Features of the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The conference which became the last constitutional conference held before the attainment of Independence took place in London from September 29 to October 27, 1958.
The conference resolved, among other issues, that the Northern part of Nigeria should be self-governing by 1959 and that if a resolution was passed by the parliament asking for independence, in 1960, then her majesty government would propose a bill of independence in 1960.
In December 1959, a nation-wide general election was held into the Federal House of Representatives. In the election, no single party won an overall majority as was the case in 1954 while in September, 1960, the parliament had enacted a law on Nigeria‘s independence.
Features of the Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The Independence Constitution of 1960 made provision for the following.
- Promulgation of Federal and Regional Constitutions
- Introduction of Federal System of Government
- Establishment of Bi-cameral Legislature
- Introduction of Parliamentary system of Government
- Council of Ministers
- Supreme Court
- Fundamental Rights and Nigerian Citizenship
- Revenue Allocation
- Electoral Commission
- Regional Legislature
- Emergency Provisions
- Constitutional Amendment
Promulgation of Federal and Regional Constitutions
The 1960 Independence Constitution made provision for federal and regional constitutions. The existence of different constitutions at different levels of government demonstrated the existence of a true federation in the country.
Introduction of Federal System of Government
Although the federal system of government was first introduced by the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, the system of government was retained and amplified by the 1960 Independence Constitution.
There was division of powers between Federal and Regional Governments. The Federal Government was given power to legislate on subjects in the Exclusive List (such as; Defence, External affairs, Currency, Customs etc.), while both federal and regional governments were empowered to make laws on subjects in the Concurrent List (e.g. Education, Health, Transportation, etc).
According to the constitution, where there was a conflict between federal and regional laws on any matter in the concurrent list, the federal law prevailed.
On the other hand, the Residual Legislative List was reserved for the regional governments. It contained subjects which did not appear on the exclusive and concurrent lists.
Establishment of Bi-cameral Legislature
One major innovation of the Independence Constitution was the establishment of the Senate and House of Representatives at the centre. The Senate had 45 members.
The composition was as follows:
- The President of Senate;
- 12 members representing Eastern Region;
- 12 members representing Northem Region;
- 12 members representing Western Region;
- 4 members representing Lagos;
- 4 members representing special interests.
The President of the Senate could be elected from within or outside the House. The Senate would have 45 members if its president was not a member of the House.
The Governor-General appointed the four Special members and the four Lagos Senators. A person was qualified for election to the Senate if he was at least 40 years old. The Governor General could, however, select a Person as senator if he was 21 years old and was not a Nigerian citizen.
The House of Representatives comprised 312 members elected from Single-member constituencies. The number of the members of the House Could be 312 where the Speaker himself was not a member of the House.
A prospective member must be at least 21 year old. The House exercised concurrent powers with the upper house but money bills must originate from the House of Representatives.
Introduction of Parliamentary system of Government
The 1960 Independence Constitution provided for a parliamentary system of government. The Governor-General, who represented the Queen, was the Ceremonial Head of State. The Prime Minister served as the Head of Government. The Governor-General appointed the Prime Minister who was usually the leader of the party with the largest majority in parliament.
In the same vein, each region had a Governor and a Premier. The Governor appointed as Premier the leader of the political party with majority in the Regional House of Assembly.
Council of Ministers
There was provision for a Council of Ministers which was headed by the Prime Minister. The Governor-General appointed the ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. Similarly, the Regional Governor appointed the regional cabinet on the recommendation of the Premier.
The first cabinet at the federal level had 18 members or ministers (10 from the NPC and 8 from the NCNC). This first post-independence government was formed by the NPC and NCNC coalition. The Action Group (AG) was the official opposition and it had a shadow cabinet.
The Constitution provided for the establishment of the Supreme Court which was the highest court in Nigeria. Final appeals could nevertheless be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. Judges of the Supreme Court were appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.
The judges could only be dismissed on the recommendations of a Tribunal of Judges. But the recommendations had to be approved by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The Supreme Court had the power of judicial review. To ensure the independence of the judges, they were paid from the Consolidated Fund.
The Constitution provided that revenue allocation should be based on derivation, need, national interest and balanced development.
Fundamental Rights and Nigerian Citizenship
The fundamental human rights of Nigerians were enshrined in the Constitution. It also made provision for Nigerian citizenship.
Provision was made for an electoral commission which had responsibility to conduct all elections in the whole federation.
The Electoral Commission of Nigeria comprised the Electoral Commissioner (head of the Commission) and one member from each region. The members of the Commission were appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Their tenure was five years.
Each region had a House of Assembly and a House of Chiefs.
The constitution conferred emergency powers on the Federal Government. In other words, the Federal Government could declare a state of emergency in any part of Nigeria if any or both houses, of the National Assembly, declared by a two-thirds majority, “that democratic institutions in Nigeria are threatened by subversion”.
The constitution contained a procedure for constitutional amendment. The amendment procedure was rigid.