Nigeria as a country has been confirmed to be a product of multitude of constitutions, altogether having had nine constitutions ranging from the six in the pre-independence epoch (1914, 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954 and 1960) and three after independence (1963, 1979 and 1999). The pre-independence constitutions were made by the order-in-council of the British monarch, while the post-independence constitutions were enacted in two ways: an Act of parliament (1963 Constitution) and military decree (1979 and 1999).
Under the 1914 Constitution, the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated under the colonial authority of the British Monarch and administered through the Governor-General, Lord Frederick Lugard. This Constitution created a Legislative Council for the colony to make laws for the Colony of Lagos alone, while the Governor-General made laws for the rest of the country.
In 1922, eight years after the first Constitution, the 1922 (Clifford) Constitution was enacted. This Constitution established a 46-member Legislative Council to make laws for the Colony of Lagos and the Southern Provinces. In addition, this Constitution introduced the British African territory and permitted Lagos and Calabar to elect their representatives into the Legislative Council.
The 1946 (Richard) Constitution came into force after the Second World War. For the first time, Nigeria was divided into regions: the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. Returning African veterans from the Second World War who were conscripted to fight for the British came back with a deeper understanding of self-governance and sovereignty. Generally, the 1946 Constitution established a framework for the participation of all sections of Nigeria in the legislative process, thereby guaranteeing a majority for indigenous Nigerians both in the House of Assembly and legislative council.
As the time comes and passes, the 1951 (Macpherson) Constitution was enacted as a by-product of an unprecedented process of consultation with Nigerians. The process leading to the making of this Constitution involved Village, District, Divisional, Provincial and Regional meetings and consultations – before the national conference. For the first time, the federal system of government was established and the presence of African elected majorities in the Central Legislature and in the Regional Houses of Assembly.
The Lyttleton Constitution was enacted in 1954.
This Constitution made the regional governments independent of the central government and also established a unicameral legislature for the federal government and for each of the 3 regional governments. It was in this Constitution that Lagos became the Federal Capital Territory and established regional public services for the regions. Under this Constitution, Ministers received specific portfolios for the first time.
However, when Nigeria gained political independence in 1960, the 1960 Constitution was enacted to establish a parliamentary system of government which equally established a bicameral legislature (Senate and the House of Representatives), including a House of Assembly and House of Chiefs at the regions. Legislative powers of the government were for the first time, delineated into three categories, which includes, the exclusive, concurrent and residual.
This parliamentary Constitution recognized the British monarch as the Head of State while the Prime Minister was elected by the federal parliament to act as the head of the Federal Executive Council. However, the main challenge with this Constitution is that a Governor-General was designated as a representative of the British monarch, instead of the establishment of a Constitution which represented the independent status of Nigeria. In addition, it denied Nigeria an effective dominion over its judiciary as the Privy Council established by the British Queen was given the final appellate authority instead of the Federal Supreme Court.
The 1963 Constitution birthed the establishment of Nigeria’s 1st Republic under a parliamentary system of government. It replaced the Governor-General appointed by the British monarch with a President elected directly by members of the Nigerian federal legislature. Also, it replaced the Privy Council and conferred final appellate powers on the Federal Supreme Court.
A violent military coup in 1966 however set aside this Constitution. The First Republic was ousted by military dictatorship which lasted for 13 years, ending in 1979. General Olusegun Obasanjo ushered in the Second Republic with the promulgation of a new Constitution, the 1979 Constitution. Under the 1979 Constitution, a federal system of government was again set up comprising of 19 state governments, a Federal Capital Territory, and three arms of government.
The civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari and Vice President Alex Ekwueme who operated under the 1979 Constitution was toppled in 1983 by the military dictatorship of Generals Muhammed Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon.
After a series of other regimes – the Babangida military dictatorship (1985 – 1993), the Shonekan Interim civilian regime, the Abacha military dictatorship (1993 – 1998) – the final General Abdulsalami Abubakar military regime ushered in the 3rd Republic on 27th May 1999 with the enactment of the 1999 Constitution which still operates till today.
More to come…….