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Advantages and Disadvantages of 1963 Republican Constitution (The Nigerian 1st Republic)
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.
Advantages of the Republican Constitution
The merits / advantages of the 1963 Republican Constitution included the following:
- A republican form of government
- First Home-made constitution
- An elected president
- Supreme Court as the final court of appeal
- Fundamental human rights
- Power of judicial review
- Political participation
- Free from external (British) interference
- The 1963 Republican Constitution was the first truly indigenous Nigerian constitution. The constitution was prepared and promulgated by a democratically elected Nigerian government.
- The rigidity of the Constitution ensured that laws were passed in accordance with due process and without disregard to public opinion.
- The constitution ensured that constitutional changes were not made to suit the temporary needs or interests favourable only to existing political situation.
- The rigorous process of amending the constitution prevented the permanent subordination of minority interests to the will of the majority. In other words, it was difficult for powerful groups to amend the constitution for selfish reasons.
- The provision for equal representation of the four regions in the Senate, and the power of the house to block a constitutional amendment helped to allay the fear of Northern domination.
- The parliamentary system of government was a useful political instrument for averting executive dictatorship.
- The Constitution provided the mechanisms (e.g. regional constitution) for the regions to run their own affairs with limited interference from the central government.
- The Constitution enhanced the status of Nigeria as a truly Independent state. For example, the constitution made the Supreme Court the highest court of appeal in the country.
The Disadvantages of 1963 Republican Constitution
The 1963 Republican Constitution has been criticised on the following grounds:
- No supremacy of the constitution, hence, the parliament enjoy excessive power.
- The Prime Minister is accountable to the parliament and not the people.
- The election of the president is based on minority.
- Abuse of power. Arbitrary use of power by the legislature.
- Lobbying, Bribery and corruption from the two House.
- The executive and the legislature functions were fused.
- The President was a mere titular head of state who reigned but did not rule. For example, the President had the power to appoint the Prime Minister but when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President refused to appoint Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister after the 31st December, 1964 federal election, he was put under such pressure that he had to cave in and reappoint Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister within four days. Remarkably, there was technically no government in Nigeria during the period – 31st December 1964 to 3rd January 1965.
- To remove the President from office, two-thirds majority of the two legislative houses was required but given the power configuration in the legislature it would have been very difficult to impeach (vote of no confidence) the President by constitutional means once he or she had been elected.
- The distribution of seats in the House of Representatives in which the Northern Region had more seats than the other three regions put together created what could be called an unbalanced federation.
- The possibility of forming a coalition government at the federal level was a limiting factor upon parliament’s power to control the executive.
- The Constitution failed to specify the minimum educational qualifications of legislators but, given their modest educational achievement and limited parliamentary experience, the Parliament soon became a tool in the hands of the executive. Even when the executive became overbearing and oppressive towards the end of the First Republic, the federal parliament pretended as if everything was well.
- The Constitution was more or less a carbon copy of the British Constitution and it was therefore essentially a colonial legacy.
- The retention of the emergency powers in the Constitution meant that the Federal Government could always deal with any regional government that failed to toe the line.
- The division of powers between the President and Prime Mmister which represented a division between formal authority and real authonty was completely alien to African traditional customs and values where the ruler usually possess and exercise absolute power.
- The constitution adopted the Westminister system based on a ruling party and an official opposition. This system was completely at variance with African traditional political system in which any opposition usually treated as an enemy.
- The Constitution continued to retain the regional system in which the three major regions were dominated by the three major ethnic groups. This implied that the constitution failed to satisy the genuine demands of minority groups for states of their own.
- The Constitution was discriminatory against women as it did not extend the right to vote to women in Northern Nigeria.