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Nigeria: How National Assembly Clerk Misinformed Tinubu, Almost Got President to Sign Unapproved Law

The Clerk of the National Assembly made a false claim about a resolution of the House of Representatives and almost got President Tinubu to sign the bill into law.

Whenever the Clerk of the National Assembly sends a legislative bill to the Nigerian President, it is expected that the bill has passed through the process of lawmaking and requires only presidential assent to become a law.

But, in June, the Clerk of Nigeria’s parliament, Magaji Tambuwal, sent a false ‘Real Estate Regulatory Council of Nigeria Act 2023’ to President Bola Tinubu to sign into law.

The clerk said what he sent to the president was a true copy of the bill passed by both Houses of the National Assembly in compliance with Section 2(1) of the Acts Authentication Act, Cap A2, Laws of The Federation of Nigeria.

“I, CERTIFY, IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 2(1) OF THE ACTS AUTHENTICATION ACT, CAP, A2, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004, THAT THIS IS A TRUE COPY OF THE BILL PASSED BY BOTH HOUSES OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY,” Mr Tambuwal wrote to President Tinubu.

An investigation by PREMIUM TIMES, however, revealed that the Clerk’s claim is false as the bill was not passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.

How A bill is passed

The process of lawmaking generally requires a long period of deliberation and consideration of many interests and implications of a bill. A bill passes through four stages in the parliament, which include three readings before it is passed into law.

The first stage is the Presentation and first reading: At this stage, the bill is introduced and the Clerk of the House or Senate reads the short title and gives a brief statement and background on the bill. The Rules and Business Committee then sets a date for its Second Reading.

The second reading is the stage where the bill’s general merits and principles are debated. If the bill is read the second time, the House/Senate is deemed to have approved the bill in principle. If, on the other hand, the bill is defeated on the floor of the chambers at the second reading, that will be the end of the bill.Following the second reading, the bill is submitted to the relevant committees for further consideration and public hearings where necessary. The committee may approve the bill unaltered, amend it, rewrite it, or even block it. However, the practice in Nigeria is that the committee should not kill a bill, but rather, report its findings and recommendations to the House for further action.

When the committee is done with the bill, it presents its report to the House/Senate. If it is adopted, the bill progresses to the third reading.

At the third reading, the lawmaker in charge of the bill reports to the House that the Committee of the Whole has considered the bill and passed it with or without amendment and moves a motion that “the bill be now read the third time.”

When a bill originating in either the Senate or House of Representatives has been read the third time, a Clean Copy of the bill signed by the clerk of that chamber, and endorsed by the presiding officer of the originating chamber, shall be forwarded by its clerk to the clerk of the other chamber, with a message that it desires its concurrence.

“Where amendments proposed by the originating chamber are accepted by the other chamber, then the Clerk of the other chamber retains the bill and sends a message to the originating chamber “that the Senate or House of Representatives, as the case may be, has agreed to the bill without amendments,” the law states.

However, where the other chamber does not agree with the originating chamber on the bill; or it agrees to the bill, but with its amendments; a conference or harmonisation committee will be constituted comprising members of both chambers with the duty of reconciling differences on the bill and proposing a single position that would be adopted by the plenary of each chamber.

After the recommendations of the conference committee are adopted, the bill then moves onto the assent stage.

Here, the Clerk of the National Assembly sends a copy of the “clean bill” to the president for assent.

In order words, the Clerk of the National Assembly only sends the “clean bill” to the President for assent when the two chambers of the National Assembly have fully – through their stages- agreed on the content.

The law provides that if the President is satisfied with the bill, he gives his assent, but where he rejects or vetoes it, or does not communicate his assent to the bill within 30 days from the date the bill was sent to him, the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority vote can override the veto.

PREMIUM TIMES can now report that the Real Estate Regulation bill sent to Mr Tinubu did not scale through these lawmaking stages.

Instead, the Clerk of the National Assembly misinformed the president that the bill had gone through all the stages and requested President Tinubu to sign the “Real Estate Regulatory Council of Nigeria Act 2023” into law.

