Generally, in presidential systems of government, the processes a bill goes through before becoming a law is essentially the same. Countries, however, have minor differences. The processes of law making generally requires a long period of deliberation and consideration of the many interests and implications of the bill. A summary of the processes and the tasks involved are discussed below.
The first stage is the identification of the need for a bill. This bill can be a new one, introducing a new idea not yet covered by an existing law. It can also be an amendment to an existing law, which is thought to be inadequate either because of some changes in the policies of the government or changes in the society.
The Anti-Corruption law recently passed by the National Assembly, for example, addresses corruption more than previous laws, which were found to be inadequate. It can also be that the existing law is considered to be infringing on another fundamental human right, that is, it goes against provisions of the Constitution that guarantees a right or rights of Nigeria citizens. This is always the case with military decrees.
A bill can be initiated by anybody but only a Member of the House or a Senator can introduce it on the floor of the House or the Senate. Bills are grouped into three categories: Executive, Member and Private Bills. A bill is like a proposal or an idea that has to be deliberated upon and passed into law by the National Assembly. Before a bill is introduced, a compendium of its financial costs must be calculated and attached. In other words, the amount that would be needed in executing specific aspects of the law when it is passed must be computed or calculated so as to know whether the government would be able to accommodate it in the current or the future budget. For example, in passing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill, the government gave a breakdown of what it would take to make the Commission function in terms of staff, transport, accommodation and other facilities that would assist or enhance the work of the Commission. It also stated the sources of such funds the Commission would receive.
When a bill is prepared by the Executive, it has to be forwarded to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President with a cover letter from the President. A bill from Members of the House of Representatives is presented to the Speaker while the one from Senate is presented to the Senate President. Bills from the Executive branch of government can at times be discussed concurrently (i.e. at the same time) in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Bills from the member and private individuals are always discussed in the chamber of its origin first before it is sent to the other for passage.
All bills are numbered or marked according to their chamber of origin. For example, a bill from the House of Representatives is marked HB (House Bill) while the one from the Senate is marked SB (Senate Bill). An Executive bill is marked with "Executive" printed on the title page of the bill. It is printed tiny and to the right hand side of the page.
On the receipts of a bill, the Speaker forwards it to the Rules and Business Committee while the Senate President sends it to the Committee on the Rules and Procedure. These Committees then look at the bill to determine whether it meets all the standards in draft and presentation. If not, the bill will be forwarded to the Legal Department of the National Assembly for re-drafting and further advice. After this; the Committee then sends the bill for gazetting and for subsequent stages: first, second and third readings. Executive bills are gazetted or published in the House/Senate Journal once, while those introduced by Members are published three times before they can be presented to the House/Senate for consideration. The House Rules and Business Committee or the Senate Committee on Rules and Procedures is also expected to determine the day and the time a bill is to be discussed in the House/ Senate. All bills must receive three readings before they can be passed into law and the readings must be on different days.
Some bills can receive accelerated consideration i.e. on the same day based on their urgency and significance for government policy. In that case, rules of the House/Senate are to be suspended for easy passage. Examples of such bill that might receive accelerated hearings are the ones that are needed to enable the president take urgent action on matters relating to national security.
The Clerk of the House/Senate usually does the reading of bills scheduled on the House/Senate Calendar (a schedule indicating the day and the time each bill will receive reading). S/he reads the short tittle of the bill for the first reading and then proceeds to "table" it. The word "table" is used to mean the action by which the Clerk places the bill on the table before the Speaker/Senate President.
Normally, at this stage there is no debate on the bill on the floor of
the House/Senate. The reading simply informs the Members that a particular bill has been introduced and received from here, the bill moves to the next stage.
This period is when debate occurs on the bill. Usually speakers on a bill are allocated time of about five or seven minutes to speak. Debate commences with a motion by the Senate or House Leader that the bill be read the second time, if it is an Executive Bill. The motion must be seconded (supported) by any of the other parties' leaders. When it is not seconded, the bill cannot be debated but in most cases, Executive bills are allowed, as a matter of courtesy to proceed to a second reading.
However, if the bill is by a Member of the House or the Senate, the sponsor of the bill would move the motion that it be read the second time. The motion must be seconded (supported) by another Member of the House or Senate. Also, when a bill by a Member cannot get the support of another Member in the House or Senate, it cannot be debated and hence stands rejected.
The person moving the motion, whether in the case of Executive or Member bill, is expected to highlight the objectives, general principles and subject matter of the bill. He is also expected to state the benefits of the bill if passed into law. If the House agrees to the motion, the Clerk will read the long tittle of the bill. Immediately after this, Members must signify their intention to speak on the bill.
Two things can occur at this stage:
(i) The bill may receive the support of the majority of the House/ Senate and be allowed to move to the next stage. Once it gets the needed support, it moves to the Committee stage.
(ii) The bill may be "Negatived" (killed) if it does not get the
support of the majority of the House or Senate Members.
When a bill is killed, it is taken off the table and cannot be
discussed until it is re-introduced at a later date.
After the debate on the general principles of the bill, it is referred to the appropriate Standing Committee. 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.
This is the period when the committee 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. The House and Senate have many Standing Committees.
