In a democratic system, lawmaking is thought to be a tedious and long process. However, the lawmaking process in Nigeria is not complex in reality. In understanding how laws are made, the starting point is being informed about the arm of government responsible for making them.
Nigeria is a federation practicing a presidential system of government. The federal government consists of 3 arms of government namely, The Executive, The Legislature and The Judiciary. They operate side by side while maintaining what is called separation of power.
This is a commonly accepted system of governance that allows each arm of government to be responsible for the execution of certain functions. The rationale for such a system is to prevent the concentration of powers in a single-arm of government. Thus, allowing this system of governance allows for each arm of the government to independently and autonomously carry out their functions without external interference and in turn, allows the other arms to serve as a check and balance on them.
It is also important to mention that allowing this independence does not entirely grant absolute powers because each arm can only function effectively and efficiently if they coordinate and interrelate with one another. For instance, the executive executes laws made by the legislature.
The Legislature (The National Assembly)
Having looked at the arms of government, to understand how laws are made, the focus will shift to the Legislative arm of government. This arm simply put is responsible and in charge of lawmaking. According to section 4(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the National Assembly is vested with these legislative powers.
The Nigerian National Assembly is established under section 4 of the 1999 constitution and is a bi-cameral legislature. What this simply means is that the National Assembly consists of 2 houses; the Senate which is the Upper Chamber and The House of Representatives being the Lower Chamber. The Senate (upper chamber) has 109 members from all 36 states, each state produces 3 senators and the Federal Capital Territory produces one. On the other hand, the House of Representatives (the lower chamber) has 360 members, and together they form the National Assembly and the Legislative arm of government.
In addition, at the federal level, the National Assembly is charged with the responsibility of lawmaking for the whole country while at the state level the House of assembly is vested with the function of lawmaking for the state. Accordingly, it can be stated that a bi-cameral legislature has certain advantages as it allows for equal and adequate representations of citizens of a country while ensuring that laws are properly made and thoroughly checked before it is passed. Thus, having a system like this, ensures that laws are not hastily passed and no arm of government dominates a particular house in its favour.
Powers of the Legislature
It is noteworthy to mention that while the Legislative arm of government is principally responsible for the making of laws in Nigeria. Its other functions include representing the people of their constituencies that elected them. They also have powers to investigate any executive misconduct as well as responsible for approving the country’s annual budget.
The legislative arm is also responsible for confirming presidential nominees, i.e confirm ambassadorial, judicial and some key executive appointments. Most importantly, the legislature has the power to impeach the President in cases of gross misconduct. Therefore, it can be viewed that the Legislature is an imperative arm of government in a democracy as they carry out functions necessary for the smooth operation of the country as a whole.
Law-making Process in Nigeria
Having looked at the structural body and functions of the legislature, we will now move on to understand how laws are made, and the starting point is mentioning that every law starts as a proposed bill. A bill is a proposed law which is drafted, discussed and undergoes rigorous stages of scrutiny by the National Assembly and if passed or approved becomes law.
The first law-making process is the drafting of the bill which is introduced to the Senate or House of Representatives. It is important to note that the executive arm of government drafts these bills at the federal level that later become laws.
It is then taken for the first reading. Here members are provided with copies of the proposed bill to familiarize themselves with it, before it will be debated, therefore this stage is simply a formality.
The Bill moves on for a second reading, an important stage in the lawmaking process because this is where the Clerk of the Senate or House of Representatives will read out the title of the Bill, the subject matter, purpose and benefits of said Bill will all be read and explained. The Bill will then be debated upon and it is worth mentioning that at this stage the Bill can be struck out or rejected if members do not vote in favour to pass it on to the Committee stage.
The Committee stage is also a crucial part of the lawmaking process as the National Assembly sends it to the appropriate committee to carry out research and do its due diligence on the Bill. The Committee will then come up with a report which will be sent back to the National Assembly.
Once the report is sent to the National Assembly, the Bill is read for the third time. This stage is decisive as it is the final reading. There is little debate as the bill is read to make corrections or amendments in drafting, however, it is important to state that, it is at this stage that the Bill will either be formally rejected or accepted and passed into law.
Subsequently, if the Bill is passed, it will be sent to the executive arm of government where the President or Governor is required to give assent to the Bill, thereby making it enforceable and it becomes a law. Recently, the National Assembly passed the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which seeks to overhaul the entire Nigerian Oil and gas industry. It will also allow for transparency and accountability within the sector.
Consequently, the Upper and Lower Chambers of the National Assembly do not always agree on a Bill. Where differences or conflicts arise, a joint committee is formed to try and resolve them. Once the differences are harmonised and proved by both Houses, the Bill will be sent forward to get the President’s assent. Then again, the President is required to assent on a Bill within thirty days or the National Assembly overrides him and passes on the Bill if they can get two-third majority votes in both houses of the National Assembly.
Nigeria is a practicing democracy and its arms of government show that the country is managed at various levels through separation of powers to ensure government efficiency. Furthermore, the composition of the National Assembly into the two chambers allows for effectiveness, transparency as well as checks and balance by ensuring that one House does not overexert. The lawmaking process highlighted above is a straightforward way of making and passing laws in Nigeria. I hope this brief article has helped inform you about the structure of the Legislative arm of government and its lawmaking process in Nigeria.
KPMG, ‘Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) 2021: A Game Changer?’, < https://home.kpmg/ng/en/home/insights/2021/06/petroleum-industry-bill-pib-2020.html > accessed 19 July 2021
Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, ‘A Guide to the Nigerian National Assembly’, (2015) PLAC, Abuja, Nigeria
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1998 (as amended)