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A Summary Of The Legislative Process In Nigeria: A Guide To Lawmaking In The National Assembly – Constitutional & Administrative Law



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Most modern government is made up of three arms working together
– namely the Executive, the Judiciary, and the Legislature. The
Executive arm is responsible for implementing the laws made by the
Legislature and enforcing same, the Legislature is responsible for
making the laws, and the Judiciary is responsible for interpreting
the law. This is what obtains both at the Federal level and the
state level in Nigeria. At the Federal level, President of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria is the head of the Executive arm of
Government, the Senate President is the head of the National
Assembly [a bicameral Legislature comprised of the Senate of House
of Representatives], and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of
Nigeria is the head of the Judiciary. At the State level, the
Governor of the State is the head of the Executive, the Speaker of
the House of Representatives of the State is the head of the
Legislature, and the Chief Judge of the High Court of the State is
the head of the Judiciary.

Each arm of government has its own duties and obligations in the
performance of its constitutional role and must work together for
the good government, peace and progress of the country. This
article is an explanation of the law-making process at the National
Assembly (NASS) and the stages each Bill must go through before it
eventually becomes law.

Power to make laws

Under Section 4 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria (as amended)1 (the
“Constitution”), the NASS is vested with the legislative
powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is the power to
make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the
Federation with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive
Legislative List2 and the Concurrent List3 -
a list of 12 items that both NASS and States’ house of Assembly
can legislate on. This legislative power is typically exercised
through Bills4 passed by the NASS which are assented to
by the President.5 Bills generally come in two forms -
either a Private Bill which affects private citizens, corporate
entities and/or a particular class of people or Public Bills which
affect the general public. A Bill can be introduced into either
chamber of the NASS) by members of the respective chambers or the
Executive arm of government.

Before a Bill becomes law, it must go through the following
process in either chamber of the NASS:

  1. Presentation and first reading;

  2. Second reading;

  3. Committee stage;

  4. Third Reading and Passage; and finally

  5. Assent by the President.

Presentation and First Reading

As a first step, after the Clerk receives a copy of the Bill,
he/she must give notice to the members of the relevant chamber. In
the case of a Public Bill, the Clerk must publish a copy of the
Bill in the Official Gazette and send a copy to every member of the
relevant chamber, while in the case of a Private Bill, the member
sponsoring the Bill must move a motion to seek the permission of
the Senate President (or the Speaker of the House as the case may
be) to present the Bill and publish same in two (2) successive
issues of the Official Gazette. After its publication, a copy of
the first issue must be sent to each member of the relevant
chamber. At the first reading stage, the Clerk reads the short
title6 of the Bill(s), provides a brief statement on
what the Bill aims to achieve, and puts it before the Senate
President7 or the Speaker of the House of
Representatives8 depending on the chamber Bill is
presented in. The purpose of the first reading stage is simply to
inform legislators of the Bill(s) introduced. There are no
discussions or debates at this stage.

Second Reading

At the second reading stage, the merits of the Bill are debated
and discussed. The process begins when the member sponsoring the
Bill moves a motion for the Bill to be read for a second time. As
part of this motion, the member would highlight the objective of
the Bill, its general principle, and benefits in stating the case
for why the Bill should be passed into law. To proceed to second
reading, the said motion must be supported [seconded] by another
legislator in the relevant chamber. Where the motion is not
seconded, it is considered rejected and will not proceed to second
reading. Once the motion has been moved and supported, the Bill is
debated by members of the chamber and thereafter put to a vote on
whether it should proceed to the Committee Stage. If a simple
majority of members in the relevant chamber support the Bill, it
proceeds to the Committee Stage for further consideration, if not,
the Bill cannot be debated again until same is re-introduced
later.

Committee Stage

After second reading the Bill is referred to the relevant
Standing Committee(s) of the relevant chamber. At the Committee
Stage, the Committee works to add further value to the Bill and may
hold public hearings to engage critical stakeholders and the
public. The role of the Committee(s) is to make suggestions,
amendments, and recommendations to the Bill (if any) and report
back to the relevant chamber for further consideration. The
Chairperson of the selected Committee would report on the progress
of the Bill after which the chamber, through the Committee of the
Whole, would deliberate further on Bill. At the end of this stage,
a motion may be passed for the Bill to be read for a third
time.

