat the speaker, said the group believed that the first thing that must be done was to have the mace, because it was the symbol of authority