BY CHARLES KUMOLU
UNKNOWN to many, the story of Nigeria’s National Assembly, NASS, predates the country’s independence from Britain.
Though the Legislative Council had existed before and after the amalgamation of 1914, the Richard’s Constitution of 1946, practically raised the curtain for a central legislature (National Assembly) in Nigeria.
It also made provisions for the establishment of regional Legislative councils, known as house of Assembly, with the principal function of presenting nominees for the Central Legislative bodies.
Within the period of 1946 to 1966, the central legislative house was known as the House of Parliament.
With the adoption of presidential system of government in 1979, the central or federal legislative body came to be known as the National Assembly. It comprised the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The National Assembly was also re-enacted in the defunct Third Republic and re-enacted at the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
Membership of the National Assembly is through direct election, as any citizen can seek election into any of the Federal Legislative houses, as long as he/she meets the age and educational requirements.
For the Senate, the age requirement is 35 years , while the House of Representatives is 30 years and the educational requirement is equivalent to that of the Senate which is a secondary school leaving certificate or its equivalent.
The tenure of each of the two houses is four years, running concurrently.
Members, who are willing to retain their seats must seek re election.. The Presiding officer of the Senate is known as the Senate President, while that of the House of Representatives is the Speaker.
Instructively, section 47 of Nigeria’s 1999 constitution made provision for the NASS.
“There shall be a national Assembly for the Federation which shall consist of a senate and a House of Representatives,”it stated.
Primarily, the NASS is mandated by the constitution to make laws for the general well being of the nation, just as it is expected to checkmate excesses of other arms of government.
In addition, the legislature has broad oversight functions and is empowered to establish committees of its members to scrutinise bills and the conduct of government officials.
While the Assembly has made strong and often popular efforts to assert its authority and independence against the executive, it is still viewed generally in a negative light by the vast majority of the populace.
The Assembly sits for a period of at most four years, after which time the President is required to dissolve it and call a new Assembly into session.
The Senate has the unique power of impeachment of judges and other high officials of the executive including the Federal Auditor-General and the members of the electoral and revenue commissions.
This power is, however, subject to prior request by the President. The Senate also confirms the President’s nomination of Ambassadors, members of the federal cabinet, federal judicial appointments and independent federal commissions.
Before any bill may become law, it must be agreed to by both the House and the Senate, and receive the President’s assent. Should the President delay or refuse assent (veto) the bill, the Assembly may pass the law by two_thirds of both chambers and overrule the veto and the President’s consent will not be required. The first time the National Assembly overrode a presidential veto was in the passage of the Niger Delta Development Commission bill in 2000.
Also, section 88 subsection 2(a) and (b) empowers the National Assembly to “make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct defects in existing laws and expose corruption inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated.”
The two houses of the National Assembly have used this provision in carrying out a number of probes of the executive arm of government.
Other functions include, Establishment of Consolidated Revenue Fund, Authorisation of expenditure from Consolidated Revenue Fund, Authorisation of expenditure in default appropriations, Contingencies Fund, Remuneration, etc. of the President and certain other officers, Audit of Public accounts, Appointment of Auditor-General, Tenure of office of Auditor-General, Power to conduct investigations among others.
Nonetheless, under section 88 of the Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives are empowered to appoint a committee for the purpose of investigation.
Aside these functions, Nigeria’s legislature play the role of oversight functions, which is considered an important duty in the promotion and protection of public interest.