Lagos lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) has said that a mace is not a prerequisite for the sitting of legislative houses.
Last Wednesday, the Senate was invaded by five young men in a commando-like operation. During the raid, the mace on the central table in the Senate was snatched and taken away.
The business of the day could not continue until a replacement was found by the senators.
Even though the stolen mace has since been found by the Police and handed over to the Senate leadership, there have been strident calls for the prosecution of the invaders. Some have even suggested that the suspects be tried for treason.
But reacting to the development, Falana, in a statement issued in Lagos yesterday, said there was nowhere in the constitution where it was expressly or impliedly provided that a Mace shall be provided before the Senate or House of Representatives or any other legislative house can sit and conduct legislative business.
According to him, “by virtue of Section 54 of the Constitution, either of two houses of the National Assembly is competent to sit and conduct proceedings once the quorum of the members is formed. The said quorum is one-third of all the members of the legislative House concerned.
“In all the cases in which the impeachment of state governors has been annulled and set aside by the Supreme Court and other courts, it was due to the failure of the Houses of Assembly concerned to comply with the provision for quorum, which is two-thirds of all the members in line with section 188 of the Constitution.”
He described the mace as a colonial legacy, which the country ought to have abandoned.
He said: “As a colonial legacy, the Mace was part of the Nigerian parliament in 1960 when the Queen of England was our Head of State. Even when the nation became a Republic in 1963 under an indigenous President, the paraphernalia of office and title of the Speaker of the British Parliament were fully retained. That was how the Mace, which is a symbolic authority of the parliament under a monarchical government, was adopted by our Republican parliament.”
He, however, urged legislators to stop attaching undue importance to the conventions of the British Parliament.
“Even though Nigeria adopted the presidential system of government since 1979, our legislators have continued to retain the vestiges of the Westminster parliamentary system. For instance, the leader of a legislative house in Nigeria is addressed as “Right Honourable Speaker” while he/she wears the wig and gown on ceremonial occasions like the head of the British parliament. But with time, the mace, wig and gown, which are not provided in our statutes, will disappear from our legislative houses,” he stated.
Falana said he found it curious that the National Assembly has not deemed it fit to enact a law to protect the mace, which is so regularly snatched or stolen by legislators.
However, he said the suspects may be charged under the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act.
“However, while the investigation into the embarrassing invasion of the Senate by the Police is in progress, it is pertinent to point out that the Mace is not a prerequisite for parliamentary business in Nigeria. In other words, the proceedings of a legislative house cannot be invalidated because of the absence of a Mace,” he said.