This post is inspired by the controversy that trailed the introduction of the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Prohibitions Bill, otherwise referred to as the Social Media Bill and the Hate Speech Bill
Both bills, according to their proponents is meant to check the spread of fake news in the social media space and incitement on the grounds of religion and ethnicity that may result to the death of any individual.
When both bills were introduced on the floor of the senate, the manner in which they were reported in the media and the comments that flowed from it across the country showed clearly that a lot of the people do not understand the processes involved in lawmaking. Most of the media houses for instance reported that the senate is proposing or imposing hate speech bill on the people. This is even at a time when most senators have no idea that such bills exists, let alone understand what the contents would be.
Queueing from the media reportage, most Nigerians began to attack the senate and its leadership. While some of the attacks were out of genuine concenrs, they were mainly out of sheer ignorance. Whether or not the bills satisfy the desire of the people, the entire Senate could not have taken responsibility for something it has not seen, acted and decided upon.
It is on the basis of the above that I find it expedient to put together this piece outlining the processes through which laws are made in the National Assembly.
The process of Law Making in the National Assembly
There are basically 11 stages involved in the process of lawmaking in Nigeria, depending however on who originates the bill and what’s needs to be done. It is pertinent to note that laws are first presented as bills to the lawmaking body before they are considered, passed and assented to before they become laws or an act of parliament.
The first stage in the law making process is the initiation of a bill. A bill in itself is the draft proposal of a law seeking to be passed by the legislature and it can be initiated in two forms – Executive Bill and Private Member Bill. An executive bill is one prepared and presented to the legislative body by the executive arm of government. Private member bill on the other hand is that which is proposed by a member of the parliaments. Private citizens or organisations can propose a bill, but it must be presented by a member of the parliament.
The second stage is the review of the bill. This is usually done by the relevant committee of the parliamentary body to ensure that the draft of the bill meets the required standard before it is put forward for presentation on the floor of the House. Where such bill falls short of standard and cannot be fixed at the committee level, it is referred to the legal department for redrafting.
The third stage is the gazetting of the bill. At the stage, the bill is made a document of the National Assembly with the purpose of making it available for public knowledge and scrutiny where applicable.
The fourth stage is the presentation of the bill where it is read for the first time on the floor of the National Assembly. The President of the Senate or the House Speaker announces the bill as presented in the order paper after which the Clerk to reads the short title of the bill. The first reading is simply to inform the members of the parliament that the bill has been introduced and no further action would be taken until a later date.
Succeeding the first reading is the second reading which is usually done on a different legislative day. It is at this stage that the bill is subjected to discussion after the proponent has explained the general principles of the bill, its objective and benefit if it is passed into law. Members of the parliament make contributions based on their conviction of the content of the bill and this determines whether the bill will proceed to the next stage or meet its end from that point. A motion is moved for the bill to be read the second time and seconded by another member. If the members are convinced from the explanation of the objectives of the bill, it is read for the second time and then referred to the relevant committee for further legislative action.
At the next stage which is the committee level, the bill is further subjected to critical examinations and the bill itself subjected to public hearings where members of the public and relevant stakeholders make contributions on the merits or demerits of the bill. The critical examination of the bill and the views obtained from the public helps the committee to form its recommendation.
The committee thereafter presents the report of its findings to the larger house and the house will dissolve into a committee of the whole to debate the report. The committee of the whole house may accept the recommendations of the committee, amend relevant parts or reject some clauses depending on what members deem fit. After this is done, a motion most often moved by the proponent of the Bill is taken for the reading of the bill for the third time.
The third reading is the final stage of consideration of the bill and once the bill has been read for the third time, it is passed into law. At this stage of the law making process, no amendment can be made to bill except in certain circumstances where a member wishes to suggest an amendment. For such amendment to scale through, the bill must be represented to the committee for inclusion in the report which will be represented before the larger house with a repeat of the same process to arrive at the stage of the third reading.
After the passage of the bill, the next stage is where a clean copy of it is printed and signed by the clerk as well as presiding officer.
Where the bill is a product of the two chambers in the case of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the clean copy of the bill is sent to the other house for concurrence. Here, a joint conference committee is constituted to look into the areas of disagreement. The joint conference committee reaches a resolution, the report of which is then submitted to each chamber for consideration. Once both houses adopt the report, a clean copy is now sent to the clerk of the National Assembly for his certification.
Upon the certification of the bill by the Clerk of the National Assembly, the bill is then forwarded to he president for assent. The president has 30 days to assent to the bill if he agrees with the provision. If he doesn’t or disagrees with some aspects of the bill, he may veto it and offer explanation which the legislature will then have to work on and represent to the president for assent. On the other hand, the legislature may recall the bill if the president refuses assent and repass it in the form it was sent to the president and the bill automatically become a law even without the assent of the president.