Features of the Third Republican – 1989 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria
The features of the 1989 Constitution may be summarized as follows:
Retention and Federal System of Government
Like the previous ones, the 1989 Constitution retained Nigeria as a Federal Republic comprising 21 states and the Federal Capital Teritory, Abuja.
Presidential System of Government
The 1989 Constitution provided for a presidential system of government in which the President was the Head of State, Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.
A candidate for the office must be a Nigerian by birth and have attained the age of 35 years. It also provided for the direct election of the President and Vice President for a term of four years. They could only seek re-election once.
The Constitution stipulated that the election of a President must be held not earlier than 90 days nor later than 60 days before the expiration of his term. The President was deemed to have been duly elected if he had majority of the votes cast at the election and he had not less than one-third of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of all the states of the federation.
To avoid the pitfall of the 1979 Constitution in which the meaning of “two-thirds of all the states of the federation” was a matter of legal controversy, the 1989 Constitution specified that in the computation of two-thirds of all the states of the federation or one-third of the votes cast in a state, as the case may be, where results are in fractions, the figure obtained must be rounded up to the next higher whole number.
The Constitution also made provision for the following matters relating to the presidential system;
(i) Appointment of Ministers
The 1989 Constitution stipulated that in the appointment of ministers, the President must reflect the federal character of Nigeria. And a person being considered for appointment as a minister must be qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives. The Senate had to approve the appointment of ministers who were responsible to the President.
(ii) Appointment of Special Advisers
The President could appoint a maximum of three Special Advisers who must possess the same qualifications as ministers.
(iii) Declaration of Assets
The Constitution provided that the President and all other public officers including legislators must declare their assets before taking office.
(iv) Removal of President from Office
The President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors could be removed from office through a process of impeachment or on account of permanent incapacity.
(v) Establishment of Federal Executive Bodies
The Constitution provided for the establishment of certain federal executive bodies including the Public Complaints Commission, National Population Commission and the National Electoral Commission. The president had the power to appoint the members of these bodies
The National Assembly
As in the 1979 Constitution, the National Assembly comprised the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate had 64 members, the smallest size in the post-military era. Each of the 21 states elected three senators while the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja had one elected Senator.
The House of Representatives consisted of 453 members elected from single member constituencies.
(i) Qualification for Membershi of the National Assembly
To qualify for election as a member of the Senate, a candidate must be a citizen of Nigeria, possess a minimum of Secondary School Certificate and be at least 30 years old.
A prospective member of the House of Representatives must also be Nigerian citizen, be at least 25 years old and be educated up to Secondaly School Certificate Level.
Although the 1989 Constitution required the President to be a Nigerian citizen by birth, there was no such rigorous requirement for membership of the National Assembly. Any Nigerian citizen, whether by birth, by naturalization or registration, could aspire to become a member of the National Assembly under the 1989 Constitution.
The educational requirement of a Secondary School Certificate was also a new provision, Law-making is a serious business which requires that a minimum level of literacy should be attained.
- (ii) Procedure for Law Making
Any bill initiated and approved by a house of the National Assembly must also be forwarded to the othe house for debate and enactment before it could be sent to the President for assent. Where the two houses disagreed on a particular aspect of a bill, a joint sitting of the two houses must be held to resolve the differences. The President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, where the former was unavailable, presided over the joint meeting of the two houses.
The President was required to assent to a bill forwarded to him by the National Assembly within 30 days. Where he withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each house by two-thirds majority, the bill automatically becomes a law and the assent of the president shall no longer be required.
(iii) Part-time Law-making
The Constitution made provision for the payment of a sitting allowance to members of the National Assembly. The payment covered only the number of days he was present in the house. The provision for part-time law making was a novel provision which was remarkable for its cost-saving benefits.
(iv) Cessation of Membership of the National Assembly
A member of either house could lose his seat if:
- He became a member of another house.
- There arose a circumstance which might have caused him to be disqualified for election as a member of the house.
- He ceased to be a citizen of Nigeria.
- He was elected or appointed to any other important political office.
- He was appointed as a member of a commission.
- He absented himself from meetings for a period amounting, in the aggregate, to more than one sixth (1/6th) of the total number of days during which the house met in a year.
- He resigned from the party which sponsored his election to the house or became the member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which the house was elected.
- He became a member of a secret society.
- He had been recalled by his constituency.
(v) Recall of Members
As observed above, recall was one of the conditions which could lead a member to vacate his seat. The 1989 Constitution stipulated the following process of recall.
a) The Chairman of the National Electoral Commission receives a petition signed by more than one-half of the persons registered to vote in a member’s constituency in which they allege their loss of coniidence 1n the member.
b) Within 90 days of the receipt of the petition, the National Electoral Commission holds a referendum in that constituency and a simple majority of the electorate approves the petition.
As in previous constitutions, the judiciary was vested with the judicial powers of the federation. The structure, powers, functions and funding of the judiciary under the 1989 constitution were similar to those in the 1979 Constitution.
Structure of State Government
Like the penultimate constitution, under the 1989 Constitution the state executive was headed by the Governor. The Deputy Governor was elected on the same ticket with the Governor.
To be eligible for election as Governor or Deputy Governor, a candidate must be a Nigerian citizen by birth, be at least 30 years old and hold at least a Secondary School Certificate.
State Commissioners assisted the Governor in the discharge of his executive functions. A commissioner must be a person who was qualified for election to the State House of Assembly. The State House of Assembly must ratify the appointment of State Commissioners.
The State House of Assembly made laws for the state. The Speaker presided over the House of Assembly. Both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker were elected by members of the House.
Under the constitution, each State House of Assembly had twice the number of seats the state had in the House of Representatives. The qualifications for membership of the house were that the candidate must be a citizen of Nigeria, have attained the age of 25 and have a minimum of Secondary School Certificate.
Like members of the National Assembly, the members of a State House of Assembly served on part-time basis and were elected for a four-year term which could be renewed.
The state’s judiciary was headed by the Chief Judge of the state.
Under the 1989 Constitution, as in the 1979 Constitution, the local government was the third tier of government. But the constitution, this time around, established 449 local governments for the country.
Each local government had a minimum of ten wards and a maximum of 20 wards. The council was headed by the Chairman and he was assisted by the Vice Chairman and both of them were jointly elected by the electorate in the council area. A candidate seeking election as chairman must be a Nigerian citizen and be at least 25 years old.
A councilor represented a ward. A councilor must be a Nigerian citizen and at least 21 years old.
The constitution made provision for the appointment of Supervisory Councilors. A Supervisory Councillor served as a Head of Department.
The constitution recognized only two political parties, namely, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). They were established and sponsored by the Federal Military Government.
The Constitution established three sets of tribunals to handle election petitions. They were the;
- Presidential Election Tribunal
- Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunal
- Local Government Election Tribunal
There were no such election tribunals under the 1979 Constitution as the power to determine whether a person had been validly elected to an office was vested in the high courts and appellate courts.