How A Law Is Made In Nigeria

BEING AN ARTICLE ON THE PROCESSES OF LAW-MAKING IN NIGERIA: TOWARDS A GOOD LEGISLATION IN 2023. As the nation prepares for another set of intakes into the National Assembly and States House of Assembly, I felt it is important to come up with this short book for millions of them willing to know these processes before they contest and win the election.

"Where there's no law, there's no sin" We should not forget that we have three arms of government, i.e., The Executive, Legislature & Judiciary. The act of legislation lies in the legislature or in the chamber. Legislation can be regarded as an act of law-making as we are taught in government as a subject in secondary schools worldwide. 

Nigeria operates a Federal Legislative system, and therefore a law can be made at the National level, State level, and even the Local Government level. This presentation will focus only on laws that are made on the National level. Nigeria operates what is known as a 'Bicameral Legislature,' which means that the National legislative responsibility is shared between the two separate chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives; both chambers make up what is known as the National Assembly, at it is the primary law-making body in Nigeria.

STAGE 1 – ORIGINATION OF THE BILL

Before a law can be passed, a bill must be presented before the legislature. A bill is a draft of a proposed law that is presented before the legislature for deliberation and discussion. A bill can technically be initiated by anybody, but only a Senator or a Member of the House of Representatives can introduce it on the floor of The Senate or The House of Representatives. A bill can originate either from the Executive (President) or from the Members of the Legislature:

When the Executive prepares a bill, it has to be forwarded to the President of The Senate and The Speaker of the House with a cover letter from the President. This is known as an 'Executive Bill' and is marked with "Executive" printed on the title page of the bill. Where a bill originates from one of the Members of the House of Representatives, it is presented to the Speaker of the House and is firstly discussed in the House of Representatives and passed before it is passed to the Senate for deliberation and passage. A bill that originates from the House of Representatives is marked 'HB' (House Bill).

Where a bill originates from one of the Senators, it is presented to the Senate President and is firstly discussed in the Senate Chamber and passed before it is passed to the House of Representatives for deliberation and passage. A bill that originates from the Senate is marked 'SB' (Senate Bill).

STAGE 2 – INITIAL REVIEW OF THE BILL

Once a bill is received in either of the chambers of the legislature, the head of the chamber (Senate President or Speaker) forwards it to the relevant committee-‘Rules and Business Committee for the House of Representatives Committee on the Rules and Procedure' for the Senate. The committee reviews the bill to determine if it meets all the required standards to be presented before the chamber. If the standards are not met, they are forwarded to the Legal department of the National Assembly for re-drafting and any other amendments that need to be made to bring them in line with the requirements. The committee is also expected to determine the day and the time a bill is to be discussed in the House of Representatives/Senate.

STAGE 3 – GAZETTING OF BILL

After the initial review, the committee then sends the bill for gazetting. The reason why bills are gazetted before consideration by the legislature is to give the public notice that a new piece of legislation is being considered and to give members of the public and concerned persons the opportunity to weigh in on the process and potentially give written representations either in favor of the proposed law or against it.

STAGE 4 – THE FIRST READING

The Clerk of The Senate/House of Representatives usually does the reading of bills on the date and time that has been previously scheduled. The Clerk reads the short title of the bill and then proceeds to 'table' it before the Senate President or The Speaker of the House of Representatives (whichever is applicable). At this stage, there is no debate or discussion of the bill on the floor of the Senate or House of Representatives; this stage is simply to inform the legislators that a particular bill has been introduced.

STAGE 5 – SECOND READING

This is when the bill is first debated on the floor of the relevant chamber of the legislature. For a bill to be read the second time, it must be moved by a motion. The legislator moving the motion is expected to highlight the subject matter, objectives, benefits, and general principles of the bill if it is passed into law. Other members may also signify their intention to speak on the bill. If it is an Executive bill, the debate commences with a motion by The Senate or House Leader that the bill is read the second time. The motion must be seconded (supported) by any of the Leaders of the other Parties.

If the bill is initiated by a legislator, the sponsor of the bill will move the motion that the bill be read the second time. The motion must be seconded (supported) by another legislator in the chamber where it is being read. If the motion is not seconded, the bill cannot proceed to a second reading and, therefore, will be rejected.

After the bill is debated, it is put to the vote on whether it moves to the Committee Stage; if the bill has the support of the majority, it moves to the Committee Stage; if it does not, it is 'Negatived,' and cannot be discussed again until it is re-introduced at a later stage. If it is referred to the Committee stage, the Senate President/Speaker of the House is empowered by the rules of both Senate and the House to determine the relevant committee (s) to which the bill is referred.

