The Nigerian legislature as we know it today is the National Assembly (abbreviated as NASS usually). That arm of government as is presently constituted is really a product of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution which has produced Nigeria’s Fourth Republic (1999- date). The body is bi-cameral which means it operates two houses – the Senate and the House of Representative.
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Now, the Nigerian legislature superstructure is loosely modelled on that of the United States. “Loosely” is key here as we would be giving you a brief expose as to how the legislative arm of the Federal Government works.
Before delving into it, beyond the senators and “honourable” reps we see on TV, there is an entire hoard of civil servants that enables the day to day of the National Assembly beyond plenary and joint sessions. They involve clerks, office assistants, researchers, messengers and even speech writers among others. Many are in the employ of individual legislators and small number work for the entire body in whatever capacity.
As we all know, the legislators who are the face of the NASS, are elected officials and we would not dwell on how that happens. The reason they are there, however, is to make laws and to check the other arms of the government through constitutionally approved means. So, that is what we would discuss here.
Beyond law-making, the legislators check the other two arms of government by way of its oversight committees which look into the affairs of both the executive and judicial arms of government. With each assembly, different committees are created in both houses to probe each arm of the government.
As for law-making, the NASS has a constitutionally stipulated process through which it carries out that function. Laws may be introduced by just about anyone who has the means through a rep or senator. Conversely, the executive may submit a bill to be considered on the floor of both houses. This sort of bill is called a “private bill”. The process by which that bill gets proposed on the floor of either house is called “sponsoring”.
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The process from here on in goes thus:
- First reading: Here the bill is presented by the presiding officer to the house or senate for thorough debate.
- Second Reading: it is at this stage that debate is solicited from members of the houses on the different sections of the proposed bill in order to pick holes in it in part or as a whole. In the event that it is an executive bill, then it is the majority leader who presents it for debate at this stage. Each member is allowed a certain amount of time to speak on it. If the bill receives the assent of both houses, it is passed to the next stage which is a crucial stage.
- Committee Stage: The relevant committee is allowed to consider and present the bill for a thorough public hearing where citizens are allowed to give their own opinions as to the proposed bill. The committees’ work is to examine the bill with a bid to recommend amendments to it and the public hearings are a veritable part of the process. Only the committee is allowed to amend a proposed bill.
- Third Reading: Debates here are a mere formality. However, a member who has reservations can move the motion that it is recommitted for amendment at the committee level. After the third reading, the bill is usually passed provided it gains a majority. You probably know the process (say aye, say nay. The “ayes” have it).
- Joint Committee Stage: In the event that both houses pass only certain sections of the bill, the joint committee is there to reconcile and streamline the bill so that it is acceptable to both houses.
- Presidential Assent: Here, the bill is presented to the president for his signature. This is a crucial constitutionally sanctioned stage of the legislative process. This is because without the presidential accent in thirty days, the bill dies. This happens except the NASS can unilaterally pass the bill via a vote from two-thirds majority in both houses. It should be straightforward but when you consider the politics involved, it starts to get a bit more complicated.
Now, the whole point of this is harking back to our commitment to educate Nigerians on civic matters. Presently, the FG wants to secure legislation to gag social media and that bill which has been constantly panned widely has somehow scaled second reading. If people do not know how the process works, we will sit back and watch them pull a fast one on us. So don’t “Siddon look”. Pressure your rep and senator to make sure that bill does not make it to second reading. Protect voice and right to speak out.
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Some call me David. Others, Emerie. Others, (unfortunate fellows) Biggie. I like to think that I have sense and that is why I write too. Otherwise, I draw and paint and sing (in the bathroom) and love to make people laugh. I love to understand how things work and that’s why I love DIY videos and YouTube of course. Follow me on Twitter @EmerieOkwara