Features of the Fourth Republican – 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria
The main features of the 1999 Constitution include the following:
Under the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria remains a federation with three different levels of government, namely, federal, state and local governments.
The constitution provides for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and 36 states, namely Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi,Bay¢1sa, Benue, Bomo, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu,Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.
There is also provision for 774 local government councils.
Federal System of Government
As in the previous two constitutions, the 1999 Constitution provides for the presidential system of government. The President is the Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. The executive powers of the federation are vested in the President and he may exercise these powers either directly or through the Vice President and Ministers or other top public officials.
The Constitution requires the President to reflect the federal character in the appointment of his ministers. Constitutional provisions for the election of the President and Vice President are similar to those of the two military inspired constitutions.
Thus, a candidate running for an election as President must be a citizen of Nigerian, have attained the age of 40 years, possess a minimum of Secondary School Certificate and be sponsored by a political party.
Apart from these requirements, there are also a few other innovations in the presidential system adopted by the constitution. They include:
a) Appointment of Special Advisers
The President may appoint Special Advisers, but unlike the 1989 Constitution, the 1999 Constitution does not put any ceiling on the number of Special Advisers a President may appoint.
b) Declaration of Assets
Under the Constitution, the President, Vice President, Ministers and other top public office holders are under obligation to declare their assets and liabilities before taking office. The constitution is, however, silent on whether public officials should re-declare their assets at the expiration of their term of office and whether the declaration should be done publicly.
c) Removal of President From Office
The President or the Vice President may be removed from office for gross misconduct or on account of ill health.
1. Impeachment of the President
The President or the Vice President may be impeached for gross acts of misconduct. The process of impeachment is both legal and political. It involves several steps.
First, the President of the Senate receives a petition from at least one third of members of the National Assembly claiming that the President or Vice-president is guilty of allegations of gross misconduct.
Second, on receiving the written notice of the allegation, the President of the Senate makes a copy of the notice available to every member of the National Assembly. He also serves a copy on the public official being investigated.
Within 14 days of the receipt of the notice, each House of the National Assembly decides by a motion (that is, without debate} whether to investigate the allegation. The allegation is investigated if the motion is passed by more than two-thirds of the members of each House.
Within 7 days after the motion to investigate the allegation has been passed, the Senate President is required to mandate the Chief Justice of Nigeria to set up a panel of seven members to investigate the allegation. They should be men of unquestionable integrity who are not members of a political party or a legislative house or the public service.
The panel is required to submit its report within three months. If the panel reports that the allegation has not been proven, no further action will be taken on the matter. But where the report of the panel indicts the President, each house of the National Assembly shall vote on it within 14 days of the receipt of the report. If more than two-thirds of the members of each house support the motion for the removal of the President or Vice President, he stands removed immediately.
Under the constitution, the court can investigate whether the impeachment proceedings are proper or whether due process has been followed in the impeachment. But the court cannot investigate the substance of the allegation against the President and Vice President. The same impeachment proceedings may be applied by a State House of Assembly against the Governor or Deputy Governor.
2. Removal on Account of Ill-health
The National Assembly may also remove the President or Vice President on account of his inability to discharge the functions of his office as a result of ill-health, incapacity or abandonment of office or when he defects to another party.
However, it is easier for a camel to pass through a needles eye than for the National Assembly to impeach a president on account of ill-health as vividly demonstrated by the lethargy of the National Assembly to take prompt action when the late President Musa Yar’Adua travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment in November 2009. He returned to the country three month later.
Both the Governor and Deputy Governor can be so removed by the State House of Assembly in the same manner.
Composition and Powers of the National Assembly
The National Assembly comprises two houses, namely, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Like the 1989 Constitution, the Constitution provides for a 109 member Senate. Each state has three Senators while the Federal Capital Territory Abuja has only one. A person aspiring to be a Senator must be a Nigerian, have attained the age of 35 years, have a minimum of Secondary School Certificate and be a member of a political party.
Both the President of the Senate and the Deputy Senate President are elected by the members of the Senate from among themselves.
The House of Representatives has 360 members. A candidate who desires to be elected as a member of the House must be at least 30 years old. Other qualifications for membership of the house are similar to those of the Senate.
The President of the Senate presides at a joint sitting of both Houses, and the Speaker presides in his absence. The quorum for a joint meeting of both houses is one-third of the members. A sitting in either House of the National Assembly also has a quorum of one-third of the members. The National Assembly may veto a presidential refusal to assent to a bill if it is able to muster the support of two-thirds of its members.
The Constitution provides that every member of the National Assembly is paid a salary and other allowances as may be determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
The other constitutional provisions on the powers and functions of the National Assembly are similar to those in the 1989 Constitution.
The judicial power of the federation is vested in the courts. The Constitution provides for the following courts.
(a) The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court of the land. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary. The Supreme Court comprises the Chief Justice and 21 other Justices.
(b) Federal Court of Appeal
The Federal Court of Appeal is an intermediate appellate court comprising the President of the Court and 49 Justices. The Constitution stipulates that not less than three of the Justices should be learned in Islamic personal law and not less than three should be learned in customary law.
