President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to assent to over 200 bills passed by the National Assembly since 2015 when he assumed office. Of the 287 bills passed by the Eighth Senate led by Dr. Bukola Saraki, 160 were not signed into law by the president. Under the current Ninth Senate, 40 out of the 48 bills so far passed are awaiting either presidential assent or the House of Representatives’ concurrence. With few exceptions, the president did not provide explanations for withholding assent.
While the president ignored a large number of the bills, some of them were vetoed. He vetoed 20 bills in 2018, including the popular Peace Corps Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill, the Advance Fee Fraud (Amendment) Bill, the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, and the Fourth Constitution Amendment Bill. The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was rejected four times. The first rejection was on the grounds that by stipulating the order of general elections, it usurped the functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the last rejection was premised on the fact that the elections were too close and changing the rules would generate confusion. President Buhari rejected 17 bills between January and May 2019, the year the Eighth National Assembly ended its legislative activities.
There are indications that many of the bills passed by the Ninth Senate might suffer the same fate as those passed in the Eighth National Assembly. Recently, the current Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, expressed dissatisfaction with the withholding of presidential assent to the bills so far passed during his tenure. He blamed some of President Buhari’s advisers and a few top government functionaries for advising him to veto bills. Certainly, having such a huge number of non-assented bills is a cause for concern. It means all the efforts put into the bills by the legislature are wasted. This should not be allowed to persist. The legislature should take a second look at the arguments provided by the President for vetoing some of the bills as a pointer to avoiding the passing of bills that would simply be ignored by him.
Some of the bills were vetoed because they allegedly sought to create institutions that duplicate the functions of existing institutions. According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Babajide Omoworare, some of the bills made provisions for agencies whose functions were already being taken care of by existing agencies of government. Second, the president considered the funds available to the government before approving the establishment of new agencies or institutions proposed in some bills, which could be an additional burden on the government.
Another factor that has been a recurring issue is the timing of bills. The National Assembly sometimes behaves as if it has no term limit. The last amendment to the Electoral Act in 2018 did not meet the required time for a change in electoral rules to be implemented. In 2015, the Upper Chamber suspended its Standing Rule and passed 46 bills which had been pending before it for four years. The 46 bills were earlier passed by the House of Representatives and transmitted to the Senate for concurrence. The House of Representatives, by “mutual consent and legislative reciprocity”, was to adopt the same special procedure to pass bills already passed by the Senate and transmitted to it for concurrence.
Thus, one of the reasons it takes the National Assembly too long to pass bills and send them to the president for assent is the need for concurrence between the two chambers. The two chambers need to work out a modality and enforce it to avoid undue delay in achieving concurrence. Then, sometimes, too many issues are lumped into a single bill. This creates a situation where a bill could be vetoed for a minute reason, thus foreclosing the benefits that could have accrued if other salient and non-contentious issues were presented in a separate bill. A typical example is the Petroleum Industry Bill which was stalled for many years because of its omnibus provisions. Until parts of it were presented as separate bills, no progress was recorded.
The huge number of abortive bills amounts to a waste of national resources, which should be avoided. The National Assembly should weigh the implications of bills before spending valuable time and resources on their passage. It should be willing to upturn the president’s veto if a bill is sufficiently important to the national interest.