In this article, we examine the contents and Features of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which is the sovereign legal document or code in force within the borders of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this article, we shall not just give an overview of the document, but also examine the principle behind it. Before doing so, it is important to know exactly what we are talking about.
What is the Constitution?
A Constitution is a special document in which there is a body of rules and regulations or stipulations that define and regulate the terms and conditions upon which a certain union or coming together of people, such as a group, a company or a country is based. A major objective of any constitution is to regulate the use of power so that the person in authority does not become carried away with power, and so misuse his power, thus harming the very people who he is elected or appointed to serve or lead. A constitution also spells out what rights and privileges are due to each member of the association or citizen of the country for which it is written.
In a recent article, we have just highlighted the evolution of the Nigerian Constitution, and how it has metamorphosed from its earliest days during the colonial era into what it today. Today, the Nigerian Constitution in force is called the 1999 Constitution. It heralds Nigeria’s fourth republic. Here are some facts about it.
Nigerian 1999 Constitution
The Nigerian Constitution as a document was prepared by the Nigerian Military, while it was preparing to hand back power over to a civilian administration in 1999, after a long period of military rule which took effect about 7 years previously, in 1993.
This was the document upon which the government and presidency of President Olusegun Obasanjo were based or founded, and was the legal code which he promised to uphold and defend. Every other President after President Obasanjo has also pledged to uphold and follow this constitution.
Since 1999 this has been the legal code that governs the actions of the big and small alike in the country of Nigeria, the charter upon which the Nigerian nationhood rests, the protector of the Federal Character. The document which guarantees an inclusive system of government, and which prevents the one-sided development of the country to the detriment of another region. This document (through the help of the courts) is the last refuge of the poor and disadvantaged in the Country of Nigeria.
The Principle of state federation and the relationship between different sides are determined and defined by this great charter. The Constitution, as per design and structure is the apex document in the land. It empowers itself as the go-to document of arbitration of whatever issues may arise during the course of the Nigerian nationhood, and with other parts that describe everything concerning the process of organizing the country’s life. It empowers the National Assembly to make laws or amend the existing ones and defines the process of the judiciary.
Features of Nigeria 1999 Constitution
The section called the Preamble is intended to be a page of contents for the Nigerian legislation.
- Section1: This part has general stipulations and gives us a general feel and summary of what the constitution is all about. It has as its main rule and stipulation that the Constitution shall remain the most powerful authority for people and government.
- Section 2: The next part is about Government. The constitution dictates that the country’s law should be based on the rules of democracy and justice among all people and groups of people in society. The framework for administration in Nigeria is stipulated by the constitution and it commands that the country functions on the presidential arrangement and the President on swearing-in becomes the formal head of government. Segment 130-140 of the 1999 constitution makes a number of declarations about the President of the Federation, and the powers entrenched in that office.
- Section 3: The next chapter is dedicated to the territory. Not just the landmass and waterways, but also the details that affect the group of people in the country. These are stipulated here. It also talks about the citizenship of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and ways of achieving this.
- Section 4: Chapter four of the 1999 constitution is dedicated to the main rights that serve as the foundation of every citizen’s life. Separation of powers among the arms of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary) can be found in sections 4, 5 while section 6 delegates certain powers to be among organs (agencies, and parastatals) of Government in Nigeria. Section 4 of the 1999 constitution makes stipulations governing the administrative arm of Government, Section 5 puts its focus on the Executive and 6 discusses about the individual.
- Section 5: Is about sovereignty of the country and legislature. The term ‘sovereignty’ as a power can be explained as the capacity or authority of a country to control its activities without outside obstruction, and also the independence of a country to make laws for itself. Nigeria, as per the stipulation of the 1999 constitution, is a sovereign state, and this fact can be found in segment 2 of the Nigerian law code.
- Section 6: This part is dedicated to the Executive arm of government. It discusses the position of a President, as well as makes some stipulations about candidates for this position, and also elections. The second and third parts are dedicated to state executive (state governors)and other issues such as their powers, tenures and so on.
- Section 7: The following chapters discuss Federalism and Constitutionalism not just as words in a book, but as terms with meanings. Particularly, Chapter 7 is about Nigerian Courts and their powers and everything connected with them. In addition, Chapter eight of the 1999 constitution is about the Federal Capital Territory and what it represents. Federalism manages the division of Government, state, and local government, and their functions, as well as what input they make to the center.
Amendments to the 1999 Constitution- an Effort to Improve
In January 2011, the 1999 Nigerian Constitution was amended in two major ways, and the amendments were signed by the sitting President at the time: Olusegun Obasanjo. That was the first modification to the legal code since it came into force in 1999.
As per the Amendments the Nigerian Constitution now guarantees the right of every and any individual to live, and the complicity and liability (of severe punishment ) of any individual who is found guilty of having deliberately taken the life of any individual. Furthermore, the constitution now upholds the sanctity of the lives of security officers who die in the course of preventing chaos. The constitution, as per the amendments holds the person who triggers such public unrest guilty of having taken the life of any security personnel during the process.
Another major amendment or improvement to the 1999 Constitution is that the Nigerian Constitution now guarantees the freedom of all persons. Slavery, servitude, and forced labour of any kind is now strictly prohibited under law, and punishable by a prison sentence. Furthermore, no person in Nigeria must have his movement restricted unless that restriction is a sentence coming from a competent court of law. But then the courts do not just dish out prison sentences to innocent persons. The individual in question must have done something to warrant such a penalty.
Let us now briefly consider the process for amending the Nigerian Constitution: Members of the National Assembly (called Lawmakers) regularly present bills to the floor of the Assembly. These bills (or suggestions to make or amend laws) then pass through a series of readings via which their advantages and viability are debated on the floor of the National Assembly. After passing the third reading, the bill is sent to the president for his signature, after which it becomes a law, is added to the constitution, and is enforced in the courts. Without the signature of the president, however, a bill can still become a law, but then it needs to have 2/3 majority of the Lawmakers in support.
That’ about the features of Nigeria 1999 constitution.
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