Bills are drafts of proposed laws presented to the National Assembly for deliberation. A bill becomes an Act when the President assents to it or when two-thirds of the National Assembly veto it. However, for constitutional amendments, the bill will need approval from at least two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly across the nation.
2021 was an intriguing year in the National Assembly as our parliament debated and passed a couple of bills, which stirred serious controversy across the country. We’ll look at the three most controversial bills of 2021.
The NPC Amendment Bill
The first is the NPC Amendment Bill 2021. This bill sought to amend some sections of the NPC Act of 1992. We’ll have to understand what NPC and the NPC Act means to appreciate the intent of this bill better.
NPC means Nigerian Press Council. The Nigerian Press Council was created by an act of the National Assembly in 1992 to regulate press activity and maintain ethical and professional standards in the Nigerian Press. So what did the NPC Amendment Bill propose?
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The bill sought to grant the President the right to appoint the Nigerian Press Council’s Board of Directors through the Ministry of Information, which comprises representatives from media organizations. The Council’s tasks include regulating media practice and ensuring that print media firms and media practitioners provide truthful, genuine, and quality services.
This regulation was to be done “with the approval of the Minister of Information” under the amended Act, which would establish and disseminate a National Press Code and standards to guide media practitioners’ conduct.
The Council was also to adopt sanctions and fines for print media houses and media practitioners who violated the Press Code. The Council would also receive, process, and consider proposals to establish, own and operate print media and other associated media companies.
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This bill met stiff resistance from the press community and the general public. Public outrage against this bill was so intense that the National Assembly decided to drop it. But why was it so controversial?
A free and independent press is one of the hallmarks of democracy. It promotes free speech and accountability in governance. So, when you give the President the powers to appoint the leaders of a body that regulates press activities in Nigeria, you ultimately take away the freedom and independence of the press.
The NBC Amendment Bill
This bill is similar to the NPC Amendment Bill 2021. The NBC, which stands for the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, was created by a decree in 1992 and is the body responsible for regulating the establishment and operations of electronic media in Nigeria.
Specifically, the NBC regulates radio and television stations, including cable television, cable satellite transmission, and any other means of broadcasting—radio and television stations owned, formed, or maintained by the federal, state, or local government; and stations operating under private ownership.
So, what did the bill seek to amend? The bill sought to include internet media under the terms of reference of NBC.
Social media is becoming increasingly influential in driving public opinion and government policy. Nigeria’s youthful population has found a voice through social media. So, naturally, you’d expect serious opposition to the bill, and that was what happened. Many people opined that the legislation opposed free speech, a fundamental human right.
The Petroleum Industry Bill
Another bill that generated serious controversy was the Petroleum Industry Bill, now known as the Petroleum Industry Act, following the consent of President Buhari. This was one of the most extended Bills in the National Assembly, dating back to 20 years ago.
The PIB sought to provide legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry and development of Host Communities. The bill called for the sale of shares in a reformed NNPC, the replacement of regulatory agencies, and the reduction of royalties.
The bill proposed that the NNPC became “a commercially oriented and profit-driven national petroleum business” independent of the government and audited annually.
However, the amount of money companies should give to local communities, which campaigned for a share of 10% of regional oil revenue from production, was one of the most controversial areas in negotiations. The House of Representatives voted a 2.5 to 5% increase in the share of regional oil income earned from production that host cities could claim, but the Senate ultimately approved 3 percent.
Well, you won’t blame the agitation from the host communities. Oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria’s income earnings. And despite being the source of this oil, most host communities remain poor and largely underdeveloped while suffering large-scale environmental degradation.
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