Third Reading and Passage

At the third reading stage, the Bill is read
again, and members vote to pass same.9 At this point, a
clean copy of the Bill containing all the amendments will be
produced and signed by the Clerk and either the Speaker of the
House of Representatives or the Senate President after which the
endorsed Bill is forwarded to the Clerk of the other chamber with a
message requesting its concurrence, that is approval by the other
chamber. The receiving chamber may accept the proposed legislation
as received, at which point it will communicate its concurrence
without amendments. However, where it does not agree with the
provisions of the Bill from the originating chamber or seeks to
make amendments to same, a Harmonisation/Conference Committee must
be constituted separately, by the Senate President and the Speaker
to reconcile the differences on the Bill. The harmonisation
committee is typically made up of member of both chambers with an
obligation to propose a united position that can be adopted by both
chambers.

Assent or Veto

Where both chambers adopt the report of the Harmonisation
Committee, the Clerk of the originating chamber will produce a
clean copy of the harmonised Bill for transmission to the President
for assent – a bill does not become law until it is signed by the
President. At the assent stage, the President must either approve
or veto/reject the bill within thirty (30) days of receiving the
bill. Should the President veto or fail to communicate his assent
within the specified period, the NASS may override this veto by a
two-thirds majority of both chambers voting to pass the bill into
law.10 At this point, the bill becomes law without the
President’s assent. Since the Fourth Republic of Nigeria, this
has only successfully been done once – sometime in June 2000, the
NASS successfully overturned President Olusegun Obasanjo’s veto
on the Niger Delta Development Commission Establishment Bill.

Notwithstanding the above, it must be noted that this procedure
does not apply to all Bills. When proposing constitutional
amendments, the amendment Bill must be supported by a two-thirds
majority of the members of each chamber of the NASS before it can
be read for a third time. Once the Federal Legislature approves of
the Bill, same must also be approved by a two-thirds majority of
the 36 State Houses of Assembly11. Another example of
where the above procedure would not apply is where there are urgent
matters of state which require immediate attention such as passing
the National Budget. In such instances, the NASS has the power to
suspend its own procedure to properly attend to such
matters.12

Conclusion

From the above, it is clear that the legislative process is a
nuanced procedure with inherent complexities. This tiered process
can be slow and time consuming, which ultimately results in a
limited number of Bills scaling through to become law. Between the
June 1999 and June 2015, a total of 1,005 bills were passed by both
chambers of the NASS – 390 Bills passed in the Senate and 615 Bills
in the House of Representatives. There are numerous factors which
draw out this process such as the large number of Bills brought by
469 members of the NASS,13 the low reliance on
technology, the high turnover of legislators and the competing
priorities of the NASS14 – in conducting the
people’s business, both chambers of the NASS must debate and
pass resolutions further to petitions received from the public or
to balance the excesses of the other arms of government.

While many of the issues affecting to the NASS are not novel,
there are some hanging solutions that can easily mitigate some of
these challenges. One such example is to digitise the publication
of Bills and other elements of the legislative process. The
National Assembly has a plethora of digital resources which can be
better leveraged to shorten the timeframe between the various
stages outlined above. Digitising the Official Gazette would enable
all legislators to receive a copy of the proposed Bill timeously.
Publishing a copy of the Bill on the NASS website would make it
easier for the public and various stakeholders to access and
scrutinise Bill ahead of time to properly participate in the public
hearings. This simple solution, one of many, would significantly
expedite the legislative process and bring the NASS closer to the
people it serves.

Footnotes

1. Similarly, Section 4 (6) (7) of the
Constitution empowers the State House of Assembly to make similar
laws for the State for matters in the Concurrent List.

2. Section 4 (2) (3) of the Constitution
refer to the Exclusive Legislative List contained in Part I of the
Second Schedule. It is a list of 68 items on which only the NASS
can legislate on.

3. Section 4 (4)(a) the Constitution.

4. A Bill is a written draft of a
proposed law under consideration by the legislature.

5. Section 58 (1) of the
Constitution.

6. Short Title refers to the formal name
of a legislation i.e National Information Technology Development
Agency Act, 2007. This is in contrast to the Long Title which
usually describes the aims of the legislation.

7. The current Senate President is
Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan (representing Yobe North Senatorial
District, Yobe State).

8. The current Speaker of the House is
Hon. Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila (representing Surulere I Federal
Constituency of Lagos State).

9. Generally, at this point the Bill
cannot be amended again.

10. Section 58(5) of the
Constitution.

11. The Federal Capital Territory is not
included as it is not an area administered by Minister appointed by
the President.

12. Section 60 of the Constitution.

13. The Senate consists of 109 members
and the House of Representatives is made up of 360 members.

14. Asides law making, the NASS is also
responsible for screening and confirming various political
appointees.

Originally published May 3, 2022

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.



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