Last Updated on July 30, 2023 by Ralph Nyadzi
Among the features of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution are the provision for a federal system of government, a presidential system, separation of powers, protection of fundamental human rights, an amendment procedure and the directive principle of state policy.
In this Government tutorial, we shall take a close look at the most significant features of the May 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
But first, I will give you a brief historical background to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These were the major events that preceded and ultimately led to the drafting, adoption and promulgation of the 1999 Constitution.
So if you are looking for the history and features of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution, you need not look any further.
Let’s get this done.
On 29 May 1999, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria came into force with the swearing-in of Olusegun Obasanjo as the first president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under that constitution.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For that matter, any law that is inconsistent with its provisions is considered null and void.
It is Nigeria’s fourth constitution since the country gained independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960.
The process of crafting and adopting the 1999 constitution was part of Nigeria’s transition from a long period of military rule to civilian governance.
We will now go straight to the history behind the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.
Below are the important milestones that finally led to the coming into force of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
Military Intervention in Post-Independence Nigeria
Roughly six years after gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria experienced a series of military coups that resulted in prolonged periods of military rule.
The first coup took place in 1966, and for many years, military regimes governed the country.
Return to Civilian Rule
In the early 1990s, both domestic and international communities agitated for a return to civilian rule in Nigeria.
The then Nigerian military government, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, announced plans to transition the country back to civilian rule.
Abortive Transition and Abiola’s Election
In 1993, General Babangida conducted presidential elections, which were widely seen as free and fair. The results showed that Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a prominent businessman, had won the election.
However, before MKO Abiola could take office, the military regime annulled the elections, leading to protests and civil unrest.
The Period of Sani Abacha
After the annulled elections, General Sani Abacha seized power in a military coup in November 1993. Abacha’s regime was characterized by human rights abuses, repression of dissent, and widespread corruption.
Abdulsalami Abubakar and Transition to Democracy
Following the sudden death of General Abacha in June 1998, General Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed power. He promised to oversee a transition to civilian democratic rule.
National Constitutional Conference
As part of the transition process, a National Constitutional Conference was convened in 1994. Its aim was to draft a new constitution for Nigeria.
The constitutional conference comprised representatives from the various ethnic, religious, and political groups across the country.
Drafting and Adoption of the 1999 Constitution
The drafting of the new constitution was completed in 1998.
Following extensive deliberations and amendments, the constitution was promulgated on May 5, 1999. And on May 29 1999, Nigeria’s fourth post-independence constitution officially came into force.
It was the same day Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as the President of Nigeria, marking the country’s return to civilian constitutional rule.
Given Nigeria’s chequered post-independence political history, a number of challenges came up during the drafting of the country’s fourth constitution. Here are a few.
Satisfying A Diverse, Multi-Ethnic Population
Crafting the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria was a delicate task due to Nigeria’s diverse population. There are over 250 ethnic groups and numerous religious affiliations in the country.
Thus, ensuring that the constitution was inclusive enough and making it address the interests of different groups posed significant challenges.
Rebuilding Public Trust
General Babangida’s annulment of the 1993 presidential elections and the subsequent political crisis had significantly undermined public trust in the political process.
Thus, rebuilding confidence in the democratic institutions which included the electoral process was top of the agenda.
The military had been in power for a considerable period. Therefore, there were concerns about their willingness to hand over power and allow for genuine civilian rule.
Nigeria’s long history of ethnic and religious tensions and regional disparities also had to be taken into account to maintain unity and promote a sense of national identity.
Here now come the features of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria you’ve been waiting for.
1999 Nigeria Constitution: Features
Please, note that the majority of the features of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria are basically the core features of most federal forms of government. The only differences you will find are the specific examples that relate to Nigeria as a unique country.
The constitution starts with a preamble that outlines the aspirations and objectives of the Nigerian people. It emphasizes principles such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
2. Federal System
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria provides for a federal system of government in which power is shared between the central government and the state governments.
Also, the Constitution defines the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of both the federal and state governments.
