Types of Constitutions In Nigeria

A Constitution is a formal document in which there is a body of rules that defines and regulates a certain coming together of people, such as a group, a  company, or a country. The primary objective of any constitution is to regulate power so that the person in authority does not overstep his bounds, thus harming the very people who he should serve, and also to stipulate what rights and privileges are due to each person who constitutes a member of the body.

As there are many bodies in Nigeria, so also there are many types of constitutions in Nigeria. Let us now look at some of them:

Types of Constitutions In Nigeria

  • Corporate Constitution:

A Corporate Constitution is basically a set of rules that guides the relationship between shareholders, officers, board members, the director, and other key people that make up the company. This is the formal document that stipulates what a wrong behaviour is from what is not. Contravening this set of rules can come with serious consequences for the affected party.

  • Constitution of an Association:

Many Associations and Clubs that are registered in Nigeria often have constitutions, which are a set of rules guiding the behavior of members, and telling them what actions are permissible and what actions are not. Contravening this set of rules can come with consequences such as fines, expulsion from the club or association, and also the loss of whatever privileges that may come with it.

The Third and most important constitution in Nigeria is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and it comes with a few variants which are basically improvements on what existed before. Let us now look into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are going to examine them in order of appearance.

  •  Constitution During Colonial era (1914–1960)

Nigeria’s earliest constitutions were made by order in council during the colonial era when the country was ruled as a Crown Colony. The constitutions which were enacted during this period were those of 1913 (which came into effect on 1 January 1914), and those of 1922, 1946, 1951, and also 1954.

In 1946 a new constitution, the Richards Constitution (after Governor-General Sir Arthur Richards, who was responsible for its formulation)  was approved by the council at Westminster and came into force in Nigeria. Although the constitution reserved effective power in the hands of the Governor-General and his Executive Council (all appointed by him), the constitution provided for an expanded (law-making body) the Legislative Council which was empowered to deliberate on matters affecting the whole country, and make laws or decrees ensuite.

Separate legislative groups (the houses of assembly) were also established in each of the three regions (Northern, Eastern, and Western Regions) to consider local questions and to advise the lieutenant (Regional) governors. The introduction of the federal principle, with deliberative authority centered on the regions, showed recognition of the country’s diversity, is that Nigeria is made up of different peoples with different cultures and needs. Although the Richards Constitution was realistic in its assessment of the situation in Nigeria, it undoubtedly intensified regionalism, and perhaps even separatism instead of political unification.

The pace of constitutional change increased rapidly after the promulgation of the Richards Constitution. The constitution was suspended in 1950 against a call for greater autonomy, which resulted in an inter-parliamentary conference that was held in Ibadan in 1950. That was a period of Pan African Renaissance, as most African states where agitating for independence. The conference drafted the terms of a new constitution.

The Macpherson Constitution, (so named after the incumbent Governor-General, John Stuart Macpherson) came next. The most important changes in the new document reinforced the dual course of constitutional evolution, attempting to promote both regional autonomy and federal union. By extending the elective style and at the same time by providing for a central government with a Council of Ministers, the much improved Macpherson Constitution gave renewed impetus to party activity, which was already brewing underground, and to political participation of the indigenous people at the national level.

But by providing for comparable regional governments which had broad legislative powers, and which could not be overridden or vetoed by the newly established 185-seat federal House of Representatives, the Macpherson Constitution also gave significant power to the regional style of governments or regionalism. Subsequent amendments contained in the Lyttleton Constitution, named for Oliver Lyttelton, 1st Viscount Chandos and which came into effect in 1954, firmly established the federal character and paved the way for independence.

  • Constitutional independence ( the year 1960)

Nigeria’s premier constitution as an independent, sovereign country was effected by a British order in council so as to come into force immediately she became independent, on 1st October 1960. With this constitution, Nigeria retained Queen Elizabeth II as a titular head of state. Similar constitutions are retained even today by Australia and Canada.

  • 1963 constitution ( Nigeria’s First Republic)

Nigeria’s second constitution as an independent country established the country as a federal republic. It came into effect on 1 October 1963 (Nigeria’s third anniversary as an independent nation). The 1963 constitution, which was based on the Westminster system, and which ensured a common legislature, bringing the country together, continued in operation until a military coup overthrew Nigeria’s democratic institutions in 1966.

  • 1979 constitution ( of the Second Republic)

With Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1979, came the 1979 constitution, which abandoned the Westminster system in favour of an American-style presidential system, with a direct election, bringing in all principal officers into office. To avoid the pitfalls of the Nigerian First Republic, the constitution stipulated that political parties and Federal Executive Council (Nigeria cabinet) positions reflect the “federal character” of the nation: which means that political parties were mandated to be registered in at least two-thirds of the States of Nigeria or states, and each state of the country had to have at least one member of the cabinet from it. So that no state would be left out.

  • 1993 constitution (Third Republic)

The 1993 constitution was intended to guide the Nigerian union and see the return of democratic rule to Nigeria with the establishment of a Third Republic, but that constitution was never fully implemented, because the election in that year was cancelled, and the military resumed power, only releasing it in 1999.

  • 1999 constitutions ( of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic)

The 1999 constitution restored democratic rule to Nigeria in 1999 and remains in force today. In January 2011, the constitution was amended in two ways, and the amendments were signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo. That was the first modification to the charter since it came into use in 1999.

The Amendments are as follows:

  1. Every person has a right to life or to live, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, except in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offense of which he has been found guilty by a competent court of law in Nigeria.
  2. A person shall be regarded as having been deprived of his life (or killed) in contravention of this law section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by the law, of such force as is reasonably necessary

(a) for the defense of any person from unlawful violence or for the defense of property:

(b) in order to bring into effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of person(s) lawfully held or detained; or

(c) for the purpose of resisting or suppressing a riot, insurrection, or mutiny.

3.Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person or personality, and accordingly –

(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to an inhuman or degrading form of treatment;

(b) no person shall  be held in slavery or servitude or owned by another person; and

(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory work or labour.


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