How a Law is made in Nigeria
Nigeria operates a Federal Legislative system, and therefore a law can be made at the National level, State level, and even at the Local Government level. This article will focus only on laws that are made on the National level.
Nigeria operates what is known as a ‘Bicameral Legislature’, this means that the National legislative responsibility is shared between the 2 separate assemblies – 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 House of Representatives or the Senate. 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 Speaker of the House and the Senate President 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 Representative 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 (Speaker or Senate President) 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 it 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/ 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 favour of the proposed law or against it.
Stage 4 – The First Reading
The Clerk of the House/Senate 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 Speaker of the House of Representatives/Senate President (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 be read the second time. The motion must be seconded (supported) by any of the other parties’ leaders.
If the bill is one 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 a vote on whether it move 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 examines it more critically. The House and the Senate 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 organise 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 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.
Where 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 House/Senate.
Stage 7 – Committee Report
After the committee has concluded its work, it will report back to the Whole House/Senate 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 Committee and the deliberation of the Committee of the Whole House, 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, s/he 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 House/Senate will dissolve to discuss the amendments. After all necessary amendments, the House/Senate will then proceed on 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 Speaker/Senate President.
The copy will then be forwarded to the Clerk of the House or Senate as the case may be. The copy will be accompanied with 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 provisions of the bill 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 harmonise 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 concurrence of the bill in both chambers, the Clerk of the National Assembly will ‘enrol’ 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 s/he wants amended before s/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 assents to it.
- 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 If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-third majority vote in both Chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President.
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 House/Senate are to be suspended for easy passage.
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