If the Committee of the Whole House is to discuss a bill, the Deputy Speaker of the House acts as the chairperson. The Speaker would leave his/her seat and sit at the Clerk's seat. The mace too will be taken to 'the lower table for the Committee of the Whole House deliberation to commence. In the case of the Senate, the Senate President acts as the chairperson of the Committee of the Whole House and thus presides over the Committees sittings. When the Deputy Speaker or the Senate President presides over the Committee of the Whole House, s/he stops being addressed as the Deputy Speaker or the Senate President. Rather, S/he is to be called "Mr. Chairman Sir" or "Chairperson Ma" for the period of the Committee session.
As for the Standing Committees, the chairperson presides over the committee or, in his/her absence; the Deputy stands in for him/her. Chairpersons of Standing Committees are appointed by the Senate President/Speaker of the House.
Committees examine all aspects of the bill clause-by-clause and point-by-point. They also organise public hearings on the bill. This may take place at
the National Assembly the National Assembly Complex or any other area or location the Committee deems appropriate. Any member of the public or
expert(s) having 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 amendment to the bill. All amendments must be in line with, and relevant to, the principle and the subject matter of the bill as agreed to at the second reading stage.
Sometimes, however, a bill may touch on areas of two or more Standing Committees. When this happens, the committee with dominant issues will take the bill while others will form subcommittees to consider areas relating to them and report to the main committee. The main committee will collate all suggestions and amendments of the "sub-committees" and report to the House/Senate. For example, all committees are always involved in the "Appropriation Bill" (Budget) but they act as sub-committees to the Appropriation Committee in the House/Senate. In other words, they report back to the Appropriation Committee with their changes or amendments.
Committee of the Whole House
After the committee has concluded its work, it will report back to the Whole House/Senate in plenary with or without amendments. It must beforehand ask the House Rules and Business Committee/Senate Committee on Rules and Procedure to put the bill on the House/Senate Calendar (i.e. fix a date and time for the hearing of the committee's report). It is important to note that Committee of the Whole House must also report back to the House/ Senate. When it is reporting back, the Speaker or the Senate President goes back to his/her former seat and the mace to return to its original position.
Whether it is the Standing Committee or the Committee of the Whole House that considered a bill, at committee stage, chairperson is expected via a motion to report progress on the bill. Mutadis Mutadi (all things being equal) a clean copy of the bill is prepared by the Clerk of each chamber.
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 and passed after each chamber has certified the contents of the clean copy to be accurate.
Generally, no amendment can be entertained after the third reading stage. However, if a Member wishes to amend or delete a provision contained in the bill or to introduce a new provision, s/he must give notice of his/her intention "That the bill be re-committed" before the motion for the third reading is moved. If the motion is agreed upon, the House/Senate will dissolve itself into Committee of the Whole House/Senate immediately or at a later date to discuss the amendments. After all necessary amendments, the House/Senate will then proceed on the third reading and pass the bill.
The Clerk and the Clean Copy of the Bill
When a bill has been read the third time and 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 (passage of the bill or agreement) of the receiving chamber (House or Senate). In the case of the Executive bill, both chambers will just exchange copies of the bill since they both received copies and discussed the bill almost the same time.
When a bill is sent to either chamber for concurrence, three things may happen:
(i) The receiving chamber may agree with the provisions of the bill and hence pass it.
(ii) The chamber may not agree to some part of the bill and hence make amendments.
(iii) The chamber may not agree with the bill at all and therefore reject it in its entirety. This situation is however rare and has never been witnessed in Nigeria.
In the event of the second situation, the Chamber from which the bill originated may agree with the amendments or recommendations. But if the amendments are not agreeable to the Chamber, then a Conference Committee of the two chambers will be constituted to work out any disagreement.
Joint Conference Committee
The Joint Conference Committee is normally constituted when there are differences in a bill passed by both legislative chambers. Membership of the Committee is based on equality, usually six members from each chamber with a senator acting as chairperson.
The mandate of the Committee is to harmonise the differences between the two chambers on the bill. They cannot introduce any new matter into the bill at the joint conference committee. The decision of the committee on those areas of differences is bidding on the chambers. Failure to accept the decision of Joint Conference Committee may lead to a joint sitting of both the Senate and the House with the Senate President presiding on the area of contention.
The report of the Joint Conference Committee is presented in both Chambers for consideration. If both Chambers adopt the report, all the original papers are sent to the Clerk of the Chamber where the bill originated. The Clerk puts together all the amendments and produces a clean copy of the bill which is sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly who then sends it to President for his signature.
At the conference committee stage, members or select members of the Committees which considered the bill originally meet and deliberate only on the areas of disagreement between the two Chambers. The sitting of the Joint Conference Committee may be open or closed to the public. This will depend on the subject matter under discussion and the view of majority of the Joint Conference Committee members.
Another way in which the President is involved in the act of law making is by signing bills into laws. A bill does not become law until the President signs it. The Clerk of the National Assembly will “enrol” the bill for the President's signature. Enrolment is the production of a clean copy for the assent of the President. The Clerk of the National Assembly produces the clean copy, certifies it and forwards it to the President.
The President has thirty (30) days to sign a bill sent to him/her by the National Assembly. If s/he disagrees with the provision of the bill or some aspects of it, s/he can veto by withholding his/her signature. Within the 30 days the President must communicate to the National Assembly his/her feelings and comments about the bill. 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.
However, the National Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to overrule the veto of the President. If, after 30 days, the President refuses to sign the bill and the National Assembly is not in support of the President's amendments, the two Chambers can recall the bill and re-pass it. 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. This happened in the case of the Niger Delta Development Commission Bill. The two Chambers passed the bill into law after s/he President failed to sign it within the time that is prescribed for him to do so.