(c) Federal High Court
The Federal High Court is headed by the Chief Judge and it has a few other judges. The Federal High Court deals with cases involving the Federal Government and its agencies.
Other courts with equal jurisdiction with the Federal High Court are the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory. Abuja and the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
(d) State High Courts
The State High Court, the Sharia Court of Appeal and the Customary Court of Appeal are all state courts of equal jurisdiction. A state may decide to have either the Sharia Court of Appeal or the Customary Court of Appeal.
(e) Election Tribunals
Under the 1999 Constitution, two sets of election tribunals are established. The Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals are established in each state to hear and determine whether a person has been validly elected to the office of Governor or as a member of a federal state legislature. Appeals may be made to the Appeal Court which is the final arbiter in such cases.
On the other hand, the Federal Court of Appeal handles petitions in respect of the offices of President and Vice President. Petitioners who are not satisfied with the courts ruling may appeal to the Supreme Court.
Curiously, the Constitution does not stipulate any deadline for deciding election petitions. It is therefore possible for defendants to employ delay tactics in dealing with cases raised against them. This will not further the cause of justice. This omission was corrected in the First Amendment to the 1999 Constitution in 2010.
Federal Capital Territory
The Constitution declares Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, as the capital of Nigeria and the seat of the Federal Government.
Although Abuja is not a state, the Constitution stipulates that it should be treated as one of the states of the federation. The National Assembly makes laws for the territory and executive powers are vested in the President of the federation but, he may appoint a Ministers to exercise these powers on his behalf.
The territory has one Senator, four members of the House of Representatives and six area councils, which are not local governments as defined by the constitution.
Structure of State Government
The Governor is the Chief Executive of a state. He is assisted by the Deputy Governor and State Commissioners. To be eligible for election as Governor, a candidate must be a Nigerian citizen by birth, have attained the age of 35 years, be educated up to School Certificate level and be sponsored by a political party.
The Governor, like the President, holds office for four years and he can seek re-election for only one additional term.
The legislative powers of a state are vested in the State House of Assembly. A State House of Assembly has three or four times the number of seats the state has in the House of Representatives. A House of Assembly must have a minimum of 24 and maximum of 40 members.
A member of the House must be a Nigerian citizen, have attained the age of 30 years, be educated up to School Certificate level and be sponsored by a political party. The Speaker presides over the affairs of the House and he is assisted by the Deputy Speaker. The Speaker is elected by members from among themselves.
Establishment of Federal and State Executive Bodies
The Constitution provides for the establishment of a number of federal and state executive bodies. In particular the Constitution stipulates that the following bodies should be established at the federal level.
- Code of Conduct Bureau
- Council of State
- Federal Character Commission
- Federal Civil Service Commission
- Federal Judicial Service Commission
- Independent National Electoral Commission
- National Defence Council
- National Economic Council
- National Judicial Council
- National Population Commission
- National Security Council
- Nigeria Police Council
- Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission
The President appoints the Chairman and members of these federal executive bodies subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Local Government System
As said above, the 1999 Constitution provides for a local government system. The Constitution stipulates that members of the local government councils, including the Chairmen and councilors, should be democratically elected. The state government oversees the affairs of the councils. There are 774 local government areas in Nigeria today.
Creation of States
As in previous constitutions, the procedures for the creation of states are very strict. The conditions are similar to those in the 1989 Constitution. To create a state under conditions stipulated by the 1999 constitution is difficult and it is like a camel passing through a needle’s eye.
Secular Status of Nigeria
The Constitution specifically prohibits the adoption of any state religion in Nigeria.
The 1999 Constitution provides for a multi-party system and the registration of political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The conditions for party registration are liberal compared to those in previous constitutions.
The citizenship of Nigeria may be acquired by birth, naturalization and registration. The Constitution also provides for dual citizenship.
Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy
As in the 1979 and 1989 constitutions, the 1999 Constitution has provision for Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Essentially, these are the duties and responsibilities of the Governments to Nigerians.
Among other things, the state is required to promote democracy and social justice, reflect the federal character principle in all appointments, encourage national integration and discourage discrimination on account of place of origin, sex, religion, state, tribe, etc. – promote planned and balanced economic development and the economic wellbeing of all Nigerians, promote the ideals of freedom, equality and justice, promote equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels including free education at all levels and the promotion of national interest in foreign affairs.
Although these objectives are lofty: they cannot be enforced at law. For example, a student cannot go to court to assert his right to free education.
The Constitution stipulates that revenue allocation should be based on principles such as population, equality of states, internal income generation, land mass, terrain and population density. In addition, thirteen percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources is to be based on derivation.
The 1999 Constitution (in Section 308) also exempts persons holding the offices of President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor from prosecution for any civil or criminal act committed during his period of office. He cannot be arrested or imprisoned during that period.
This is obviously one of the most criticized provisions of the constitution but most of the criticisms have come from outside government.