One final step before a law passed by the Legislature becomes Law is for it to scale the final formal process of the Executive Assent. The Assent signifies the readiness and eagerness of the Executive Arm of Government to implement the said Law.
However, in the course of this, a lot of Politicking and shenanigans play out. Despite the legislative time and resources that the two arms of the National Assembly with a majority of the 469 Elected Representatives making a decision on behalf of the people, it still behoves on the President of the Federal Republic or anyone he so designates to assent to a Bill already passed by the National Assembly towards becoming law or otherwise. Many a time, one hears of bills and legislative proposals being in and around the legislative process since the 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th National Assemblies; yet still present till now in the 8th National Assembly without becoming law due to the withholding of assent.
Sections 5 and 9 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended speaks on the responsibility of the Nationality Assembly even as it involves lawmaking for the Federation and accords this prerogative of Assent even on Constitutional Amendments to the Executive Arm and in fact the President. This is side by side with Section 2 of the Interpretation Act Cap 123 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria which provides that “an act is passed when the President assents to the bill or the act, whether or not the act then comes into force”. This inherent power is actually meant to ensure that only the best of laws are made for the people.
However, this power has both been used and abused at different times in the course of the last 17years of our nascent democracy leading to a repetition in the legislative process – a waste of time, energy and resources for many rather important bills which could have become law. Many a times as well, petty politics and pecuniary interest remains the major reason why some laws aren’t assented to. This selfish and insincere approach to Governance has continued to the very bane of our underdevelopment.
According to Senator Solomon Ita Enang who currently serves as a Presidential Aide on National Assembly Matters (Senate), the number of bills so far assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari in the course of the tenure of the 8th National Assembly has surpassed the number of any Assembly since the return of democracy in this Republic. Bills which President Buhari has assented to include the Prevention of Crime Amendment Act, Water Resources Amendment Act, National Judicial Institute Amendment Act, Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers Amendment Act and the Endangered Species Amendment Act amongst others.
Furthermore, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo SAN acting on behalf of President Buhari withheld his assent to four bills passed by the National Assembly. Two fo these bills, the Dangerous Drugs Bill and Currency Conversion Freezing Order Act Amendment Bill actually emanated from the House of Representatives; was concurred with by the Senate and forwarded for assent while the other two, the National Lottery Bill and the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Fund sprang from the Senate itself. There is however a silver linen in this in that for the first time; at least to public knowledge, an Ag. President Osinbajo on behalf of the Executive Arm wrote to Senate President Bukola Saraki of the Legislative Arm in respect of this decision and clearly spelt out why and how such decision to withhold assent was reached.
This improvement which attested to the great rapport between both arms also continued when on Wednesday 5th April, 2017. Senate President Bukola Saraki during Senate Plenary constituted a committee to look into the issues raised by the Acting President leading to the withholding of the Presidential assent and to fashion out modalities towards ensuring they are adequately met and the law assented to pronto. This step turned the entire situation into a Win – Win for both arms of Government as they indeed worked in the spirit and letters of the Constitution for the overall interest of the Nation in ensuring that the best laws are made for the people.
Nevertheless, pundits have noted again and again that it is not the absence of good laws that makes us seemingly stagnant as a nation but the actual lack of political will for implementation of law or the selective implementation of same depending on whose interest is at stake. This trend has to stop. At this time in our democracy it is indeed pertinent that the Media, Civil Society Organizations, Pressure Groups and NGOs focused on Ideal Democratic Tenets and Good Governance ask questions about what happens to several bills from first, second readings to committee work, third reading and even after final passage by the National Assembly.
As a foundation has been laid in respect of an open transparent communication process for assent to legislative bills to become binding laws or the withholding thereof between the two arms concerned, we should never go below that in ensuring the best practicable laws are enacted for the good, freedom and protection of the citizens, their privileges, rights and the society in general.
‘Demola Adeyeye loves the Legislature and tweets via @AAAdeyeye.