1.7 THE NIGERIAN LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Nigeria operates a bicameral legislative system at the Federal level and the bill must be passed by both Chambers and assented to by the President to become law. As at the time of writing, the bill was awaiting second reading in both Houses during which debate on the general principles of the bill will be heard and, following the approval of a majority of the members, it will be referred to a Committee for further legislative action.
The bill will likely be referred to a joint Committee comprising the Committees on Legal Matters, Judiciary, and Human Rights; and Foreign Affairs with the first being the principal Committee of reference. Foreign Affairs Committee will come in because the bill is an International Treaty that requires domestication for it to have the force of law in Nigeria. If need be, the Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Affairs might be asked to be part of the Joint Committee to provide insights into how other Parliaments around the World have treated the Statute when it came to them for domestication.
At the Committee level, a more detailed analysis of the bill, including expectedly, a public Hearing during which stakeholders and interested observers may make inputs for the improvement of the bill, will be made. The bill will then be presented to the Houses in plenary with the suggested amendments (if any), which suggestions will be debated and adopted or jettisoned. Thereafter, if by a simple majority, either by voice vote or by division if a request is made to that effect, the bill will be read a third time and passed.
These steps are basically carried out in the two Houses. If there is any difference between what the two Houses have passed, a Conference Committee will be constituted separately by the Houses and this Conference Committee will meet in a joint session to iron out the difference (s) and harmonise the bill into one single body of legislative proposals. Thereafter, a clean copy of the bill is prepared by the Clerk of the National Assembly and sent to the President for his signature. That effectively will make the bill a law in Nigeria upon which rights and legal obligations may arise.
1.8 PUSHING THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMES BILL THROUGH THE NIGERIAN LEGISLATURE
Impunity and criminal atrocities in conflict situations have happened in Nigeria. During the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70 when the Eastern part of the country (which was called the Republic of Biafra) attempted to secede from the federation, the federal government employed starvation as a means of winning the war that ensued. Markets, schools, hospitals and such-like institutions were routinely bombed by federal forces.
Since 2009, with the upsurge in insurgent activities by the extremist Islamic sect Boko Haram in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, there have been increased instances of cases of crimes against humanity. The group has attacked religious clerics, Christians, political leaders, Muslims who oppose the group, members of the police and security forces, students, pupils in schools, journalists as well as innocent villagers. It has engaged in large scale-indiscriminate bombing attacks against civilian objects, including deliberate attack on churches, primary and secondary schools, recreation grounds, etc. In April of 2014, the group abducted about 300 girls from a secondary school in Chibok and has threatened to sell or force them into marriages.
Boko Haram’s brutal terrorist campaign in Northern Nigeria demands urgent action to protect the civilian population. The group has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, sparking a humanitarian crisis. Under the Rome Statute, these are plainly crimes against humanity and are issues the bill, if signed into law, should be able to address.
The International Crimes Bill is an Executive bill introduced through a transmission from the President of the Federal Republic. Executive bills usually are giving priority in the National Assembly. But such priority must be accorded if the executive that submitted the bill indicates interest in the passage of the bill by lobbying the members of the National Assembly. The executive has dragged its feet in seeing the passage of the bill. As indicated earlier, the ICC has limited resources to cover a global jurisdiction, and therefore relies on domestic states to investigate and prosecute their own cases. In a number of reports, including a 98-page report by Human Rights Watch, it was noted that while the militant Islamist group have committed widespread and systematic murder and persecution amounting to crimes against humanity, the government security forces have also engaged in numerous abuses, including extra-judicial killings. The Nigerian government will be unwilling to push the passage of a bill, even an International Treaty, that would expose its forces to international criminal sanctions and that may be the location of the delay in passing the bill in the legislature. This is because, as earlier observed, the ICC must often cooperate with state officials who themselves, sometimes, are suspected of committing atrocities. The bill has been listed severally in the Order Paper of both Chambers but partly as a result of the fears expressed above and partly as a result of a tight legislative schedule, the bill is being delayed to death.
This is where the civil society must come in. An alliance of like-minded and common-interest non-governmental Organisations must aggregate to lobby for the passage of the bill. As noted, because sometimes the top echelon of the government of a country could be cited for the violations, politicians vacillate in seeing the process of the passage of the bill through. A sustained push and campaign for its passage must therefore be of utmost concern to the civil society in Nigeria if the bill will be signed into law before 2015 to eschew a situation where it begins a new legislative journey in the next National Assembly. President Goodluck Jonathan has not evinced the kind of opposition to the Treaty as former President Obasanjo did. That gives one the hope that with sustained prodding and push, the bill can be passed and signed within the life of this National Assembly
The legislative wheel in Nigeria grinds slowly. Since the first reading of the bill in June 2012 in the Senate and in September 2012 in the House of Representatives, there has been a lot of dilly-dallying primarily arising from fears of the potentials of the bill in limiting the activities of the security agencies in putting down the rebellion of the militant Islamists and in curbing insecurity orchestrated by the vicious insurgency in the North-East of the country. Also for reasons of practical legislative schedule, the bill has not made much progress. These fears should be situated against the sublime global concerns about the conduct of wars and armed conflicts as, not only would impunity be reigned in, but there are provisions for a government fund for the rehabilitation of victims of crimes against humanity. That part, if nothing else, should be the focal fillip for the Nigerian government to facilitate the passage of the bill. Only recently, Nigerian sketched a comprehensive plan for the development of the North-East Region of the country, the hotbed of the insurgency. At the heart of the programme is the rehabilitation of the victims of the insurgency. Passing the bill will showcase the legislature’s commitment to Nigeria’s fidelity to International Legal Instruments, especially one that curbs unacceptable behaviours in the distressing activities of the conduct of wars and armed conflicts.