Background and facts about the bill

In November 2021, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passed the Real Estate (Regulation and Development Bill 2021; SB. 540) after its third reading. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence according to legislative practice and according to Section 58(i) – (5) of the Nigerian Constitution.

The bill passed by the Senate would, among others, empower an association of real estate companies – REDAN – to control a proposed regulatory agency. The bill generated a lot of controversy with a lawmaker describing it as the most ‘selfish’ bill at the time.

The House of Representatives received the bill from the Senate and registered it as HB. 1753. The House had three options: concur with the Senate and pass the bill as received; propose amendments to the bill passed by the Senate or reject the Senate version of the bill.

In addition to the bill received from the Senate, the House of Representatives also received two similar bills from its members: A Bill for an Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Agency of the Federal Capital Territory, and A Bill for an Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Authority in Nigeria.

There were, however, significant differences between the bill received from the Senate and the other two bills. One significant difference was that the latter two bills did not give any powers to REDAN.

On 31 May, the House of Representatives jointly considered the clauses of the three bills at the Committee of Whole.

At that 31 May sitting, the House of Representatives jettisoned the clauses contained in the “Real Estate Regulation and Development Bill” – HB. 1753 – received from the Senate. The House also rejected the “Bill for an Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Authority in Nigeria.”

According to official records, the House of Representatives only agreed to the clauses contained in the “Bill for an Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Agency of the Federal Capital Territory.”

In other words, the House rejected the bill it received from the Senate and passed a different one which only sought to establish a real estate regulatory agency for Abuja and gave no power to REDAN.

Legal Implication

Lawyers said the legislative implication of the refusal of the House of Representatives to pass the HB. 1753 (SB. 540) is that there were separate versions of similar bills passed by each chamber of the parliament, but none of them was passed by both Houses as no agreement was reached to that effect.

“The customary legislative practice is for the House of Representatives to either agree to the clauses of HB. 1753 (SB. 540) as passed by the Senate without amendment or cause amendments to be made to it and return same to the Senate in order for the Senate to concur to the proposed amendments or amend same,” West Idahosa, a senior lawyer said in reacting to the issue.”If the Senate’s further amendments are not acceptable to the House of Representatives, then a conference Committee of the House and Senate shall be constituted to deliberate only on areas of disagreement,” the lawyer said.

However, in clear breach of the Nigerian constitution and the rules of the two Houses, the Clerk of the National Assembly transmitted the version passed by the Senate to the president for assent on 9th June and falsely claimed that it had been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.

Mr Idahosa, in a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation, said the Clerk, Mr Tambuwal, wilfully misrepresented the facts of the matter to the president. He called for an official investigation of the matter and a possible prosecution of Mr Tambuwal.

This investigation will be in the interest of entrenching the rule of law and legislative sanctity of Bills duly passed by the two houses of the National Assembly, Mr Idahosa noted.

He urged the AGF to strongly advise the President not to sign the “unlawful Bill under any disguise whatsoever (including the plot to back-date the signing as widely rumoured by members of (REDAN who are the proponents of the Bill).”

PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Mr Tambuwal, who also faces allegations of illegally running a private company while holding public office, to ask why he misinformed the president on such a matter. For several days, he initially did not respond to calls and messages sent to his phone. He, however, later reached out through one of his aides and called for a meeting at his office.

A workers’ strike prevented the meeting from being held last Wednesday as scheduled. His media handlers then promised to send an official response to our questions. They have yet to do so as of the time of this report.

PREMIUM TIMES reviewed the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives on 1 June 2023. Item No. 8 shows that what was passed on 1 June 2023 by the House of Representatives was the Bill for an Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Agency of the Federal Capital Territory, which is completely different from the contents of HB. 1753 (SB. 540) passed by the Senate on 17th November 2021 and sent to the House.

