The 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria | 4th Republican Constitution In Nigeria
The 1999 Constitution which ushered in the Fourth Republic of Nigeria came into force on 29th May, 1999. It is perhaps the most criticised constitution in the political history of Nigeria as it has been the butt of criticism from different factions of the ruling class, the labour, students, etc.
As a result, several attempts have been made to reframe the constitution to bring it in line with the yearning and aspirations of Nigerians. In particular, an All-Party Committee was set up by the Federal Government in 2000 to collate the views of Nigerians on the problems and shortcomings of the constitution.
The National Assembly has also made several attempts to review the constitution. The Federal Government under President Obasanjo established the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in February 2005 to review the 1999 Constitution and make recommendations that would make it more effective.
And in March 2006, the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the constitution led by Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu (popularly called Mantu’s Committee) solicited the views of Nigerians on the constitutional proposals in the six geo-political zones of the country. The committee eventually presented its report to the National Assembly for deliberation.
In April 2006, the, Federal Government presented to the National Assembly a bill for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. The bill contained about 116 different amendments including proposals for state creation, increase of the 13 percent derivation and elongation of tenure of Chief Executives at federal and state levels.
The omnibus bill was rejected by the National Assembly in May 2006 largely because of the controversy and tension generated by the proposal to increase the tenure of public officers. In 2007, the newly-elected Senate surprised many people when the Senate President, David Mark announced that a review of the Constitution was, top on its agenda.
In fulfillment of this commitment, the National Assembly successfully amended a few sections of the constitution in 2010 after the crises generated by the illness and abandonment of duty post by the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
The proposal by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan after the April 2011 general elections for a fixed term of office for the President, Governors etc, predictably generated a lot of tension, not because the proposal in itself was bad especially given the high cost of conducting elections in the country but largely because of the deep-rooted suspicion in the political system. The proposal was prematurely dropped.
Background to the 1999 Fourth Republican Constitution
In general terms, it is easy to say that the 1999 Constitution is largely borrowed from the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions. This observation may not be off the mark as the 1999 Constitution retained many aspects of these constitutions which are themselves not free from criticism.
The 1999 Constitution retained among other things, the principles of republicanism, federalism, presidentialism and multipartyism. But there were certain important developments in the polity which led to the promulgation of the 1999 Constitution. Some of these political events are explained below.
Constitutional Conference of 1995
The 1995 Constitutional Conference was convened by the military government of General Sani Abacha ostensibly to douse, the tension created by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. At the inauguration of the Conference in 1995, the Head of State, General Abacha gave the Conference the following terms of reference:
a) To deliberate upon the structure of the Nigerian nation-state, working out modalities for ensuring good governance, and to devise for Nigerians a system of government guaranteeing equal opportunities.
b) To strengthen the instruments governing the judiciary, law enforcement and security agencies with appropriate constitutional instruments.
c) To identify and rectify the systematic fault lines which allow for military intervention.
The 1995 Constitutional Conference was widely boycotted in several parts of Nigeria, especially in Southwestern Nigeria where the people felt cheated over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections which were said to have been won by their kin, Chief M.K.O. Abiola. In spite of this the outcome of the conference had some effects on the 1999 Constitution.
The recommendations of the conference especially on party formation, revenue allocation, creation of states and creation of geo-political zones were predictably not implemented by the Abacha Administration which quickly arrested some leading members of the conference including the late Major General Musa Shehu Yar’Adua and some other political opponents of his regime and charged them for coup plotting because they asked him to return power to civilians.
Death of General Sani Abacha
It was the sudden death of the Head of State General – Sani Abacha on 8th June, 1998 that probabfy had the greatest effect on the shape and form of the 1999 Constitution. Before his demise, Abacha had attempted to transmute himself into a civilian president.
In order to achieve this seemingly unpopular political objective, the military regime muzzled the opposition, banned several newspapers and magazines, curtailed the rights of citizens and harassed, detained or even sometimes killed political opponents (as in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight Ogoni human right activists), and defied the international community.
Five political parties (described by the late Chief Bola Ige as “five fingers of a leperous hand”) organized, sponsored and registered by government agents acquiesced to the nomination of General Abacha as the sole candidate for the presidential elections slated for the end of 1998.
The unanimous decision of the five political parties to pick Abacha as their presidential candidate appeared strange but it was a reflection of the level of political decay in the Nigeria state at the time.
Perhaps, the political class had no choice given the high level of state sponsored violence and the determination of General Abacha to become a civilian president. In any case, the sudden death of Abacha, the arrow head of the transition programme, threw all political calculations into disarray and created a new political atmosphere in which the country had to start again.
Drafting and Promulgation of the 1999 4th Republican Constitution
As a result of the death of General Sani Abacha, a new military government headed by General Abdusalami Abubakar was immediately sworn in as Head of State. The new government was desirous of handing over to a democratically elected government as soon as possible.
Consequently, a new transitional programme was hurriedly put together and a few technocrats were drafted to prepare a new constitution under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Niki Tobi of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the committee which was largely apoltical did not have the time to consult Nigerians on the kind of constitution they desired. The 1999 Constitution was delivered under these abnormal conditions set in motion by the sudden death of General Abacha.
Surprisingly, the formation of political parties, the nomination and selection of candidates for election, the electioneering Campaigns, the conduct of the various elections and other political activities were carried out by the politicians who had never seen a copy of the constitution.
They were obviously in a hurry to capture power from military stranglehold. It is like playing a game of football without knowing the rules. The constitution came into effect on 29th May, 1999.
Features of the 1999 Constitution In Nigeria
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Advantages and the Disadvantages of the 1999 Constitution
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Amendments of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria – 4th Republic
First Amendment of the 1999 Constitution
A few amendments were made to the 1999 constitution in 2010. But one amendment stands out as most important. The sudden demise of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010 after a protracted illness actually informed the urgent imperative to make changes to the constitution. After invoking the doctrine of necessity that saw it recognise Yar’Adua’s deputy, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Acting President even without a formal letter from the ailing president to that effect as required by the 1999 constitution, The National Assembly subsequently amended Section 145 of the constitution.
The new section stipulates a maximum of 14 days for the President to be away without officially transferring power to the Vice President or this would be done on his behalf by a simple majority of the Senate.