The major advantages and arguments in favour of the 1999 Constitution include the following:
1. The retention of the federal system of government is a realistic and pragmatic decision. Federalism remains the best constitutional option in a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society like Nigeria. The federal system provides for political stability in such a heterogeneous society.
2. Similarly, the prohibition of a state religion in a multi-religious society like Nigeria is a good thing and should be applauded. Although different meanings have been given to this provision by self-serving politicians and other interest groups, the fact remains that it is the best in the circumstance.
3. The provision that legislative business can be conducted in English and the three main Nigerian Languages(Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) will not only lead to the development of these indigenous languages but may encourage popular participation in law-making. It would appear that the constitutional provision the main use of indigenous languages to be used in the National Assembly is still in abeyance.
4. Dual citizenship may enable Nigerian professionals who are resident abroad and have acquired the citizenship of other countries, perhaps out of necessity, to continue to maintain contact with home and contribute to the development of the country. A developing country like Nigeria can hardly afford to do away with this group of people.
5. The declaration of assets by top government officials before taking office may help to check abuse of office, though the constitutional provisions appears short of expectation.
6. The strict provision for the creation of states may help to check the proliferation of states.
7. In a heterogeneous society like Nigeria, the multi-party system provides opportunity for the representation of diverse interests in the legislature.
8. The provision that public office holders should possess a minimum of Secondary School Certificate is a step in the right direction if it is strictly enforced. It is difficult to participate actively in the business of law-making in contemporary societies without good education.
9. It is heart-warming that the constitution retains the neutral status of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja thus giving all Nigerians a sense of belonging.
10. The difficult or rigid procedures for amending the constitution prevents tyranny and arbitrary use of power by over-ambitious political leaders.
The disadvantages or arguments against the 1999 Constitution are legion and include the following:
1. The process of drafting the Constitution was highly defective as there was inadequate consultation with Nigerians. In particular, there were no constitutional conferences to ascertain the wishes of Nigerians nor were referendums conducted to confirm whether or not the constitution was acceptable to the people.
2. The preamble to the constitution gives the impression that the constitution is the work of Nigerians when it claims that “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: Having firmly and solemnly resolved…Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution…” But this is a lie as the ordinary Nigerians were not consulted in the preparation of the constitution.
3. Although the federal system adopted by the constitution is suitable for a heterogenous society like Nigeria, yet Nigeria is only federal in names but unitary in fact. For example, in the allocation of revenue, the Federal Government alone gets as much money as all the states and local governments in the federation put together. What kind or federation is that in which the states are made so subordinate to the central government? Under President Obasanjo(1999-2007) for example, state governors were removed by the federal government under the guise of fighting corruption and statutory allocation to local governments in Lagos State were withheld for sometime.
4. The Constitution does not provide for acceptable fiscal federalism in which the states can generate sufficient revenues on their own. The states do not need to depend on the central government and be controlled and harassed by it. With the probable exception of Lagos and Rivers States and one or two other states, most states depend on the Federation Account for as much as 80% of their revenue.
5. The 1999 Constitution provides that 13 percent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources should be paid to the state where it is produced but this is too low compared to the 50 percent paid as derivation under the 1960 and 1963constitutions.
It would appear, however, that there is a good relationship between the production of a resource and the amount paid as derivation. In the First Republic when derivation was high, the major cash earning products (cocoa, palm products, cotton and groundnut) were produced by the major ethnic groups. But today, the country’s main revenue earners (that is petroleum products) are produced in the southern minority areas and the amount paid as derivation is low.
6. The provision that three indigenous languages may be used in the National Assembly tends to uphold the language rights of the majority without doing same to other languages. If this policy is sustained, it may sound the death knell for the minor indigenous languages.
7. The 1999 Constitution does not contain any provision on how to deal with military intervention in politics.
8. The Constitution, in furtherance of its centralizing tendencies, has no place for state or local police whereas security is better handled at the local level.
9. The Constitution is weak in the protection of socio-economicrights. For instance, the constitution has no provision for right to employment and free and compulsory education. That is, the constitution placed little premium on the social or economic rightsof the people but governance is all abouts the people.
10. There is no justification for leaving the National Human Rights Commission out of the constitution if the state is really interested in the protection of the rights of Nigerians.
11. As in previous constitutions, the constitution fails to tackle the problem of indigeneship. That is, there is no provision in the Constitution that guarantees full rights to Nigerians living outside their place of origin.
12. The power which the Constitution gives to the Federal Government in the formation and registration of parties is a negation of federalism and individual rights.
13. The Constitution is not gender sensitive as it does not contain any affirmative action clauses to address historical discrimination and injustices against women.
14. The clauses dealing with the amendment of the Constitution are too difficult and cumbersome. India which is bigger, much more populous and has more deadly ethnic and religious conflicts than Nigeria has amended its constitution more than 78 times since its independence in 1947. By the end of 2010, Nigeria has only managed to amend two or three sections of the 1999 Constitution. It should be possible to amend a constitution if and when necessary in the interest of political stability and economic transformation.
15. The cost of running government under the constitution is unwittingly increased by not placing a limit on the number of ministers, special advisers, commissioners, and other special assistants to federal and state chief executives. The governor of Adamawa State,Murtala Nyako appointed more than 700 Special Assistants on coming to power in 2007, for example. The extraordinary huge pay for lawmakers, the unaccountable large security vote for federal and state chief executives as high as N7.5 billion a year etc can only further the under-development of the country, and the impoverishment of the people.
16. The immunity clause being enjoyed by the President,Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor gives the impression that these public officers are above the law. While these public officers may require immunity from prosecution in civil cases, there is, however, the need to prosecute every Nigerian for offences committed against the state e.g. stealing,money laundering, murder, etc.
17. It is strange that in one breath the constitution gives the state government control over local governments but in another breath makes Local Councils subordinate to the Federal Government. Thus, while the state government can create local governments and determine their structure, powers and functions, it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to incorporate any newly created local government into the constitution.
Similarly, the National Assembly approves the allocation of funds in the Federation Account to local governments and this further allows interferences by the Federal Government in their affairs. The local government should be independent of the central and state governments if it is to serve the local people.
18. By ousting the jurisdiction of the courts to interfere in impeachment proceedings, the 1999 Constitution seems to undermine the rule of law, which emphasizes the supremacy of the law.
19. The constitution fails to state the specific functions of state and local governments, but takes time to elaborate the powers and functions of the federal government. This tends to subordinate the state government to the central government and calls to question the federal status of the 1999 Constitution.
20. Perhaps, the greatest problem of the 1999 Constitution is its winner takes-all approach to politics. The Constitution has vested so much power in the President that he can easily become a dictator. The same pattern is also replicated at the state and local government levels where state governors and local government chairmen are like the Lord of the Manor.
It is therefore not a surprise that the struggle to capture power at the centre easily amounts to a battle to control the wealth and resources of the country for personnel or sectional reasons rather than for the common good.
21. The 1999 Constitution is anti-people and does not have any elaborate provision to deal with the problems of unemployment, poverty, unequal distribution of wealth and class conflicts. Poverty, for example, works against democracy. These are fundamental problems which deserve serious consideration by the drafters of our constitution.