Features of the 1963 Republican Constitution In Nigeria
The prime minister and regional premiers met in May, 1963 in order to discuss and settle constitutional issues. So, the conference of heads of government of Nigeria agreed to summon an all-party constitutional conference in Lagos to suggest to it, important changes in the constitution.
The all-party conference met in July, 1963 and agreed that Nigeria should become a republic and that the president of the republic should have the same powers and functions as the Governor-General under the Independence Constitution.
Features of the Republican Constitution of 1963
The 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria had the following features.
- Establishment of the Federal Republic
- Introduction of Parliamentary System of Government
- Creation of Office of President
- Federal Parliament
- Distribution of Powers
- The Executive
- The Judiciary
- Relationship Between Federal and Regional Constitutions
- Regional Constitutions
- Amendment of the Constitution
Establishment of the Federal Republic
The 1963 Republican Constitution provided for the establishment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria comprising four regions and the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos. The regions were Eastern Region, Northern Region, Western Region and the Mid-Western Region created in August, 1963.
Creation of Office of President
The 1963 Republican Constitution created the Office of President. The President was Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He had no real executive powers.
The President was elected by the Senate and the House of Representatives sitting together as an electoral college and voting by secret ballot. The President could also be removed by the two houses in the same manner.
To be eligible for election as President, a candidate must be at least 40 years old. He was required to serve for a term of five years and could only be re-elected for a further term of another five years.
The President of the Senate acted for the Nigerian President whenever the office became vacant.
Introduction of Parliamentary System of Government
Like the Independence Constitution of 1960, the 1963 Republican Constitution adopted the parliamentary system of government in which power was shared between the President and Prime Minister. The President was a nominal Head of State while the Prime Minister was the Head of Government.
The Federal Parliament comprised the President of the country, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The President must assent to any law made by the legislature before it could have effect.
The Senate had 56 members or 57 members where the President of the Senate was selected from outside the House. The composition of the Senate was as follows:
- President of Senate (Presiding officer)
- 12 members represented Eastern Region
- 12 members represented Mid-Western Region
- 12 members represented Northern Region
- 12 members represented Western Region
- 4 members represented Lagos
- 4 ex-officio members appointed by the Prime Minister.
The House of Representatives had 312 members as in the Independence Constitution. The membership of the House could be 313 if the Speaker was not elected from it. As in the 1960 Constitution, the minimum age for membership of the House was 21. The voting age was 21 but the franchise was restricted to male adult citizens in the North.
Distribution of Powers
The distribution of powers between the federal and regional governments followed the same pattern in the Independence Constitution. The Federal Government dealt with subjects in the exclusive legislative list while the subjects in the residual list were reserved for the regional governments.
Both the federal and regional governments handled the matters in the concurrent list but the Federal Government law prevailed where it conflicted with any regional law.
The Constitution provided for an executive which comprised the President, Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. The President was the titular head of the executive. The Prime Minister was the real head of the executive.
As said before, the Prime Minister was appointed by the President. There was no limit to the tenure of the Prime Minister and he could remain in office for as long as he enjoyed the support of the majority in the Parliament.
The President appointed the ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. Similarly, the ministers could be removed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The President also assigned responsibilities to the ministers although the Prime Minister was the head of the Council of Ministers. The operation of the Council of Ministers was guided by the principle of collective responsibility.
Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court became the highest court of the land. The Supreme Court replaced the Privy Council as the highest court of appeal in Nigeria.
The President appointed the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts on the advice of the Prime Minister. This new arrangement did away with the past practice whereby judges were appointed on the recommendation of the Judicial Advisory Committee.
The Constitution made regional constitutions part of the constitution of the country. The regional constitutions were similar to the federal constitution in that equivalent federal political institutions and offices were also established for the regions.
Relationship Between Federal and Regional Constitutions
Provisions in the Federal Constitution are equivalent in Regional Constitutions. Below is a quick guide.
President is the same as Governor
Prime Minister is the same as Premier
Council of Ministers is the same as Executive Council
Parliament are called Regional Legislature in the Regional Constitutions
Senate is the same as House of Chiefs
House of Representatives are called House of Assembly
Act of Parliament is called Law in the Regional Constitutions.
Amendment of the Constitution
The 1963 Constitution was not only federal and republican; it was also written and rigid. The procedure for amending the constitution may be summarized as follows:
a) All proposals for amendment of the constitution required the support of a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament.
b) Any provision affecting the rights and powers of a region, or fundamental human rights, should in addition be approved by at least three regional legislatures.
c) To create a new region, the request should, in addition, to the above requirements be approved by three-fifths of the registered electorate in a referendum carried out in the affected area.