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How 10 bills shaped Nigeria’s democracy

Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s National Assembly has enjoyed 25 years of uninterrupted legislative periods and passed more than 800 bills into…

Since the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s National Assembly has enjoyed 25 years of uninterrupted legislative periods and passed more than 800 bills into law. Daily Trust takes a look at 10 out of these numerous bills okayed by the legislature, which comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives.

To many Nigerian lawmakers, the legislature is the most vilified and misunderstood arm of the government. Their stance stems from the fierce and constant criticism by the citizens, especially as it relates to the legislators’ pay, which is often referred to as “jumbo pay.” And oftentimes, they are labelled “rubber stamps.”

While it’s arguable that the National Assembly is the most vilified in a democratic setting or not, it remains incontestable that the legislature was the major casualty of the military incursion into Nigeria’s politics.

Each time military rulers struck, they dissolved the legislative arms both at the federal and state levels.

But since 1999, the National Assembly has enjoyed 25 years of uninterrupted legislative proceedings. During this period, the National Assembly passed not less than 816 bills that were signed into law by various presidents.

In the 4th National Assembly, 1999–2003, the Senate passed 65 bills while the House of Representatives passed 112 bills, but the lawmakers in both chambers only had concurrence on 65.

There was a marked improvement in the 5th Assembly when 129 bills were passed. The figure plummeted to 72 bills in the 6th Assembly, rose to 128 in the 7th, and reached an all-time high of 282 bills in the 8th Assembly, before dropping to 134 bills in the 9th Assembly.

Below are some of the major bills passed or decisions reached within the period:

Petroleum Industry Act (PIA)

After many years of controversies and stalemates, the Petroleum Industry Bill 2021 was signed into law by former President Muhammadu Buhari. It was first presented to the National Assembly in 2008. According to a piece on it by PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, the PIA provides a legal, governance, regulatory, and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry, the development of host communities, and related matters.

The ninth Senate passed the bill on July 15, 2021, while the House of Representatives did the same on July 16, thus ending a long wait and giving Nigeria’s petroleum industry a new direction expected to bring greater developments to the country.


The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is another remarkable piece of legislation that supports accountability, openness, and good governance. The FOI Act seeks to promote a more open and democratic society in Nigeria by giving citizens the right to access information held by public entities. First proposed in 1999, the bill went through multiple amendments and discussions until President Goodluck Jonathan finally signed it into law on May 28, 2011. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as the law is officially known, is a tool for ensuring that the general public has access to information that is held by the government.

Countless journalists, lawyers, and civil society organisations have been deploying FOIA to hold government officials and agencies accountable for their activities. However, there are concerns over the level of compliance with the act by government institutions.

In 2021, the House of Representatives said that only 73 of the over 900 public institutions in the country were complying with the provisions of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act on the disclosure of information.

Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill

This is one legal framework audaciously passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, in defiance of pressure from Western governments to respect gay and lesbian rights.

On November 29, 2011, the Senate passed the “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2011”. The bill was also passed on May 30, 2013 by the House of Representatives. And in January 2014, Jonathan signed the bill into law. Before then, two similar bills had been proposed since 2006 but failed to make it through parliament.

The bill bans gay marriage, outlaws organisations supporting gay rights, and sets prison terms of up to 14 years for offenders. Its passing and signing, seen largely as a popular decision, came as one of the commendable steps taken by his administration.

But due to the backlash it received, many political pundits believed the signing of the bill contributed to the well-reported cold feet of Western powers toward the administration, including their refusal to sell ammunition to Nigeria despite the daily havoc the Boko Haram terrorists were wrecking on the country. Some believe it also played a part in Jonathan’s defeat in the 2015 general election.

Not Too Young to Run Bill

The bill was passed by the National Assembly to alter Sections 65, 106, 132, and 177 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The law relaxes some of the stringent and discriminatory provisions of the constitution. It reduced the age qualification for presidents from 40 to 30, governors from 35 to 30, senators from 35 to 30, House of Representatives membership from 30 to 25, and state legislatures from 30 to 25.

In July 2017, the bill was passed by the National Assembly and transmitted for assent in April 2018. On May 31, 2018, then President Muhammadu Buhari signed it. Since then, quite a number of young people have been voted into legislative office.

