In the recent past, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, has refused to give his assent to several bills forwarded to his office for his approval by the National Assembly. The President’s refusal to assent to the bills has been a cause for concern to many Nigerians. Prominent among the bills to which the President refused assent are the Nigerian Film Commission Bill 2018, the Chartered Institute of Pension Practitioners of Nigeria Bill 2018, the Immigration Amendment Bill 2018, the Climate Change Bill 2018, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill 2018, the Chartered Institute of Training and Development of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill 2018, the Nigerian Aeronautic Research Rescue Bill 2018, the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill 2018, the National Housing Fund Bill 2018, the National Institute of Credit Administration Bill 2018, the National Bio-Technology Development Agency Bill 2018 as well as the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Completion Fund Bill.
The President cited several reasons for refusing assent to the bills. The reasons include, infractions on extant laws, duplication of responsibilities of existing agencies, and financial constraints owing to prevailing economic circumstances. For instance, the President in his refusal of assent to the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Completion Fund Bill stated in one of the letters to the Senate President, that appropriating $1billion from the Excess Crude Account, as requested for in the bill by the federal lawmakers was not the best strategic option for Nigeria at the time of budgetary constraints. According to the President, “the Nation cannot afford to commit such an amount in the midst of competing priorities with long term social and economic impact that the funds can be alternatively deployed towards”.
While some people in some quarters believe that the President’s reasons for declining assent to the bills are justified, some others believe that such decisions are a set setback to the development of our laws.
Position of the Constitution
Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (“CFRN”) provides that the Legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The National Assembly is thus empowered to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation of Nigeria. Furthermore, Sections 58 and 59 of the CFRN provide for the mode of making laws by the National Assembly. In absolute terms, Section 58(1) provides that the power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and, except as otherwise provided, be assented to by the President. This is in furtherance of the principle of separation of powers which ensures that every organ of government in democratic dispensation is checkmated by the other arms.
Therefore, where a bill has been passed by the House in which it originated, it shall be sent to the other House, and it shall be presented to the President for assent when it has been passed by that other House and agreement has been reached between the two Houses on any amendment made on it. Where, however, a bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall within thirty (30) days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds his assent. It is, however, the prerogative of the President to give reasons for his refusal to assent to a particular bill.
It is important to note that the refusal of assent to a bill by the President may not be the end of the process for the passage of such bill. Thus, where the President withholds his assent to a bill which has been duly passed by the National Assembly, and the National Assembly considers it expedient that such bill should indeed be passed into law, the CFRN empowers the National Assembly to veto the refusal of assent by the President. Section 58 (5) of the CFRN provides that where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two/thirds majority, the bill shall become law and assent of the president shall not be required.
The implication of this is that upon the refusal of assent to a bill by the President, if the National Assembly considers that the bill is of such nature as to become law notwithstanding the refusal of assent by the President, each House of the National Assembly may pass the bill again by two/thirds majority and when that happens, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the assent or signature of the President. This overriding power was exercised by the National Assembly in the case of the Niger Delta Development Commission Bill. The two Chambers of the National Assembly passed the bill into law upon the failure of the President to sign or give his assent within the time prescribed by the Constitution. The overriding power still resides with the National Assembly to consider the expedience of each of the bills to which the President has refused assent and to determine if it would take the passage of the bills a step further.
 See also Section 59(4) of the CFRN for Appropriation Bill or other Money Bills.