Meaning And Definition Of Constitution: Features, Sources And Types

Table Of Contents

  • Definition Of Constitution
  • Relationship Between Constitution And Constitutionalism
  • Features Of A Constitution
  • Why A Constitution Is Necessary In A Country
  • Sources Of Constitutions
  • Types Of Constitution
  • Written Constitution
  • Unwritten Constitution
  • Rigid Constitution
  • Flexible Constitution
  • Federal Constitution
  • Unitary Constitution
  • Confederal Constitution

Meaning And Definition Of Constitution

A constitution may be defined as the whole body of fundamental laws, customs, conventions, principles, rules and regulations according to which a particular government of a country or an organization operates. The constitution therefore specifies the working of a government or organization, the function of its officials, the rights and duties of its citizens or members. As a result of the complex nature of modern day government, the use of constitution in order to spell out the functions and relationship among the branches of government has become a desideratum.

Relationship Between Constitution And Constitutionalism

A constitution is the basic or fundamental laws of the land. It is the sum total of formal and informer rules, conventions and practices by which a society is governed. Constitutionalism means adherence to the letter and spirit of the constitution, that is, those who govern should govern accordind to the dictates of the law. Constitutionalism denotes the supremacy of the law.

Features Of A Constitution

1. A constitution is the whole body of fundamental laws, customs, etc. according to which a particular government of a country or an organization operates.

2. It has a preamble or an introduction which state the ideological stand of the constitution.

3. The constitution states the type of party system that will operate in a country.

4. It names the organs of government, their function and their relation to one another.

5. A constitution of a country specifies the rights and duties of the citizens.

6. It may be found in one document but supplemented by organic laws.

7. It specifies the type and characteristics of government either unitary, federal, presidential or cabinet systems to be adopted.

8. It provides the procedure for the amendment of the constitution.

9. Constitution provides for revenue allocation formula.

10. It states the tenure of office holders and their qualifications.

Role Or Function And Importance Of A Constitution Or Why A Constitution Is Necessary In A Country

1. A constitution specifies modus operandi of a government or an organization.

2. It states the ideological direction of any government.

3. A constitution performs the function of stating the type of party system that a country will operate.

4. It maintains political stability by specifying the mode of changing the government peacefully and declaring any violent means like coup d’etat unconstitutional.

5. A constitution names organs of government and specifies their function and relationship to one another.

6. It stipulates the rights and duties of citizens.

7. A constitution is the document that specifies the type and characteristics of government either unitary, federal, presidential or cabinet system of government a country can adopt.

8. The constitutional ensures that no organ of government should exceed the powers allocated to it.

9. A constitution serves as a symbol of nationhood and sovereignty.

10. It protects the rights and liberties of individuals in a country.

11. The constitution specifies the mode of seeking redress when one’s individual rights are infringed upon.

12. The constitution stipulates the form of civil service whether independent or political appointments that should be adopted in a country.

13. The constitution specifies the rules under which people of a country are to be governed.

14. A constitution prevents leaders from becoming too powerful and dictatorial,

Sources Of Constitution

1. Past Experiences: The political, social, economic, geographical and historical experiences of a country serve as major sources of its constitution.

2. Historical Documents: Historical documents such as treaties, the Magan Carta 1215, Bill of Rights 1689 and the constitution Reform Bills of 1832 all in Britain serve as the sources of their constitution.

3. Acts Of Parliament Or Statues: These are bills passed into law in the parliament.

4. Decrees: Laws made by governments in many countries where they seized power made through the promulgation of decrees serve as sources of constitution.

5. Intellectual Works: Works of intellectuals such as Locke, Marx, Hobbes, Dicey and other recent and present ones are useful for drafting of constitution.

6. Customs And Norms: The usual and generally accepted a behaviour and ways of living of a people serve as important sources of their constitution.

7. Judicial Precedents: These are previous or earlier and important judgements passed and decisions taken in higher courts like supreme court etc.

8. Conventions: These are precepts or rules and guides for behaviour which are not written down with which people show their disapproval when violated.

9. Constitutional Conferences: Such constitutional conferences that were held in London and West Africa before granting and Gambia sered as the major sources for the drafting of their independent constitutions.

10. International Laws: International laws such as the ones made by international organizations like U.N.O. – international law of the seas, international civil aviation convention, etc. Serve as sources of constitution.

Types Of Constitution

1. Written Constitution:

A written constitution refers to when the whole body of fundamental law, customs, conventions, principles, rules and regulations according to which a particular government of a country operates are written or documented down. This implies that a writtrn constitution can be found in a single document. Some changes like revolution, war, coup d’etal, gaining of independence, etc, that may take place in a country’s constitution. Countries like U.S.A. Nigeria, India, France, Canada, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and many other countries of the world have written constitution.

2. Unwritten Constitution

An unwritten constitution refers to when the whole body of fundamental laws, customs, conventions, principles, rules and regulations according to which a particular government of a country operates are not written down or codified in a single document. Unwritten constitution seems to be the opposite of written country.

Britain and New Zealand are good examples of countries that have unwritten constitution. An unwritten constitution is not synonymous with non-existent laws but what it means is that these laws, customs, etc. Cannot be obtained from one single book or document.

3. Rigid Constitution

A rigid constitution may be defined as that constitution which cannot be amended or changed so easily because of its special stringent and cumbersome procedures of amendment. The procedures for the amendment of a rigid constitution are different from the processes of making ordinary laws. Rigid constitution are normally written constitutions but not all written constitution are rigid.. Not all sections of a rigid constitution are difficult to amend. United States of America, Australia, France, Canada, Switzerland, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia, etc, have rigid constitution.

4. Flexible Constitution

A flexible constitution may be defined as that constitution which can be amended or changed so easily without stringent and cumbersome procedures. Flexible constitution can be amended with the same procedure used in making ordinary laws. It requires simple majority for a flexible constitution to be amended. Some flexible constitutions are written while others are unwritten. Britain, Italy, New Zealand, Ghana( Independence constitution of 1957), etc, are examples of countries that have flexible constitutions.

5. Federal Constitution

A federal constitution refers to one in which governmental powers that exist in the country are shared between a central government that represents the whole country and governments of component regions or states, so that each government is legally andd constitutionally independent and autonomous. A country that adopts this type of constitution is known as a federation. The federal constitution specifies the legislative powers of these different governments. In Nigeria for instance, the central government otherwise known as federal government legislates on the exclusive list, while both the federal and the component governments called states make laws on the concurrent list of subjects. Examples of countries with federal constitutions are; U.S.A, Nigeria, Federal Republic of Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Australia, Yugoslavia, India etc.

6. Unitary Constitution

A unitary constitution refers to one that concentrates governmental powers and authority in a single central government or legislature. The central government or legislature. The central government is the only source from which power emanates. It does not share governmental powers with any other body but can delegate powers to other subordinate bodie. A unitary constitution is guided by the principle of unitarianism which means the belief and concentration of governmental powers and authority in a single authority. Local or regional or state governments that exist in a country that adopt unitary constitution are the creation of the central government for administrative convenience. They derive the powers they exercise from the central government. Examples of countries with unitary constitution are, Britain, Italy, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Sweden, Ghana, Sierra-Leone. Gambia, Ethiopia, Togo Cameroons etc.

7. Confederal Constitution

This is a constitution in which almost major powers and functions of government are reserved exclusively for the component states save thr common currency, defence and foreign affairs in which the national or central government may hold power. The constitution reserves powers to the central government in only certain matters that affect all the unions or autonomous states involved. Confederal constitution makes the component states very powerful while the central government become weak. Even the component states are free to secede when any of them wishes to do so.

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