Rather than work towards the constitution of a conference committee to harmonise the several bills on Real Estate Regulation, Mr Idahosa said, the “Clerk of the National Assembly fell into error when he transmitted a version of the Bill passed by only the Senate to Mr Tinubu for assent in breach of the applicable constitutional provisions, the Acts Authentication Act, standing orders of the two Houses and extant Legislative practice by Bicameral Legislatures for less than patriotic and egalitarian reasons.”

Presidential spokesperson Ajuri Ngelale did not respond to requests seeking comment on the matter. But a source at the presidency told this medium that the president could not have “signed the Real Estate Regulation Bill because his legal advisers and chief of staff are expected to have done thorough work on any Bill.” The Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, was the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the House rejected HB. 1753.

Possible reason why Clerk misinformed Tinubu

The bill passed by the Senate – HB. 1753 – had the full support of the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN), whose members lobbied strongly to get the bill to become law.

Even when very few members of the public knew that Mr Tambuwal had sent the bill to President Tinubu for assent, REDAN was aware and publicly asked the president to sign the bill into law.

In a statement in June, the President of REDAN, Aliyu Wamakko, said the bill, when signed into law, would further enhance professionalism in real estate, and reduce building collapses as well as the housing deficit in the country.

Multiple sources in the real estate sector told this newspaper that REDAN lobbied Mr Tambuwal to send the false bill to the president for assent. But PREMIUM TIMES could not confirm this as neither REDAN nor Mr Tambuwal replied to our questions.

However, what is incontestable is that the ‘selfish’ bill sent to the president for assent considerably favoured REDAN.

Controversial points in the Bill

The bill seeks to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Council of Nigeria.

** The bill states that the Council shall regulate the business of real estate development in Nigeria in consultation with REDAN.

** Similarly, the Council is empowered to register and licence all real estate developers in Nigeria through the institutional guidelines of REDAN.

** The council shall renew the licence of real estate developers annually, upon payment of the prescribed fees and fulfilment of all requirements as recommended by REDAN.

** The Council shall register, maintain, and update the register of all real estate development projects ratified by REDAN to have met set standards of Industry practices.

** The Council shall work through REDAN to monitor, investigate, and sanction registered and licensed real estate _ developers that violate the provisions of the bill. It shall also work through REDAN to investigate and penalise unlicensed real estate developers who violate the laws.

** The prescribed fees and fulfilment of all requirements prescribed under this Act will be through recommendation by REDAN;

** The Council shall have a Governing Council chairman, appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of REDAN. And a Secretary of the Council; who shall be appointed by the Council on the recommendation REDAN.

** The Minister may remove the chairman of the council from office on the recommendation of the Council and or REDAN if the Minister is of the opinion that it is not in the interest of the Council for the chairman to continue in office.

** The Council will also prescribe fees, fines, and charges to be paid – as recommended by REDAN.

** A total of 10 per cent of the annual revenue of REDAN is to be paid to the Council’s fund.

Essentially, the bill seeks to create a Regulatory Council that will be controlled by REDAN, one of the players in the sector.

“It’s like a group of old generation banks forming an association and then asking the government to empower the association to regulate all other Nigerian banks,” a real estate developer told PREMIUM TIMES when the bill was first brought to the House. “What we want is an independent regulator, a government regulator, not a REDAN regulator.”

New Bills introduced

It is well over 30 days since the bill was transmitted to President Tinubu by the clerk of the National Assembly for assent and the Bill was not signed within the period prescribed by Section 58 of the 1999 constitution (as altered). In other words, the president has refused to sign the bill into law.

Its proponents have now represented the bill in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Known as No. HB 613, the ‘new’ bill was read on the floor of the House of Representatives for the first time on 11 October. It was listed as item 32 on the order paper of the same date.

Similarly, on 2 November, the Deputy Senate President, Barau Jibrin, introduced the bill titled the “Nigerian Real Estate Industry (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2023 (SB. 238).”

The bill has passed its first reading with Mr Jibrin calling it a “significant step forward towards bringing about positive change and development in the Nigerian real estate industry.”

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