Features of the 1979 constitution of Nigeria: In my previous article about the past leaders of Nigeria since 1914 till Date, I noted that president Olusegun Obasanjo, is usually referred to as the best president Nigeria has ever had in its history; and one of the reasons for this is because of the creation of the 1979 constitution of Nigeria.
Undoubtedly, the 1979 constitution is a very significant constitution in the history and development of Nigeria. This is so because the constitution introduced a presidential system of government. Accordingly, there was also the introduction of the federal character principle into the political system of the country.
In this article, we will discuss all the features of the 1979 constitution of Nigeria. I enjoin to read this work carefully if you really want to know those major features of the 1979 constitution that made it one of the most significant constitution in the history of Nigeria.
In trying to explain these features, i am going to trace how the 1979 constitution came into force.
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Brief history of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria
The political entity known as Nigeria started when lord Federick lugard was appointed as governor general after which he formulated the 1914 constitution. This became the first constitution in Nigeria. It had numerous disavantages and in 1922, when Sir Hugh Clifford became governor-general, he abolished the constitution and made a new one where he made certain changes distinguishing the old from the new constitution.
In 1935, Sir Benard Bourdillion was appointed and he expressed dissatisfactions at Clifford’s constitution. This was because of the lack of equal representation in the legislative council. He however made certain proposals for the creation of a new constitution which Sir Arthur Richard, upon becoming Governor general in 1943, submitted to the Nigerian legislative council in 1945. The proposals were supported by all the members of the legislative council and on August 2nd 1946, they were passed into law.
This constitution was known as Sir Richard Constitution of 1946. One distinguishable aspect was the fact that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the legislative council had a majority of the unofficial members as Nigerians; both at the central and regional levels.
The journey continued as people expressed dissatisfaction at the Richard’s constitution and proposed some alterations. Sir Machpherson became Governor general and in 1951, the Macpherson constitution was passed into law. This constitution provided for a central legislative known as House of representatives and a central executive known as council of ministers.
Another development was that Nigerians were made ministers. Although their ministerial office was ceremonial, it was still a welcome development. This constitution despite its beauty failed due to irresponsible government at the centre. The ministers for example, felt they owed their allegiance to their roots rather than the centre.
With the breakdown of this constitution, a new constitution was made by Sir Lyttleton in 1954 which was renamed after him. This constitution began federalism in Nigeria as each region now had a governor, civil service and an independent judiciary.
The Lyttleton constitution also had its shortcomings and a conference was held in 1957. The result of this conference was the independence of Nigeria in 1960. This Constitution was set to herald the independence of Nigeria and on October 1st, 1960, the independence constitution was signed into existence. This constitution existed till 1963 when Nigeria became a republic and a new constitution was made. It was more of a repeat of the former constitution although a few changes were made.
The 1979 constitution came into effect on the 1st of june 1979 and it ushered in the second republic. The first republic had collapsed, due to the first coup in Nigeria which was headed by Major General Aguiyi ironsi. One interesting aspect of the previous constitutions is fact that they were based on the westminister system, that is, that they were formulated based on the British system.
However the 1979 constitution abandoned this style in favour of the American style presidential system. A constitution drafting committee (CDC) comprising of forty nine members, headed by Chief Williams completed the constitution in 1976 during the Muritala/Obasanjo regime. This constitution was reviewed and some amendments were done by the supreme military council and it became the 1979 constitution of Nigeria.
The video below provides more explanation and information about the 1979 constitution. Trust me; you are going to enjoy it:
Features of 1979 Constitution of Nigeria
1. The constitution was the grundnorm of the nation. It was the supreme law of the land and no other law could contradict it or be inconsistent with it.
2. 1979 constitution merged both the ceremonial function and the executive functions of the president and head of state into one. Hence, the president performed both functions.
3. The president and other members of the legislature were elected into power by the people.
4. Federal character was introduced in Nigeria for the first time through the 1979 constitution of Nigeria.
5. With the 1979 constitution of Nigeria, a fixed tenure of government (for presidents and governors) was set at four years. And a candidate could only serve two terms i.e eight years.
6. The president could be impeached if he was found non deserving of the seat. The implication however was that his running mate would also be impeached
7. Bicameralism at the national assembly, i.e house of senate and house of representatives comprising of ninety five and four hundred and fifty members respectively.
8. The 1979 constitution of Nigeria introduced Unicameralism for the state legislature.
9. The president performed both ceremonial roles and executive roles with the 1979 constitution of Nigeria.
10. The legislature would meet for 181 days in a year. Each member must be present in the meeting for at least hundred days and the implication for disobedience was termination of his seat as a member of the legislature. This rule applied to both the national assembly and that of the state.
11. The president had the right to nominate people for certain offices and this power was subject to, approval by the national assembly.
12. The governor could also nominate people for offices, but the state house of assembly would need to approve for the appointment to be binding.
13. The chief justice was to be appointed into office by the president subject to approval by the senate.
14. The justices of the supreme court, federal court of appeal, and federal high court, excluding the the chief justice were appointed by the federal judicial service commission. This was also subject to approval by the senate.
15. An advisory council was created to advise the president on certain matters. These advices given to him by members of the council were not binding on the president. He could choose to ignore their advice. It comprised of the president, vice president, senate president, governors, the attorney general of the federation, former heads of states, former chief justices and a paramount chief from every state.
16. The principle of separation of powers was entrenched in the constitution for the first time.
17. The creation of a national economic council comprised of state governors, the present governor of central bank and the vice president with the president heading the council.
18. The 1979 Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria also recognized the following;
a) A code of conduct which accepted the declaration of assets by public office holder to ensure probity and accountability in governance.
b) The federal Electoral Commission as the electoral umpire
c) Public Complaint Commission: A public Complaint Commission, the Ombudsman to investigate any form injustices, victimization and harassment of Civil servants to help seek redress.
d) A judicial Service Commission which was responsible for appointments, promotion, discipline and transfer of judicial office holders.
e) A National population commission, National Boundary Commission, Federal Character Commission we’re all duly recognized.
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From what we have discussed so far, it is evident that the 1979 constsitution of Nigeria was an improvement of the former constitutions that existed before it. Reasons being that it promoted separation of power, and accountability of government through democracy by stipulating a fixed term of government. It however had a few disadvantages.
I strongly believe that you now know the major features of the 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Well, if you found this article helpful, I would like you to let me know using the comment section below. Accordingly, if you have contributions to the features of the 1979 constitution of Nigeria, kindly use the comment section below.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ChMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.