Nigeria Senate Mace Theft Augurs Tensions Ahead of 2019 Vote

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(Bloomberg) -- A suspended senator led armed men into Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber in a plenary session, stealing the mace in a dramatic twist that could signal political turmoil ahead of presidential polls in 2019.

“This speaks to the kind of fractures that we’re going to see as 2019 approaches,” independent political analyst Chris Ngwodo said by phone from Jos, in central Nigeria

Ovie Omo-Agege, a ruling All Progressives Congress party politician seen as a loyalist to President Muhammadu Buhari, was suspended by the senate for claiming that lawmakers’ move to amend the Electoral Act and reverse the sequence of elections was motivated by anti-Buhari sentiment. The president, who will seek re-election, refused to sign the proposed bill into law.

The mace, a symbol of authority, which usually lies on the table before the senate president, was recovered, the police said in a statement early Thursday. The senator was arrested shortly after the attack the previous day, according to the senate president’s spokesman, Yusuf Olaniyonu. Omo-Agege didn’t answer an email seeking comment.

‘Sheer Hooliganism’

The incident serves as an illustration of the state of Nigerian politics, where parties are merely a means to power and wealth, and politicians propelled neither by ideology nor principle. Known locally as “cash-and-carry politics,” success is often measured by gaining access to the treasury and dispensing patronage.

“The sheer hooliganism of the action does not speak well of the senator or just of the institution itself,” Ngwodo said. “It’s an unfortunate example of the low values we find among our political elite.”

Senate security operatives were hurt in the altercation, senate spokesman Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi said in a statement, with footage showing one intruder in the chamber carrying a fire extinguisher.

“It’s troubling that security is so low that a suspended senator can go into the chambers and steal the mace,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, said by phone from Abuja.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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