Apparently, the process of law making in Nigeria is very cumbersome because Nigeria is a federal and heterogenous nation. Aside from the fact that bills have to go a long way before they are signed into law, it is very difficult to amend some laws in Nigeria (E.g the Constitution). This actually helps to ensure that nobody or authority can easily alter or make any law that will favor some parts of the country.
In light of the above, it is very important to know the processes of law making in Nigeria. Knowing the processes or stages a bill must pass before it becomes law in Nigeria will make it able for you to identify those laws that was legally passed by the National Assembly and those that was not legally passed. The rule is that, any law which did not go through the required stages of law making as stipulated by the constitution of Nigeria, will be declared null and void by the court.
Thus, if you are fortified with the processes of law making, and you think that a law which was not validly passed affects your right, you will be able to bring the right action in court.
In this article, i am going to highlight the stages of law making in Nigeria. If you have been searching for a comprehensive article on this topic, this is the best for you. I enjoin you to read carefully as I brake down the processes of making law in Nigeria. Here we go!
What is a bill?
A bill is a proposed law being discussed or debated in parliament so that it may be passed into law. Thus, the draft of a proposed law from the time it is introduced in parliament and goes through its various stages is called a bill. A bill can also be defined as a proposed law, which is yet to be enacted. Basically, there are two sources of a bill viz:
This is a proposition for law coming from the government for consideration for passage into law. An executive bill may be initiated or proposed by the president, any Minister in his Cabinet, Governor of the State, or commissioner in his cabinet and so forth. An executive bill, also called government bill or a public bill is often public in nature, in the sense that it usually applies to every person or to the whole country or State, or any part of it, and the bill may be on any subject matter on which the parliament has power under the Constitution to make law.
A private or private member bill is a bill originated by a member of parliament or any outsider who is interested in such bill being passed into law. Thus, any individual, group of people, corporate, or unincorporated entity, association, community or organization, such as a non-governmental organization or body may propose and send a bill or draft law to parliament for consideration for passage parliament into law under the sponsorship of any member of the parliament who is willing to take charge of the bill in the parliament.
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Now that you know the definition of a bill and the different types of a bill, it is necessary that you know the stages of law making in Nigeria.
Law making process in Nigeria
Below are the stages of law making in Nigeria:
- First stage: Introduction of the bill
- Second stage: First reading of the bill
- Third stage: Second reading of the bill
- Fourth stage: Reference of the bill to a committee
- Fifth stage: The report stage
- Sixth stage: Third reading of the bill
- Seventh stage: Signing of a copy of the bill
- Eight stage: Assent by the president or governor
That is a short list of all the stages in the process of law making in Nigeria. To get a clearer and in depth explanation of the stages highlighted above, i enjoin you to continue reading this article till the end.
Below is a video that clearly explains the process of law making in Nigeria. I enjoin you to watch this video before we continue. Trust me; it will help to understand this work as we continue.
First stage: Introduction of the bill
The first and very important stage in the process of law making in Nigeria is the introduction of the bill. Bills must be introduced in the parliament, be it the Sanate, House of Representatives, or State House of Assembly either:
- Upon being listed in the order of proceedings; or
- Upon presentation by a member;
- Upon being brought from the Senate after a member of the House of Representatives has agreed to take charge of it, or if brought from the House of Representatives, after a member of the senate has agreed to introduce and take charge of it. The bill being introduced may be fresh Law, or an amendment to an existing law.
Executive bills are usually forwarded to the president of the Senate with a covering letter from the president and also to the Speaker of the House of Representatives with a covering latter from the president.
A Bill from a member of the Senate is submitted to the Senate president who then sends it to the Rules of Procedure Committee of the Senate. A bill from a member of the House of Representatives is submitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives who then sends it to the Rules and Business Committee of the House. The duty of each of these committees is to find out whether the bill complies with laid down standards for drafting and presentation to parliament, where a committee is not satisfied, the bill is send to the legal department of the House for clarification, and re-drafting for presentation to the House for consideration for enactment into law.
A Bill presented to a parliament is usually numbered according to the identification number system of the House. Executive bills introduced to the members before the bill is presented in the relevant House for consideration. A bill from a member is usually published thrice in the Journal of the relevant House before it is presented to such house for consideration.
An executive bill is usually considered simultaneously in the Senate and in the House of Representatives for passage into law. A bill is usually read thrice before it is passed into law. Each reading is usually done on a separate day. However, on grounds of urgency, a parliament can decide to undertake the three readings in one day and pass a bill into law in less than an hour.
Second stage: First reading of the bill
The first reading of a bill is actually a formality because the bill is not debated upon in this stage. During proceedings the Clerk of the House usually reads out the title of the bills to the House and the bill is deemed tabled before the parliament and read. Copies of the bill are then made and given to the members to study and consider it in advance, before the next stage which is the second reading, for which a date is also fixed there and then.
Third stage: Second reading of the bill
This is perhaps the most important stage in the process of law making in Nigeria. If it is an executive bill, the Majority Leader may move motion that the bill should be read the second time and the motion must be seconded by another member of the parliament.
If it is a bill introduced by a member, then such member who is sponsoring the bill usually moves the motion that the bill be read a second time and another member must second the motion. If the sponsor of any bill, be it an executive bill or a private member cannot get another member to second the motion, then the bill cannot be debated, nor proceed any further. It is deemed rejected and thrown out. Such rejected bill cannot be discussed again unless it is re-introduced at a later date.