In Nigeria, there are three tiers of government namely the Federal Government, State Governments, and Local Government Areas.
3. Bicameral Legislature
Like most federal constitutions, Nigeria’s constitution created a bicameral legislature.
The National Assembly is the official name of Nigeria’s legislative body. It consists of two chambers namely the Senate (upper house) and the House of Representatives (lower house).
Members of the National Assembly are popularly elected by the citizens.
4. Presidential System
Nigeria operates a presidential system of government, with a popularly elected President as the head of state and head of government.
5. Separation of Powers
The Constitution provides for a clear separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
6. The Bill of Rights
The Constitution guarantees fundamental human rights for all Nigerian citizens. Some of these are the right to life, liberty, and property, freedom of expression, religion, and association, as well as protection from discrimination.
7. Citizenship by Birth
The constitution outlines the criteria for Nigerian citizenship and the process of acquisition or loss of citizenship.
It recognizes citizenship by birth if at least one of a person’s parents is a Nigerian citizen or a person who has been living in Nigeria for a specified period.
8. National Assembly
One of the key features of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria is the establishment of a National Assembly.
The National Assembly is the legislative body in Nigeria.
It consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
As the legislative body, the National Assembly is responsible for making laws at the federal level.
9. State Governments
The constitution provides for the creation of State Governments and State Houses of Assembly. It allows states to have their own legislative and executive arms of government.
In all, there are 36 states in Nigeria.
Some of these states are Rivers, Abia, Niger, Oyo, Ogun, Delta, Anambra, Zamfara, Enugu, Cross River, Imo, Lagos, Sokoto, Nasarawa and Katsina.
10. Local Government Autonomy
Furthermore, the constitution recognizes the existence of Local Government Areas (LGAs) as the third tier of government and provides for their functioning and autonomy.
Checks I’ve made give 774 as the total number of local governments in Nigeria.
11. Independent Judiciary
The constitution establishes an independent judiciary to interpret the law and adjudicate disputes in the country.
The constitution emphasizes the independence of the judiciary and safeguards the tenure, appointment, and removal of judges to protect them from undue influence.
12. Public Revenue and Finances
The 1999 constitution outlines the principles and guidelines for public revenue generation, allocation, and financial management at the federal, state, and local government levels.
13. Independent Electoral Commission
The constitution establishes the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the body responsible for conducting and supervising free and fair elections at all levels of government.
14. National Security Agencies
The constitution outlines provisions for the establishment and functioning of security agencies to maintain law and order and protect the nation’s territorial integrity.
15. Presidential Emergency Powers
The current 1999 Constitution of Nigeria grants the President and State Governors specified emergency powers.
For example, it provides for the declaration of a state of emergency in situations of crisis or threat to the nation’s security.
16. Control of Resources
The constitution addresses the ownership and control of natural resources in Nigeria. Among these is the clause that demands the sharing of revenue derived from resources between the federal and state governments.
17. Directive Principles of State Policy
The features of the 1999 constitution include the Directive Principles of State Policy. These are principles that guide the government as it works to promote national socio-economic development and the people’s welfare.
18. Annual State of the Federation Address
The constitution requires the President to address the National Assembly annually on the state of the federation and present the government’s plans and policies for the coming year.
19. A Written Constitution
Like most constitutions under federalism, the Nigerian constitution of 1999 is a written document. This means that all the key rules regarding the way the country is governed are codified in a single document.
20. Amendment Procedure
Last but not least, the Constitution outlines the process for amending its provisions.
For instance, a major amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly. Additionally, its approval by at least two-thirds of the Houses of Assembly from all of Nigeria’s states is needed for it to become effective.
The above constitute the main features of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. While the constitution has been touted as one that has brought an unprecedented period of political stability to the country since independence, it is not without criticism.
Indeed, many groups and individuals from different backgrounds have called for constitutional reforms to address the weaknesses in the Constitution.
These issues relate to an unduly centralized federal government, resource control and allocation, religious and ethnic tensions, the integrity of elections and adequate representation of all segments of the Nigerian population in their government.