The Constitution of Nigeria is also known as the Supreme Law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. From 1914 to date, the country has had a series of constitutions with the current constitution passed on the 29th of May 1999.
In this post, you’ll learn the different types of constitution in Nigeria and how they’ve evolved over the years from the colonial era to the fourth republic.
The country’s first set of constitutions were enacted by the Order in Council during the colonial era. It would be recalled that Nigeria was once a British Colony.
Types of Constitution in Nigeria
This first set of constitutions was passed in the following years: 1914, 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1954.
The constitution of 1946 was passew when the Westminster Style Parliamentary Constitution was enacted in the country.
This constitution reserved effective power in the hands of the Governor-General and his appointed Executive Council.
It was named after the Richards Constitution as the Governor-General at that time Sir Arthur Richards was responsible for its formulation.
The Richards Constitution provided for an expanded Legislative Council which was empowered to deliberate on matters affecting the whole country. Also, there were separate legislative bodies called the houses of assembly which were established in each of the three regions to consider local questions and to advise the lieutenant governors.
Additionally, there was the introduction of the federal principle which was based on the recognition of the country’s diversity.
The basis of the Federal Principle was to ensure that deliberative authority was delegated to the regions from a central source.
Unfortunately, it was later discovered that this constitution didn’t promote political unification but rather regionalism.
As a result, there were calls for greater autonomy and this led to the suspension of the Richards Constitution in 1950. Subsequently, an inter-parliamentary conference was held in Ibadan that same year and a new constitution was drafted during this conference.
The new constitution was called Macpherson Constitution, name after the incumbent Governor-General, John Stuart Macpherson and it went into effect in 1951.
The McPherson Constitution emphasized the importance of political unification while not neglecting regional autonomy.
The constitution extended the elective principle and provided for a centralized government with a Council of Ministers. Also, the Macpherson Constitution gave renewed impetus to party activity and to political participation at the national level.
However, the regional government allowed for by the McPherson Constitution still gave a significant boost to regionalism.
This was revised in the Lyttleton Constitution which was named after Oliver Lyttelton and enacted in 1954. This constitution firmly established the federal principle and paved the way for independence.
When Nigerian became an independent country in 1960, the Independence constitution was enacted by a British Order in Council. Under this constitution Nigeria retained Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state.
In 1963, the country enacted its second post-Independence constitution which was implemented on the 1st of October 1963. The 1963 constitution was based on the Westminster system and it was in use until the military coup in 1966 that overthrew Nigeria’s democratic institutions.
In 1979, a new constitution was enacted and it brought in the Second Republic. This constitution abandoned the Westminster system in favour of an American-style presidential system, with a direct election. The 1979 constitution mandated that political parties and the Federal Executive Council positions reflect the “federal character” of the nation. As a result, political parties were required to be registered in at least two-thirds of the States of Nigeria, and each state had to have at least one member of the cabinet from it.
In 1993, a third republic was ushered in with the 1993 constitution which was enacted in order to bring into power democratic rule. Unfortunately it was never fully implemented as a result of the military coup which led to the return of the country to a military-styled government until 1999
The 1999 constitution was able to restore democratic rule to Nigeria and the constitution is currently in use. However, there have been two amendments of this constitution which took place in January 2011. These amendments were sanctioned by the President at that time, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
Now let’s take a quick look at some of the important points in the current constitution
- Right to life
- (1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
(2) A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary –
(a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property:
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of person(s) lawfully detained; or
(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
- Right to dignity
- (1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly –
(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;
(b) no person shall he held in slavery or servitude; and
(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
(2) for the purposes of subsection (1) (c) of this section, “forced or compulsory labour” does not include –
(a) any labour required in consequence of the sentence or order of a court;
(b) any labour required of members of the armed forces of the Federation or the Nigeria Police Force in pursuance of their duties as such;
(c) in the case of persons who have conscientious objections to service in the armed forces of the Federation, any labour required instead of such service;
(d) any labour required which is reasonably necessary in the event of any emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; or
(e) any labour or service that forms part of –
(i) normal communal or other civic obligations of the well-being of the community.
(ii) such compulsory national service in the armed forces of the Federation as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly, or
(iii) such compulsory national service which forms part of the education and training of citizens of Nigeria as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
- Right to liberty
- (1) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law –
(a) in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty;
(b) by reason of his failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation imposed upon him by law;
(c) for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offence;
(d) in the case of a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years for the purpose of his education or welfare;
(e) in the case of persons suffering from infectious or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community; or
(f) for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of any person into Nigeria or of effecting the expulsion, extradition or other lawful removal from Nigeria of any person or the taking of proceedings relating thereto:
Provided that a person who is charged with an offence and who has been detained in lawful custody awaiting trial shall not continue to be kept in such detention for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the offence.
- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
(2) No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if such instruction ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own, or religion not approved by his parent or guardian.
(3) No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination.
(4) Nothing in this section shall entitle any person to form, take part in the activity or be a member of a secret society.
- Freedom of expression
- (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.