Where the motion is seconded, the clerk of the House reads the long title of the bill and then the members who move the motion has to explain the subject matter, purpose, necessity and benefits of the bill. The debate of the bill then begins with members arguing for and against the bill. These against the bill may call for its rejection, or amendment to suit its said purpose. At the end of the debate the Senate or House has to come to a decision by a vote whether to reject the bill or pass it into law. Whether the bill does not suffer defeat and successfully passes this stage, then it proceeds to the next stage, which is the committee stage.
Fourth stage: Reference of the bill to a committee
This is the reference of the bill to a committee which then considers the whole provisions of the bill in detail. A section by section amendment are proposed and the members of the committee vote for or against the bill.
Although the committee has power to amend the bill during the committee stage, however, the committee is bound by the position of the House and any amendment made by the committee which is contrary to the decision of the House and any amendment made by the committee which is contrary to the decision of the house and any amendment made by the committee which is contrary to the decision of the House will usually not be accommodated by the House.
At the committee stage, bills or matters of less important are usually considered by a selected or standing committee whilst, bills or importance are considered by the committee of the whole House chaired by the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House, as the case may be.
Fifth stage: The report stage
At this stage, the committee reports to the House on its findings and its work on the bill. If the bill was amended by the committee, the bills is printed in its amended form and copies of it are distributed to the members of the house. Then the Chairman of the standing committee, or if it is the Committee of the whole House then the President of the Senate, or Speaker of the House, as the case may be presents the bill in its amended version to the House for deliberation.
Sixth stage: Third reading of the bill
After the committee has made its report and deliberation of the committee of the whole House, a member may move a motion that the bill be read the third time right away or on another day.
At the commencement of the third reading, the Clerk of the House reads the long title of the bill and the proceedings begins. The House then takes a final look at the bill in order to correct any error, such as mistakes in drafting, or mistakes in amendment.
At this stage there is often little or no debate on the bill again. Although amendment are not usually taken at this time. However, if a member moves motion for an amendment, or to introduce a new provision into the bill, the motion will be heard and determined on its merit and the proceeding continues.
At the end of the proceedings in the third reading, one of two things usually happens, that is, the bill is either accepted and passed into law by the House, or it is rejected and dropped altogether.
Seventh stage: Signing of a copy of the bill
Where a bill was accepted during the third reading, a clean copy of the bill as passed by the House is produced and signed by the clerk of the House, and by the Senate President, or Speaker of the House as the case may be. Where the Parliament is a bi-cameral Parliament, that is, a two House parliament such as the National Assembly, British Parliament, or US Congress, then the bill will be sent to the House, where the bill will also pass through all the stage examined above, if it has not already gone through the process in that House, as the case may be.
Where the bill is successfully passed though the other House, if the version of the law passed by both House are different, as the case may be, then a Joint Committee of Both Houses will meet to consider and reconsider the different amendments made by the Houses, that is, consider only the area of differences. Where there is disagreement between both Houses on any provision of the bill, a compromise is usually reached, such as by one House conceding the objection, it has raised or by each House making concession, in order to let the bill become law.
The report of the Joint Committee is presented in both Houses for consideration. When both Houses approve the bill, it is sent to the Clerk of the House where the bill originated to produce a clean copy of the bill for presentation of the President of the Federation for his signature.
Eight stage: Assent by the president or governor
Each bill that successfully passes through each House of the National Assembly by the relevant majority vote required at their reading, is printed in its form and forwaded to the president for his assent (that is, his signature).
Under the Nigerian Constitution the President has thirty days within which to sign, or within which to sign, or withhold his signature. Upon the President signing the bill, it becomes law. Where the president withholds his signature and refuses to sign it within 30days, then the National Assembly may override the veto of the President and pass the bill again in each House of the National Assembly by two-third majority vote, the bill shall automatically become law, and the signature of the president shall no longer be required.
Where on the other hand, the president proposes an amendment of the bill, the National Assembly may hold a Joint Secession of both House to deliberate on the proposed amendment, and if approved the bill is returned back to the president for his signature. Where the president again vetos the bill, that is, withholds his signature after 30days, and the bill is passed by each House of the National Assembly by a two third majority Veto, the bill automatically becomes law and the signature of the president shall no longer be required.
Can a bill be passed without the assent of the president?
Of course yes! A Bill can be passed into law without the assent of the president. Take for instance, if the president or governor fails to give his assent to any bill within a stipulated time, the national assembly can pass the bill by two-third majority vote of each Houses of the National Assemble. After that, the signature of the president or governor will no longer be required.
A case that clearly explains the passage of bills into law in Nigeria is the case of National Assembly v President of the federal republic of Nigeria. Here, the court held that if any bill does not follow the required stages as stipulated in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria and explained in this article, it will be declared to be null and void.
This is everything you need to know about the process of law making in Nigeria. In a recap, I have highlighted the 8 stages a bill must pass to become law in Nigeria. I strongly believe that, with the information shared in this article, Nigerians will be enlightened on how a valid law is made in this country.
Hope this was helpful? I would like to hear from you anyway. Do you think that the process of law making in Nigeria is really difficult? Should it be made more complex of easier? Send your contributions and opinions on the process of law making in Nigeria using the comment section below this article.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ChMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.