The Nigerian 1963 Republican Constitution

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The 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria | Background, Features, Pros & Cons

The 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria | Background, Features, Pros & Cons
The 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria | Background, Features, Pros & Cons

The 1963 Republican Constitution came into effect on 1st October, 1963. This constitution and other subsequent post-independence constitutions are distinguishable from the previous ones by the fact that they are drafted by Nigerians for Nigerians.

It was however, the imperfections of the 1960 Independence Constitution and the desire by Nigerians to take full control of the running of their own affairs, in particular, that led to the preparation and eventual promulgation of the 1963 Constitution.

The factors that shaped the formation of the constitution are now explained in turn.

Demand for Reform in Nigeria

At an address he gave at Nsukka in November 1961, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Governor-General called for a review of the Independence Constitution to provide for a President that would be elected by the Senate and the House of Representatives as a replacement for the monarchical system in which the Queen of England was represented in Nigeria by the Governor General as the ceremonial Head of State.

The position of Dr. Azikiwe was clear – Nigeria should be a Republic.

The address stirred a major political controversy among Nigerian politicians, and especially in the coalition government formed by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Dr. Azikiwe’s party, the NCNC.

The NPC which was the senior partner in the first post-independence government suspected the motive for the address, especially, since the Governor-General was supposed to be above partisan politics. In any case, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had made known his views and his position on any political issue could not be dismissed with a wave of hand.

The 1963 Constitutional Conference (Lagos, Nigeria)

The 1963 Constitutional Conference was held in Lagos on 26th July, 1953. The main objective of the conference was to discuss a proposal submitted by the Federal Government for the transformation of the country into a Federal Republic.

The Conference agreed that:

  1. Nigeria should become a Federal Republic within the Commonwealth.
  2. The Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be established but the position should be similar to that of the Governor General under the Independence Constitution.
  3. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Governor-General should be the first holder of the office but subsequently, the President should be elected for a five year term by members of the Senate and House of Representatives sitting together.
  4. The Supreme Court should become the highest court of appeal in Nigeria and appeals should no longer go to the Privy Council London.
  5. The Judicial Service Commission should be abolished and Judges should henceforth be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  6. The proposal to give the federal parliament power to enact a Preventlve Detention Act restraining personal liberty in certain circumstances should be withdrawn.

The recommendations of the Constitutional Conference were accepted and enacted into law by the Senate and the House of Representatives and this became the Republican Constitution which came into effect on 1st October, 1963.

Merits of the 1963 Constitution of Nigeria

Advantages of 1963 Republican Constitution in Nigeria are;

  • Republican form of government: The constitution gave Nigeria a republican form of government, based on elections to political positions in government.
  • An elected president: The Queen of England ceased to be Nigeria’s Head of state. An elected president became the Head of state.
  • Home made constitution: First Republican Constitution was fully a home made constitution.
  • Final court of appeal: The Supreme Court became the final court of appeal.
  • Fundamental human rights: The rights of citizens were fully entrenched and guaranteed.
  • Power of judicial review: The Supreme Court was given the power to check the excesses or unconstitutional actions of the executive and the legislature.
  • Political participation: Nigerians were now fully involved in the decision making process of the country.
  • Free from external interference: British undue external influence on the country ceased.

Demerits of the 1963 Republican Constitution In Nigeria

The 1963 Republican Constitution in Nigeria had the following disadvantages:

  • No supremacy of the constitution: There was no supremacy of the constitution but of the parliament.
  • Accountable to the parliament: The prime minister was accountable to the parliament and not to the people.
  • Abuse of power: The supremacy of the parliament resulted in abuse of power or arbitrary use of power by the legislature.
  • The election of the president: This was not based on the decision of the majority but the minority.
  • Lobbying or bribery and corruption: These characterised the election of the President by the two Houses of parliament.
  • Fusion of power: The executive and the legislature were both fused. It did not make for effective performance.
  • Carpet-crossing: It was a common feature of the First Republic. Politicians were shifting party allegiance for some rewards.

Functions are the President (Head-of-State) Under the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria

  • Head of state: As the head of state, he performed ceremonial functions.
  • Leader of the party: He appointed the leader of the party that won majority seats in parliament at the general election as the prime minister.
  • Dissolution of the House of Representatives: With the advice of the prime minister, he dissolved the House of Representatives after a vote of no confidence had been passed.
  • Council of ministers: He authorized any members of the council of ministers to perform the functions of the Prime Minister when the latter was absent or incapacitated.
  • Approval: He approved all the Prime Minister’s appointments or nominees into political positions.
  • Assent: He assented or signed into law all the bills passed by the parliament.
  • Advice: On the advice of the parliament, he could remove judges, directors of audit from office.
  • Treaties or agreements: He approved treaties or agreements made with other countries on behalf of the country.
  • He addressed the parliament at the beginning and end of the legislative year.
  • State of emergency: He had the power to declare a state of emergency or war in the time of emergency.
  • He summoned, prorogued and dissolved parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • Appointment: He appointed parliamentary secretaries from among the senators and members of the House of Representatives.
  • Prerogative of mercy: He had the power to show anyone mercy as he wished.
  • Commander-in-Chief: As the Commander-in-Chief, he controlled the Armed Forces.
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