Constitutional Development In Nigeria

6 June 2016

This article examines the intractable problem of constitutional engineering in Nigeria. It is asserted that the drafting of constitutions is a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s chequered political history. Right from the colonial period, Nigerians were barely involved in the art of constitution making while the British colonial overlords employed constitution making to consolidate their imperial strategies. Post colonial Nigerian leaders have utilized constitution drafting to ensure regime longevity.

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The current 1999 constitution is a product of haste because the receding military junta was in a hurry to leave the political turf. Consequently, the 1999 constitution has all the trappings of military centralization of power resulting in de-federalization of Nigeria and the consequent clamour and agitation for the amendment of the constitution. Introduction:

The drafting of constitutions has been a recurring decimal in the political history of Nigeria. Right from the colonial period, Nigeria has witnessed incessant clamour for one form of constitution or the other. The series of constitutions that were put in place during the colonial period were geared towards consolidating British imperial strategies.

1 Senior Lecturer, department of History, University of Ilorin, Nigeria Dynamics of Constitutional Development in Nigeria, 1914-1999

The point to note about colonial constitutions is that, the Nigerian people were barely involved in the drafting process. When Nigeria was eventually de-colonised, post-colonial constitutions reflected the idiosyncrasies and worldview prospective leaders, with little consideration for the interests of the citizenry. This is particularly so because post-colonial Nigerian politics has been dominated by one ruling military junta or the other. Indeed, constitution drafting initiatives embarked upon by successive military regimes were merely cosmetic and plastic. At best, they were time saving devices to ensure the longevity of their regimes.

In this paper, an attempt has been made to review, albeit briefly, constitutional development in Nigeria. While it could be taken for granted that colonial and military constitutions have generated due attention, it appears that the 1999 Constitution which is presently in operation has not received due attention from scholars. In this light, the bulk of our analysis will tilt towards the 1999 Constitution while assessing how earlier efforts have coloured it. Attributes of a constitution:

The constitution of a State is that collection of rules and principles according to which a state is governed. In other words, the Constitution refers to the framework or the composition of a government, the structure with regards to its organs, how power is allocated and the process by which power is exercised.1 The criterion which served as the basis for assigning political powers reflects the ethos of a given society. Nevertheless, it is conventional for the present day constitutions to reflect the composition of government and the relationships among these institutions. 3

Second, a constitution should provide for the distribution of governmental power over the nation’s territory. Third, and more importantly, a constitution should provide a compendium of fundamental rights and duties of citizens including their rights to participate in the institutions of government.2

Among the aforementioned attributes, the fundamental and inseparable segment of the constitution is its origin from the organic will of the people who it governs.

This is referred to as in the autonomy of constitution, implying that the people have been part of the deliberation, formulation and adoption of the constitution, taking the heterogeneous nature of such a country as reflected in her multi-ethnic, multi-linger and multi-religious nature.3 since the constitution must be, logically, the original act of the people directed resulting from the exercise of the inherent power, it becomes a binding instrument by which the sovereignty of the people is measured.

Thus, the phrase ‘we the people….hereby resolve to make for ourselves the following constitution’, should not be dismissed as a mere preliminary formalism because it suggests that the document is a replica of the compendium of the people’s view and the objectives of their association.

The question that naturally arises is whether successive Nigerian constitutions contain the above-identified salient pre-requisites for a good and durable constitution. A close examination of the litany of constitutions in Nigeria should assist us to drive home the point. Constitutional development in Nigeria: A synopsis:

It is on record that until now, eight constitutions have been operated in Nigeria. It began with the sir Frederick Lugard’s Amalgamation Report of the 1914.

Thereafter, there were the sir Clifford Constitution (1922); Sir Arthur Richards Constitution (19465); Sir John Macpherson Constitution (1951), Oliver Littleton’s Constitution (1954), the Independence Constitution (1960); the Republican Constitution (1963) and the 1979 Constitution (1979).4 There was another draft Constitution in 1989 prepared during the regime of former President Ibrahim Babangida. This was never tried until general Sanni Abacha’s administration brought about the 1994/95 constitutional Conference, which laid the foundations for the 1999 Constitution.

The Clifford constitution, which was introduced by sir Hugh Clifford in 1922, replaced both the Legislative council of 1862 which was subsequently enlarge in 1914, and the Nigerian council of 1914. Under the Constitution, a Legislative Council was for the first time established for the whole of Nigeria, which was styled as, ‘The Legislative Council of Nigeria.’5 In spite of the embracive colouration of the Council, its jurisdiction was confined to the southern Provinces, including the colony of Lagos, whose Legislative council was subsequently abolished. The Legislative Council did not legislate for the Northern Provinces but its sanction, signified by a Resolution was necessary for all its expenditure out o 5the revenues of Nigeria in respect of those Provinces.6

The point to note is that the Nigerian Council was not created for any altruistic motive, But rather to ‘enable the British officials obtain, in the central exercise of their power, as much local advice and opinions as could be evoked.’ One feature of Clifford’s Constitution was that only Africans with minimum gross income of $100 a year were eligible to vote and be voted for.7

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