Doctrine of Covering the Field – An Overview

Doctrine of Covering the Field – An Overview:

Doctrine of Covering the Field

There are three arms of government in every Federal system of Government; the Executive arm, the Legislative arm, and the judiciary arm of Government. The legislature is the arm of the Government with the responsibility of enacting laws. They enact laws for the peace and safety of the state. There are also two divisions of the legislative, to wit: the National Assembly and the state House of Assembly.

The National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly by virtue of Sections 4(2) and Sections 4(7) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) have been respectively given the power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the federation and the states.

They both make laws to meet societal development and the safety of the citizens. They also have different areas in which they are permitted in the constitution to enact and promulgate laws. So, we have three legislative lists. The exclusive legislative list, the concurrent legislative list, and the residual legislative list. The exclusive legislative list is specially reserved for the National Assembly. This entails that it is only the National Assembly that has the power to enact laws on subject matters covered in the exclusive legislative list. The National Assembly and the state House of Assembly share the power of enacting laws in the Concurrent legislative list. The residual legislative list is reserved for the Local Government.

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There are some times that the National Assembly and the state House of Assembly may have enacted laws on the same subject matter in the concurrent legislative list and the laws may be contradicting each other, the question would be, which of the laws shall prevail? That leads us to the constitutional doctrine of covering the field.

The doctrine of covering the field simply means that where there is a conflict between the legislation of a State and the federal parliament on a matter in the concurrent legislative list, the one passed by the federal parliament prevails and that of the state house of assembly shall be placed in the abeyance.

Doctrine of Covering the Field by Laws enacted by the National Assembly

The National Assembly and the state House of Assembly have concurrent powers in enacting laws on items listed in the Concurrent Legislative List. However, when the National Assembly has enacted a law in a particular subject matter in the concurrent list, the state House of Assembly shall be inhibited from promulgating laws that will contradict it.

Meanwhile, when the laws enacted by the National Assembly and the state House of Assembly are in contradiction, the one enacted by the National assembly shall prevail. This is just the position of the Doctrine of covering the field.

It would be worthy of note to add that the purport of the doctrine of covering the field does not invalidate the second law enacted by the State House of Assembly on the same subject matter as the law already enacted by the National Assembly, instead, it makes the law inactive and of no-existence.

The main reason for the doctrine of covering the field is that it helps to curtail the confusion of Laws in the state and it also helps to reduce misconceptions of laws. The citizens are allowed to comply with one of the laws. The two laws enacted by the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly on the same subject matter cannot be allowed to be co-existing in the state.

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However, the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly shall be permitted to enact laws on the same subject matter in the Concurrent Legislative List, if such laws are not conflicting with themselves.

The Doctrine of Covering the Field in the Constitution

The Doctrine of covering the field is also contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the constitution under Section 1 (3) overtly made the provisions of the constitution supreme, and every other law in contradiction is meant to be deemed null and void.

However, this entails that the laws that are enacted by the National Assembly and the state House of Assembly are meant to follow the provisions of the constitution and not contradict them.

The constitution shall not be deemed to have covered the field in its enactment on a subject matter if it created some loopholes or if it does not exhaustively cover the said subject matter, then the National Assembly or the state House of Assembly can be dragged to make laws that shall be supplementary to the existing law.

However, any slight contradiction between the Act of the National Assembly or the laws of the state House with the provision of the constitution, the constitution shall be deemed supreme and that other law shall be deemed null and void.

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