The 1989 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was unique in many respects. Unlike previous ones, the 1989 Constitution was never fully implemented. In other words, it did not lead to the total disengagement of the military from politics.
Though local government, legislative, gubernatorial and presidentialelections were held at different times during the long period of transition and elected officials at different levels actually assumed office, the presidential election was inconclusive and eventually cancelled by the IbrahimBabangidamilitary administration.
In the events that followed, the militarypresident, General Babangida was forced to “step aside” and he was replaced by an Interim National Government headed by ChiefErnest Sogunle Shonekan.
Apart from the unwillingness of the military government to hand over to civilians, some of the causes of this constitutional and political stalemate could be traced to the process of preparing and drafting the 1989 Constitution.
Backround to the 1989 Constitution
Following the military coup of 31st December, 1983 which led to the emergence of Major General Muhammed Buhari as Head of State, the 1979 Constitution was suspendend and political activities were banned throughout the country.
The government, however, did not articulate any clear programme for the return of power to civilians before it was overthrown in a palace coup led by Major General Ibrahim Babangida, the then Chief of Army Staff on 27th August, 1985.
The new military leader, General Babangida quickly assumed the title of President of the country, a title which was ordinarily reserved for a democratically-elected Head of State.
This novel situation appeared innocuous at the time but subsequent events showed that the assumption of the title of President by General Babangida was a deliberate political strategy designed to show that the junta was not in a hurry to leave office and to sigmfy the political direction of the government.
Although the Babangida Government publicly announced a detailed transition programme which was expected to return the country to civil rule in 1990, the implementation of the programme, however, betrayed its intention. The steps formulated to return power to civilians were not new and included the following.
Establishment of the Political Bureau
As part of the return to civil rule programme, the Babangida military regime established the Political Bureau in 1986. The Bureau was mandated to collate the views of Nigerians on a constitutional framework and to recommend an appropriate form of government for Nigeria.
The chairman of the small committee was ProfessorEme Awa. Other members of the body included ProfessorSam Oyovbaire and Dr.Edwin Madunagu.
The Bureau submitted its report later that year, but it did not achieve much because those who actually produce the wealth of the nation don’t really participate in debates.
Establishment of Constitution Review Committee
In pursuance of its declared objective of returning the country to civil rule, the Federal Military Government set up a Constitution Review Committee (CRC) in 1987 to review the existing 1979 Constitution and the Report of the Political Bureau and come up with proposals for a new constitution that would adequately address the problems and shortcomings that made previous constitutions unworkable.
The Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee was JusticeMuhammadu Buba Ardo. The CRC submitted its report to government in 1987.
Inauguration of Constituent Assembly
After the CRC had completed its work, PresidentIbrahim Babangida, on Wednesday 11th May, 1988, in Abuja, at the new federal capital, formally inaugurated a 563 – member Constituent Assembly (CA) to deliberate on the draft constitution submitted by the CRC and make recommendations to the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), the nation’s highest decision-making body.
This was an unwieldy body which could not be expected to achieve much.
Four hundred and fifty (450) members of the Constituent Assembly were elected directly by the people and the remaining 113 members were nominated by the Federal Military Government to represent various interests such as traditional rulers, women and professionals.
Mr.Justice A.N.C. Aniagolu, a retired Supreme Court judge was appointed as the chairman of the Constituent Assembly by the Federal Military Government. JusticeBuba Ardo served as the Deputy Chairman of the CA and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe was its Secretary.
At the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, General Babangida listed issues which were not subject to debate at the Constituent Assembly. These were sometimes referred to as “no go areas”.
They included creation of states, alteration of local government boundaries, federalism, presidentialism, the adoption of any religion as state religion, fundamental human rights, two party system, the disqualification of certain politicians from participation in politics and freedom of the press.
It was not clear why so many subjects were excluded from deliberation at the Assembly, but the effect of this exclusion on the 1989 Constitution could not be underestimated.
The Constituent Assembly submitted the draft constitution to the Federal Military Government at Abuja on Wednesday, ~ 5th April, 1989. After extensive deliberations on the draft constitution by the Armed Forces Ruling Council, the constitution was promulgated in October 1989.
Features of the 1989 Constitution
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Advantages and Disadvantages of the 1989 Constitution Of Nigeria
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