The Constitution Of Nigeria And Its Importance
A constitution is a primary document used for managing the country’s affairs democratically. It also is aimed at protecting human rights. In this article, we are going to discuss the importance of the constitution in Nigeria.
A constitution is also a set of principles that can be written or unwritten to help in the governance of the country. The constitution is designed to define in either explicit or implicit way the operational boundary of all the organs of the government.
If we could imagine a country without any democratic guidelines on how to govern it, there would be no limitations on the government’s actions which would make the country unstable. The main reason for establishing the constitution is to set suitable principles to rule the organs of the government democratically. A realistic and actively implemented constitution is the source of peace and stability in the country.
IMPORTANCE OF CONSTITUTION FOR A COUNTRY
The importance of the constitution is difficult to deny. The first reason is it protects various individuals’ rights and freedoms. The constitution puts the power to rule the country in the citizens’ hands. On the other hand, it is called to limit the power of the government and establish a check and balance system.
The main function of the constitution is to establish the structure of the government. In the constitution, there should be described the major organs of government. They include the legislature, executive and judiciary organs. The constitution is expected to differentiate the responsibilities between the branches and regulate the relationship between them.
Given the fact that the country’s constitution is over all the laws of the country, any law issued by the ruling legislative organ has to conform with the constitution which is the main law. For example, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria ensures the protection of various institutions by the Public Complaints Commission Act, the National Youth Service legislation, the National Securities Agencies Act, the Land Use Act, and so on.
The constitution both provides instruction for effective governance and deals with limitations on power. As there always exists a danger of the abuse of power, a constitution is established to restrict it by the members of the government.
The constitution of the country also describes the national plan of democratic development which forms the main basis of the nation. For example, the constitution of a particular country may inscribe in it the primary values of the nation such as socialism, democracy, territorial unity, and national integration. Apart from focusing on the rights of the citizens of the particular nation, the constitution also embeds the duties that the citizens are required to adhere to.
The importance of the constitution can be determined on the basis of economics. This is the legal document that gives validity to every institution. Whether it is a company or organisation, it is always linked to the constitution. The companies have to function according to the laws included in the constitution. Even their existence should be somehow regulated and approved by this law.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION OF NIGERIA
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution (Fourth Republic Constitution) is the supreme law of Nigeria. While it is the main book of laws, not all the laws in Nigeria are contained in this constitution. This is the well-known fact that the constitution is not a unification of all the laws of the country, on the opposite, it is the most general of the country’s laws. Most of them are used for administrative purposes.
Nigerian Constitution is designed to reflect the peculiarities of the federal character of Nigeria. It claims that no person from one state can discriminate the citizen from another. Also, ethnic or other groups should follow the democratic laws in the same way. The constitution of Nigeria also states the procedure of becoming a citizen of Nigeria and renouncing his/her citizenship.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria states that to be a Senator you would have to be 35 years old or more, to be a member of the House of Representatives, one has to be at least 30 years old and to be a President, a person should be at least 40 years old. The Constitution also is expected to lay down all the processes including the election of a President, Prime Minister as well as the process for the impeachment of a President and his Vice-President. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria also sets out the process for establishing political parties as well as the roles of the various judges of different levels and the criteria for their election.
The functions of the constitution of Nigeria include protecting human rights of all Nigerian citizens which are the following:
- Right to life: “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” (33.1)
- Right to personal liberty: “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty” (35.1)
- Right to dignity: “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person” (34.1)
- Right to privacy: “The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected”(37)
- Right to fair hearing: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality” (36.1)
- Right to freedom of expression: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference” (39.1)
- Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion: “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” (38.1)
- Right to freedom of movement within Nigeria: “Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria” (41.2 (a))
- Right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria” (43) and other.
1999 Constitution of Nigeria after the overthrow of military rule which took place in the country for 33 years. This constitution restored democratic rule in Nigeria. Since then, it remains in force. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan signed 3 amendments to the 1999 Constitution.
The previous 1963 Constitution appeared not able to protect Nigerian citizens. The main problem Nigerian people tried to solve was corruption taking place in most governmental institutions and ruining the whole society. When the period of military rule ended, the process of democratic development began. This change was supported by a new constitution.
While the current Nigerian constitution was expected to implement new rules for running the country, it was not accepted. It even caused a wave of agitations and protests across the country that called for a return to the 1963 Constitution, which claimed the principles of federalism. Today, Nigeria is still working on establishing democratic rule.
While the first, second and third amendments to the 1999 Constitution were signed, they didn’t deal with the core issues responsible for the federation form of government. One of the most contradicting sections in the Nigeria constitution is exactly about federalism which implies adoption of the present 774 Local Government Areas as part of the federating units: “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory” (chapter 1, section 2 (2)).
The problem with federalism in Nigeria is of great importance. It consists in the fact that the country includes three tribes, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. These ethnic groups make Nigeria a fractured land. Igbo people have undertaken a lot of attempts aimed at establishing their own independent country which even led to Nigerian-Biafran civil war. In 1970, this war ended, and the 1969 Constitution established federalism.
1999 Constitution of Nigeria had a significant influence on the further development of Nigeria. It is still in force which means that it contains laws enabling stable development of the country.