The 1979 Constitution: Introduction And Features

BACKGROUND:

The introduction of the 1979 constitution was against the background of the cries of Nigerians for a return to democratic civilian regime and the adoption of a system that will suit the aspiration of a majority of the populace. Before then it must be remembered that the country had been independent for 19 years upwards of two decades- and that out of that period the military had been in power for about 14 years without establishing nor correcting the ills that be- devilled the first republic. Besides there had been wide spread report as highlighted by the constituent Asssembly of high degree of dissatisfaction with the westminster system that prevailed during the first republican era. With these at the back of the minds of the members of constituent Assembly that drafted the constitution, the best choice as it were that faced them was the adoption by Nigeria of a presidential system of government on the American system with substantial modifications designed to suit the circumstances of Nigeria.

Features Of 1979 Constitution

The 1979 Constitution have many outstanding features derived chiefly from the United States model and our Westminister experience before and shortly after independence. One fundamental principal running through it however is the sole idea of a chief Executive.

1. President As The Chief Executive

The central principle of presidentialism under the 1979 constitution is that an executive of one men on whom the entire executive authority is vested under the constitution. That principle is substantially modified by constitutional limitations imposed on the president’s executive power in favour of other functionaries of government. Besides the exercise may at times be restrained by the constitution in a variety of ways such as consultation with other executive bodies such as National Defence Council, National Economic Council of State e.t.c. Or on the recommendation or advice of some other body or person.

2. The Principle Of Federalism Under The 1979 Constitution

This is another feature of the 1979 constitution. Federalism is an arrangement where powers under the constitution are shared between different tiers of government existing under the country. The country is divided into three tiers, each tier existing separately and independently and operating directly on persons, property within its own geographical spheres and within this sphere it has matters specifically assigned to it and its authority within these areas are exclusive to other governments. Under the 1979 constitution these tiers existing were Federal, State and Local Government.

3. Division Of Power

Following from the second feature is the fact that power is divided between the different tiers. We have three lists- the exclusive list designed for the federal government, the residual list for state Government and the concurrent list for both governments with a local government system that had certain functions assigned to it.

4. Separation Of Power

There are three organs of government, the legislature, executive and judiciary with different functions. The legislature made laws, which were interpreted by the judiciary and implemented by the executive.

5. Principles Of Check And Balances

Despite the fact that each organ had their separation function yet they also acted as a check on one another. Thus, the judiciary could nullify an executive or legislative act while the legislature can refuse to approve an executive act.

6. Fundamental Human Rights

Provisions were likewise made for fundamental human rights. The 1979 constitution recognizes that man is first and foremost a human being and only secondly a social being; that his individuality come before his social instinct and in pursuance of this the Nigerian constitution guarantees the right to life, to the dignity of the human person, personal liberty, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. And other rights. However, it does so subject to reasonably justifiable restriction, which the state may by law impose in the interest of defence, public order, morality or public health, or for purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of others. However, right to life may only be taken during period of war and personal liberty may only be restricted in these interests during an emergency. In the case of such a restriction been imposed, an aggrieved person may apply to the court to determine whether the restriction is reasonably justified or not.

Structure And Function Of Local Government: The structure of local government in Nigeria is not provided for in the constitution as are their functions but in section 7 the constitution states that a system local government by democratically elected local government councils shall be guaranteed and accordingly the government of every state shall ensure the existence of such a democratically elected local governments under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions, of such local governments. Thus, it is the responsibilities of the state government to ensure that a law stipulating the structure of the local government exists.

Generally however their exists a uniform structure of the local government with the existence of an executive and legislative arm. The state and Federal judiciary is synonymous with the local government judiciary.

The executive is dualised with an administrative secretary and a politically elected chair. While the administrative secretary (called personnel director in some states) is in charge of the day to day activity of the local government, the chairman is in charge of the policy making machinery of the council. The legislature exists to serve as the law-making organ and gives approval to the acts of the council. It is made up of elected councilors. In the discharge of his executive functions, the chairman is assisted by supervisors/councilors who are in charge of a particular aspects of the council function such as education, health, works e.t.c.

The local government is further departmentalized with various functions as accounts, education, health, works, market revenue and administration under the care of heads each department and a supervisory councilor also attached to each.

Under the 1976 local government reform, Nigeria had a single tier multi purpose local government system. The guide for the local government reform provides that the population for all local government should range between a minimum of 150,000 and a maximum of 800,000. So there is the feature of uniformity and largeness in all the local governments. Under this form a total of 301 local governments were established and this was entrenched in the constitution. However, there are now 449 local governments in the federation each have a chair and Abuja has a mayor. Note that the chair appoints their deputy and supervisory councilors. The ministry of local government existing formerly has been abolished and a local government inspectorate department created in the office of the military governor to offer guidance and ensure attainment of set targets, for allocation from the federation accounts is made directly to them on quarterly basis. The post of auditor-General has been created for them in each state.