Mace: That time in 2000 when Chuba Okadigbo ‘stole’ the Senate’s symbol of authority

Mace: That time in 2000 when Chuba Okadigbo 'stole' the Senate's symbol of authorityDr. Chuba Okadigbo

18 years ago, Senate President Chuba Okadigbo tried to stop an impeachment plot against himself.

They call it the hallowed chambers, a place made sacred by the gravity of the decisions made within its walls. But recently, the Nigerian Senate has not lived up to that tag. Just yesterday, on the 18th of April 2018, suspended Senator Ovie Omo Agege, barged into the Nigerian Senate and stole the mace. It is lightning striking twice to remind you of a problem. In this case, the problem is the question of just who our Senators are and that time when Senator Chuba Okadigbo stole the mace from the Senate Chambers in 2000.

The transfer of power from the miliitary to a civilian government in 1999 may go down as one of the most instrumental transitions in Nigerian history. Along with an ex-president, many Nigerians from all over the country, literally, got access to power.

Dr. Chuba Wilbeforce Okadigbo was one of them. Representing Anambra (where his fellow indigenes of Oyi called him "the Oyi of Oyi), Okadigbo had first served as Political Adviser to President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.

This time though, he came for higher honours. The generation of Nigerian politicians bore one key similarity to the pre-independence batch in that many of them had strong resumes in business, finance, public service, or education like Okadigbo, a scholar of Philosophy and Politics.

Chuba was an intellectual before we found a use for the word. In his previous forays into the political space, he had shown a grasp of context and a verbosity that was more insightful than spectacular.

He was tipped to be Senate President, despite trouble with his party, the ruling People's Democratic Party. It was a position which he eventually occupied after Evan Enwerem was impeached for corrupt practices.

 

Okadigbo wanted the position from the get-go, he had made that bit clear by visiting a majority of the potential big-wigs among the Senators-elect briefly before they constituted the Fourth Senate in 1999.

What many did not foresee was a high-handedness that created a near dictatorship in a room full of big egos and ambitious moneybags.

Okadigbo quickly lost control of the Senate, but that problem was merely an offshoot of the bigger challenge: his issues with the Executive.

A row had been simmering behind the scenes between Okadigbo in the leadership of the Senate and one man he seemed to never empathise with, President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Things became more serious on May 29, when the Senate, under Okadigbo's direction failed to acknowledge the celebration of the anniversary of the return to civilian rule. What we have come to know as Democracy Day.

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Two days later, on May 31st 2000, Okadigbo adjourned the Senate till July.

Nigerians all over the country were stunned two days later by one of the most audacious farces in Nigerian political history, reports that Chuba Okadigbo had absconded with the mace to his hometown of Ogbunnike in Anambra State.

Power Struggles

Not much is known for a fact about those few days; but interviews after the fact and the accounts of some senators close to the epicenter of the drama has filled in a few blanks.

Senate President Chuba Okadigbo is said to have gotten wind of an impeachment plot against him by the Obasanjo-led Federal Government in those weeks.

In an attempt to withhold whatever was in the works and prevent his impeachment, Okadigbo took the mace from the Senate chambers, assuring his supporters in the Senate that he had kept it in a secure place in the company of pythons, it is claimed.

On Friday, June 2, 2000, policemen acting under the directive of the Inspector General of Police visited the Senate President's private residence to retrieve the mace from his possession.

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Eyewitness would tell the BBC that the policemen harassed the Okadigbo family, as well as others who were present in the house at the time.

 

"The police arrived at 5.55 a.m. (0455 GMT) in six jeeps fully loaded with armed officers," he said to members of the Press later that day.

"They told me they had come to collect the mace and that they were acting on orders from the Inspector General of Police," Mr Okadigbo explained.

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"I said I would never give them the mace. I have to be dead before you get the mace, I told them," he declared.

Perhaps because the importance of these spectacles have become lost on us, or that the events occurred so frequently that the news cycle struggled to keep up, not much, save for hearsay, has been documented about the events at the end of May 2000 to June 22.

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One of those who was involved in the power tussle between both arms of government at the time, ex-Senator Joseph Waku.

“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 President Olusegun Obasanjo's 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.

 

He prefers 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.

"We knew the mace had not crossed Nyanya (a satellite town in the federal capital territory).”, he said.

There are no concrete reports of how the mace was retrieved, save that Okadigbo released possession of it to the Senate.

Paying for their wrongs

Context aside, taking the Senate mace, one of the nation's most revered symbols of political authority, is a big deal, and the response should carry some weight, a major deterrent to such acts of insolence.

It is a conversation that has already begun over the recent snatching of the mace, even though Senator Ovie Omo Agege denies any association with the thugs who stormed the Senate Chambers on Wednesday.

In 2000, Okadigbo got the other half of his cake, and it was almost tasteless.

Few weeks after the melee, allegations of corruption began making the rounds in the Snate. In response, the body constituted a panel led by Senator Idris Kuta to investigate alleged wrongful award of 44 contracts.

The panel returned a harrowing verdict against Okadigbo.

 

It was clear what was happening and what had to follow, and this time, there was little he could do.

His deputy, Senator Abubakar Haruna resigned, to put some distance between himself and the scandal. An ancillary intention was that it would pressure Okadigbo into resignation but it didn't.

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On the night of August 8, 2000, Okadigbo was voted out during a session presided over by the John Azuta Mbata acting as President Pro Tempore during deliberations on the report of the Kuta panel.

Never one to back down from a fight, Okadigbo would continue his tussle with Obasanjo, and later the entire People's Democratic Party.

He joined forces with Muhammadu Buhari, running as his mate in the 2003 elections under the aegis of the All Nigeria People's Party. They lost by a landslide.

Over the years, Nigeria's government has been mired in one scandal after the other, where elected officials berated or trivialised symbols of government power or worse still, the people themselves.

18 years apart, both incidents are unnerving reminders of just what lies behind the term "Senate", the personalities and power struggles that have disparaged our government, the people and the country as a whole.

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