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The Scoop Explains: How laws are made in Nigeria

Nigeria operates a bi-cameral system of legislature at the national level. This means that legislative function is divided between two legislative chambers – Senate and House of Reps (HOR). In Nigeria, we have 109 Senators and 360 HOR members who represent their constituents at the legislative Chambers.

The process of law making begins with the identification of a need for a law either because there is no law in place or because there is need to review and amend an existing law to bring it in line with present need or reality.

At the point of origination, a law is known as a ‘bill’ and must undergo a series of legislative procedures before it becomes legally binding and enforceable. A bill can be initiated or sponsored by anyone but only a member of either of the legislative chambers can introduce it on the floor of the House. A bill could either be an Executive bill, Member bill or Private bill.

An Executive bill is one that originates from the Executive arm of Government and is to be sent by the President to the Senate President and Speaker of HOR. A Member bill is one that originates from any of the serving legislators while a Private bill is one that originates from a member of the public.

Where a bill originates from either of the legislative Houses, it would be required to be deliberated upon first at the floor of that House before it is sent to the other. However, bills from the Executive can be discussed by both the Senate and HOR at the same time. Bills are labelled and numbered to reflect point of origin. ‘SB’ for Senate Bill, ‘HB’ for ‘House of Reps’ bill and Executive Bill.

A bill is required to have a compilation of its financial requirement in terms of execution if it is passed as a law. This gives an idea of how much will be required to give effect to the bill. Where a bill is received by the Speaker of the HOR or Senate President, it is sent to the appropriate Committee for review to ascertain if it meets the required standard of drafting. Where the bill falls short, it would be sent to the Legal Department of the National Assembly for re-drafting and advice. Thereafter the bill is sent for gazetting or publication in the House/Senate journal and subsequent stages: reading stages. A bill by a legislator must be published three times while an executive bill is required to be published once. All bills must be read three times at the floor of the House before they can be passed into law and the readings must be on different days. The exception to this rule is where there is a matter of urgency such as a case of national security. In this case, a bill may be given accelerated consideration (read three times) the same day.

The first reading is the process of presentation of the bill before the legislative House for the purpose of information. There is no debate by the legislators at this stage. The Second reading is the stage at which debate on a bill commences. At this stage, a bill could either be supported by a majority of the House in which case it will be allowed to proceed to the next stage; or it could be “Negatived” (killed/rejected) if it does not get the required majority support of the House, in which case no further discussion can be carried out on it unless re-introduced at a later date. A supported bill will be transmitted to a committee who will be saddled with the responsibility of detailed examination of the bill and organise public hearings on the bill where members of the public who have interest could make contributions to the public debate. Amendments to the bill may only be made by a member of the House. The committee will thereafter be required to report to the House/Senate with a report on the progress of the bill. The third reading stage follows either on the same date or a later date after which the bill is passed. No amendment would normally be entertained after the third reading. Thus, any proposal to amend is required to be indicated before the third reading in which case such a proposal may be considered before the third reading.

When a bill has been passed by one legislative House, a clean copy of the bill will be produced and sent to the other House for consideration. The receiving Chamber may agree with the provisions of the bill and pass it; or amend the bill where there are areas they do not agree with; or reject it. Where there is an amendment and the originating Chamber accepts the amendments it will be adapted. Otherwise, a Joint Conference Committee of the two Chambers will be set up to harmonise differences. Thereafter, a report is presented in both Chambers for consideration and where adopted, the original documentation will be sent to the originating Chamber for production of a final clean copy including any amendments before sending to the President for assent.

The final stage of the law making process in Nigeria is assent by the President who has 30 days within which to assent by signing the bill into law. Where the President disagrees with the provisions or some aspects of the bill, s/he may veto the bill (withhold assent) and communicate any comments on the bill to the National Assembly including any suggested amendments. Where the National Assembly agrees with the position of the President, the bill can be withdrawn for deliberation on the amendments suggested by the President. Where, after 30 days the bill is not signed by the President and the National Assembly does not support the amendments of the president, the National Assembly can recall the bill and pass it into law by 2/3 majority vote in both Chambers.

Credit: Teingo Inko-Tariah (@iamtennygee) & National Assembly.

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