Nigeria operates a federal system of government with an active legislature. The legislative system of government in operation is a bicameral legislature. It consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both houses make up the National Assembly. The primary duty of the National Assembly is to make laws that help in governance. These laws usually originate as bills before they go through different deliberations and become law. Therefore, it is important to get an idea of how a bill becomes law in the national assembly.
WHAT IS A BILL?
A bill is a proposal for an impending law that is presented before the legislature for deliberation in a country. A bill comes from members of parliament, regular citizens, civil society organizations or advocacy groups. When a bill becomes law, it is known as an Act. Examples are; Pension reform Act of 2014, Same-sex marriage (Prohibition) Act, CAMA Act etc.
ORIGIN/DRAFTING OF THE BILL
A bill can originate from anywhere. However, it can only be read in the National Assembly by a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives. Whoever presents the bill on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives is the sponsor of the bill.
The President might also forward a bill to either chamber of the National Assembly. This bill from the President is known as an Executive bill. An Executive Bill usually comes with a cover letter from the President. Afterwards, the Speaker of the House or the Senate President reads the bill on the floor of the National Assembly.
INITIAL REVIEW OF THE BILL
After successful origin and drafting of the bill, the next stage is the initial review of the bill. Once a bill gets to the Senate or the House of Representatives, the leader of that chamber forwards it to the relevant committees for review.
- The Rules and Businesses Committee for House of Representatives
- The Committee on Rules and Procedure for the Senate.
It is the duty of the committee to examine the bill and ensure it is in line with the rules and guidelines of drafting a bill in the National assembly. Furthermore, the committee determines the day and time to deliberate on the bill in the National Assembly.
GAZETTING OF THE BILL
After the initial review, the bill goes through the gazetting stage. Gazetting helps to notify the public of an impending bill that is up for consideration by the Legislature. It also helps the public to state their opinion on the bill and if possible come up with suggestions concerning the bill. Through gazetting, various think tanks and advocacy groups can also show if they are for or against the proposed bill. This gives the legislature an idea of how to proceed.
At this stage, the clerk of the House or Senate reads the bill to inform members of either chamber about the proposed bill. After introducing the bill, the clerk proceeds to present it to the Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives. No debate takes place at this stage. However, the introduction of the bill to the house is the main agenda of this stage.
At the second reading, debates and deliberations on the bill take place on the floor of either the house or senate chambers. It is the duty of the sponsor of the bill to move a motion for the bill to be debated. This happens if the bill is a legislative bill. However, if it is an executive bill, the Senate President or the Speaker of the House presents the bill to the house. Once the sponsor moves the motion for the second reading, another legislator (a co-sponsor) needs to second the motion. If this doesn’t happen, the bill cannot move to the second reading.
After the second reading and the debates that follow, voting takes place on the house floor. After the debates, the Leader of either chamber calls for a vote on the bill. If people vote yes, the leader forwards the bill to the appropriate committee for further analysis. However, if people vote no, then the bill dies. When a bill fails to scale past the second reading, it is possible to re-introduce it in another assembly. For example, the Gender Equality bill was first introduced in 2016 (8th Assembly) but failed to pass the second reading. A senator reintroduced the bill in 2019 (9th Assembly).
Many committees exist in the National Assembly to handle different obligations. Once the bill gets to the committee stage, further critical examination and deliberation take place by the standing committee. Also, the standing committee may hold public hearings. Members of the public, pressure groups and civil society organisations come to such hearings to make their case on a bill.
Also, the committee might choose to amend certain aspects of the bill. However, the amendments must still be in line with the nature of the bill. These are the chairpersons and deputies of standing committees in the Senate and House of Representatives for the 9th assembly (2019 -2023)
The committee stage takes a specific amount of time depending on the nature of the bill. After this, the Chairperson of the committee reports his/her findings to the house during the plenary session. The Chairperson presents the report with the amendments made to the bill.
If there is no further amendment after the committee report, someone moves a motion to pass the bill for third reading. The third reading might take place on the same day of the report or at a later date.
Once a bill reaches the third reading, it is difficult to make amendments. However, in some cases, a legislator might propose some amendments to the bill. When this happens, the bill is reverted to the committee stage for such amendments to be noted in the bill. After the amendments, they proceed with the third reading and passing of the bill.
CLEAN COPY OF THE BILL
After the third reading and passing of the bill, the printing of a clean copy of the bill takes place. This clean copy shows all the modifications and amendments to the previous bill. After printing, the clerk of the house or senate signs the clean copy. The speaker of the House or Senate President also signs the clean copy, depending on the chamber.
The bill is forwarded to the clerk of the house or the senate for concurrence.
The bill arrives at the other chamber for concurrence. This stage can go in three ways
- The other chamber accepts the bill
- Other chamber rejects the bill in its entirety
- The other chamber rejects some parts of the bill. When the other chamber rejects some parts of the bill or proposes some amendments to some parts of the bill, they set up a joint committee of both chambers. The joint committee examines the bill to see if amendments can be made.
If they reach a compromise, they send a clean copy of the bill to the clerk of the National assembly for his signature.
After concurrence takes place between both chambers of the National Assembly, the clerk forwards the clean copy of the bill to the President for his signature/assent. The President has 30 days to examine a bill sent to him by the National Assembly. A bill cannot become law without the President’s approval.
When the bill is in the hands of the President, three different things may happen
- The President can choose to assent the bill in which case it becomes law.
- The President may choose to veto the bill and withhold his signature. If the President vetos a bill, it may be because he does not agree with some aspects of the bill. If this is the case, the President must point out those areas he wants to be amended in the bill. After this, it is sent back to the National Assembly for further deliberation. If they agree to make the changes, the bill is assented and becomes law.
- The President may choose to veto the bill and the National Assembly might overrule his veto. This can be done by a two-third majority vote from each chamber. If this occurs, the bill is passed into law without the signature of the President.
It should be noted that this process is not as smooth as it appears on paper. A lot of lobbying goes on behind the scene before bills get passed. A sponsor of a bill has to work hard to get other cosponsors of the bill before it is presented on the floor of the house. These cosponsors usually come from fellow party members. Also, some bills never make it beyond the origin/drafting stage so it might look like a certain lawmaker isn’t doing anything. A bill can also take many months or even years before it gets passed. For example, the social media bill has been in contention since November 2019. The President also relies on certain lawmakers to back him in order for his bill to scale through. He might promise certain development projects in their constituency or they might operate based on party affiliations.
Unfortunately, this process has also been marred with certain levels of corruption. For example, Principal officers of the National Assembly allegedly received a $10 million bribe to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill. For this reason, oil-producing states did not get exactly what they bargained for in the bill. The bill passing process is still developing and in some aspects getting better but for it to function well, transparency needs to be at the forefront and corruption needs to take the back seat.
Last modified: August 30, 2021