Definition of a constitution. What is a constitution?
Let us start with the definition of a constitution. A constitution is a set or body of agreed rules that guide a state or country in the administration of its affairs. In other words, a constitution is the basic principles and laws of a nation or state which determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people.
1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
Before Nigeria gained independence in 1960, some constitutions had been used to administer the country, they are the Clifford constitution of 1922, Richards constitution of 1946, Macpherson constitution of 1951 and Lyttleton Constitution of 1954. All these constitutions have their own features and are linked to one another in some ways.
When Nigeria gained its independence on October 1st 1960, a homemade constitution known as the 1960 Independence Constitution was adopted which replaced the colonial 1954 Lyttleton Constitution; although it retained some of its features.
Main Features of the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
- The 1960 independence constitution provided a democratic parliamentary system of government whereby the office of the Head of State is different from the office of the head of government.
- A federal system of government was retained.
- Queen Elizabeth was still the Head of state, Nnamdi Azikwe, the Governor-General, was a ceremonial Head of State representing the Queen until October 1st 1963 when Nigeria became a republican State.
- The prime minister was the Head of government and administration (Tafawa Balewa).
- The constitution provided for a bi-cameral legislature at the center – the Senate (upper house) and House of Representatives ( lower house).
- The 1960 independence constitution of Nigeria provided a premier as the Head of the executive of each region.
- The fundamental human rights of the citizens were entrenched in the constitution, and also did the constitution defined who a citizen is and how to acquire citizenship.
- The Constitution laid down the procedure for creating new regions.
- It gave the federal government the power to declare a State of emergency in any part of the country.
- The constitution divided the legislative powers of governments into three – exclusive list (Central government), concurrent list (both central and regional government) and residual list (local government).
- The final Court of Appeal was the Privy Council in London.
- The 1960 independence constitution of Nigeria provided for the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission. The appointment, discipline and promotion of judges were the responsibility of the commission.
- The constitution also stated the procedure for the amendment of a constitution.
Other features include:
- The powers of Parliament to make laws;
- Powers, practice and procedure of Federal Supreme Court;
- Appeals to Federal Supreme Court from Sharia Court of Appeal and Court of Resolution.
Advantages or Merits of 1960 Independence Constitution
- The granting of residual powers to the regions strengthened the regional governments in relation to the central government.
- The parliamentary system adopted under the constitution was simple and easy to understand and above all, it was in conformity with our traditional political system.
- Elections to the various public offices at all levels were conducted by an independent electoral commission. The adoption of the single-member constituencies encouraged the emergence of large and few parties thereby bringing together various groups and interests across the country.
- The revenue allocation formula which was based principally on derivation enabled each region to develop at its own pace.
- The 1960 Constitution created the Nigerian State.
- The fact that each region had its own constitution was a recognition of the diverse nature of the Nigerian federation. This helped to reduce the stifling tendency towards uniformity as often seen in pseudo federations.
- The introduction of the federal system of government ensured respect for the feelings of the local people and the promotion of national interest.
Disadvantages or Demerits
- The enormous powers granted to the federal parliament during an emergency meant that any region which exercised its executive authority to obstruct the Federal Government might be sanctioned. This was what happened in the Western Region in 1962 when a state of emergency was declared in the region by the Federal Government.
- The constitution succeeded only in granting political independence to Nigeria but failed to address important political issues such as the minority problem and the political integration of the country.
- A glance at the distribution of powers between the central government and the regional governments showed that the Federal Government was more powerful than the regional governments.
- The Constitution failed to specify the number of ministers to be appointed and, whether or not their appointment should reflect the federal character of Nigeria.
The 1960 independence constitution was later replaced by the Republican constitution of 1963 which substituted the Governor-General (appointed by the British monarch) with a President elected directly by members of the Nigerian federal legislature.
The independence constitution of 1960 was rigid, i.e. it was difficult to amend. You can download the full 1960 independence constitution PDF below.
Thanks for reading
- C. C. Dibie; Essential Government for Senior Secondary Schools; Tonad Publishers; August 2008
- Law Nigeria- Constitution Hub; [Accessed- Oct. 2, 2015]
- The Nigerian Constitution: History and Development; Oluwole I Odumosu; London, Sweet; Maxwell, 1963
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