While examples of beneficiaries of the bill abound across state assemblies, Ibrahim Mohammed, 28, representing Birnin-Kebbi, Kalgo, and Bunza Federal Constituency, is one example that resonates with Nigerians.

Disability Bill

The bill, which aims to curb discrimination against persons with disabilities, was passed in 2016. The bill was signed into law by then-President Muhammadu Buhari on January 23, 2019.

The Disability Act prohibits all forms of discrimination on the ground of disability and imposes a fine of N1 million for corporate bodies and N100,000 for individuals, or a term of six months imprisonment for violation.

NEDC Establishment Bill

Former President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the North East Development Commission (NEDC) (Establishment) Bill, 2017 in October 2017, after it was passed a year earlier by the National Assembly.

The NEDC Bill is seen as a significant statement to underscore national concern with the devastation suffered by the region due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

Upon its establishment, the commission had the mandate to receive and manage funds allocated by the federal government and international donor agencies for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration, and reconstruction of roads, houses, and business premises of victims of insurgency.

The Act also expects help in tackling the menace of poverty and environmental challenges in the North-East.

The Senate passed the bill in October 2016 to be partly funded by three percent of value-added taxes accruable to the federal government.

Whistle-Blowers Protection Bill

In July 2017, the Nigerian Senate, led by Bukola Saraki, passed the Whistleblower Protection Bill into law.

The bill, which seeks to encourage and facilitate the disclosures of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies, also seeks to ensure that persons who make disclosures and persons who may suffer reprisals in relation to such disclosures are protected under the law.

The bill came at a time in April 2017, when operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) discovered $43.4 million, among other currencies, in the wardrobe of a four-bedroom apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos. The EFCC credited a whistleblower’s confidential alert for the huge recovery.

The bill was, however, not signed into law by then-President Muhammadu Buhari.  But the federal government introduced its whistleblower policy in an effort to tackle corruption.

National Health Bill

It was passed by the 7th National Assembly and signed by then-President Goodluck Jonathan in December 2014.

The bill now clearly defines the various roles and functions to be played by the three tiers of government on health-related issues.

It was expected to help Nigeria achieve universal health service, guarantee improvement in the health sector, regulate healthcare practice, and promote professionalism among healthcare providers.

It also set standards for health care services rendered across Nigeria and helped eliminate medical quacks in the system.

The Act also covers the provision of health care insurance for Nigerians, especially the less privileged. The Act underwent an amendment in 2022.

Students’ Loan Bill

The Students’ Loan Bill was passed by the ninth assembly of the National Assembly. It was sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila.

And President Bola Tinubu, shortly after taking over power on June 12, 2023, signed the Student Loan Bill into law to enable Nigerian students to access loans at interest-free rates.

However, the President in March this year wrote to the National Assembly, seeking a re-enactment of the bill to remove some conditions that could affect its sustainable implementation.

And on March 20, both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Student Loan (Access to Higher Education) Act (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2024.

The bill scaled first, second, and third readings in both parliamentary sittings, and on April 3, President Tinubu signed the Repeal and Re-Enactment Bill, 2024, into law.

National Minimum Wage Bill

After several deliberations, protests, and negotiations between the Nigeria Labour Congress and government for about two years, the Senate passed the N30, 000 minimum wage bill in 2019, and then President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law and directed its effectiveness on April 18, 2019. A fresh debate is coming for a new national minimum wage, five years later.

Doctrine of Necessity

The doctrine of necessity is the basis on which extraordinary actions by administrative authority, which are designed to restore order or uphold fundamental constitutional principles, are considered to be lawful even if such an action contravenes established constitutions, laws, norms, or conventions. The doctrine of necessity is not a bill passed by Nigeria’s National Assembly, but the principle was invoked during the health crisis of late President Umaru Yar’adua in 2010 and has been a major high point of Nigeria’s legislature since 1999.

While the late president was unable to perform his duty due to ill health and was away from the country between 2009 and 2010, he failed to properly transmit powers to his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, while away for several months. The development led to uncertainty and instability in Nigeria, thereby putting the country on the brink of a constitutional crisis.

Responding, the Senate invoked the doctrine of necessity by passing a resolution, declaring Jonathan as the acting president. The decision largely restored stability in the country and earned the National Assembly kudos from many Nigerians, especially those from the southern extraction. Yar’adua died on May 5, 2010, and Jonathan finally stepped in as substantive president.

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