STAGE 6 – COMMITTEE STAGE

At this stage, a committee is assigned to deliberate on a bill and examines it more critically. The Senate and the House have two types of committees. The first one is the Committee of the Whole House, and the second is the Standing Committees (there are many standing committees). Committees examine all aspects of the bill, and they also organize public hearings, where any member of the public or expert(s) having an interest in the bill may be allowed to attend the public hearing and make contributions to the public debate of the bill.

A member of the public can make a suggestion(s) on any aspect of the bill, but only a Member of the Committee can propose an amendment to the bill. All amendments that are made must be in line with the principle and the subject matter of the bill as agreed to at the second reading stage. When a bill has to do with multiple subjects spanning different Standing Committees, the committee that has the dominant issue will take the bill, while others will form Subcommittees to consider the areas that concern them and report to the main committee. It will then be the responsibility of the main committee to collate and aggregate all suggestions and amendments of the "sub-committees" and make a full report to The Senate/House of Representatives.

STAGE 7 – COMMITTEE REPORT

After the committee has concluded its work, it will report back to the whole Senate/House of Representatives in plenary with or without amendments. The Chairperson of the Committee is expected via a motion to report progress on the bill. After the report of the Committees and the deliberation of the Committees of the two Chambers, a motion may be moved that the bill be read the third time either immediately or at a later date.

STAGE 8 – THIRD READING

Generally, once the bill has passed the third reading stage, no amendment can be made to it. However, in certain circumstances, if a legislator wishes to suggest an amendment, he or she must move a motion that the bill be 're-committed' to the Committee Stage for the amendment to be included. If the motion is agreed upon, the Senate/House of Representatives will dissolve to discuss the amendments. After all necessary amendments, the Senate/House of Representatives will then proceed to the third reading and pass the bill.

STAGE 9 – CLEAN COPY OF THE BILL

After a bill has scaled the third reading stage and been passed, a clean printed copy of it, incorporating all amendments, will be produced, signed by the Clerk, and endorsed by the Senate President/The Speaker. The copy will then be forwarded to the Clerk of The Senate or House of Representatives, as the case may be. The copy will be accompanied by a message requiring the concurrence of the receiving chamber.

STAGE 10 – CONCURRENCE

When a bill is sent to either chamber for concurrence, there are three potential outcomes:

The receiving chamber may agree with the bill's provisions and therefore pass it, and the bill is sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The receiving chamber may not agree with the bill at all and therefore reject it in its entirety.

The chamber may not agree to some parts of the bill and therefore make amendments. When this happens, the originating chamber may agree to the amendments. If the amendments are not agreeable to it, then a Conference Committee of the two chambers will be constituted to work out any disagreement. The joint Conference Committee is convened with a distinct mandate – to harmonize the positions of both Chambers on the disputed recommendations/amendments. The outcome is a report of the Joint Conference Committee, which is presented in both Chambers for consideration. If both Chambers adopt the report, the bill is sent to the Clerk of the originating Chamber, and a clean copy of the bill is sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly.

STAGE 11 – THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

Once there is the bill's concurrence in both Chambers, the Clerk of the National Assembly will 'enroll' the bill for the President's signature. Enrolment is when the Clerk of the National Assembly produces a clean copy of the bill, certifies it, and forwards it to the President for his/her assent. The President has thirty (30) days to sign a bill sent to him/her by the National Assembly. A bill does not become law until the President signs it.

There are three potential outcomes here:

The President may provide his assent and sign the bill into law.

The President may veto the bill if s/he disagrees with the provision of the bill or some aspects of it by withholding his/her signature. When this happens, the President must state the areas he wants amendments to before he signs the bill. If the National Assembly agrees with the President, the bill can be withdrawn for deliberation on the amendments suggested by the President. If the amendments are agreed to, it is forwarded to the President, who then approves them. The President may veto the bill. If the National Assembly does not agree with the veto, it is empowered by the Constitution to overrule the veto of the President.

The two Chambers can recall the bill and re-pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by a two-thirds majority vote in both Chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President. The recent Electoral Amendment Bill of 2021/ 2022 was passed into law by the two chambers and sent to President Buhari for signing, but the President withheld his signature because of certain clauses he opposed in the bill for accelerated amendment is a good example of what can play out above until amicable agreement is reached.

EXCEPTIONS

All bills must receive three readings before they can be passed into law, and the readings must be on different days. However, in very rare circumstances, some bills can receive accelerated consideration based on their urgency and significance for government policy. Where this happens, the rules of The Senate/House of Representatives are to be suspended for easy passage.

CONCLUSION

As the nation prepares for another set of intakes into the National Assembly and States House of Assembly, I felt it is important to come up with this short article for millions of them willing to know these processes before they contest and win the election.

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