The 1979 Constitution
General Murtala Mohammed on coming to power in 1975, made a firm promise to return the country to a civil rule after many years of military interregnum that started on January 15, 1966. General Mohammed did not live to fulfill the promise due to his assassination on 13th February 1976. It was his Successor Lt. General Olusegun Obasango who made the promise a reality. This started with the establishment in 1975 of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (C.D.C). This proposed 50 member committee which finally consisted 49 members due to the fact that Chief Obafemi Awolowo opted out because he was not duly informed. It was chaired by Chief Rotimi Williams, a guru in constitutional law.
The establishment of a Constituent Assembly in 1976 followed later. The 230 member assembly under the chairmanship of Justice Udo Udoma was made up to 190 members indirectly elected and 40 Federal Military Government appointed members. This assembly was mainly to examine and ratify the draft constitution by the C.D.C. The constitution was finally promulgated after about 17 minor amendments were made and it came into effect on October 1, 1979.
The Main Features Of The 1979 Constitution
1. The constitution jettisoned the parliamentary system of government and introduced the presidential system similar to that of the United States of America.
2. The presidential system of Government was headed by an Executive President who acted as both the Head of State and Head of Government.
3. The President was directly elected by the electorate in a general election.
4. He appointed his Ministers outside the legislature subject to the confirmation by the Senate and they were responsible to him.
5. Each of the states of the federation must produce at least one of the ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
6. There was a vice president who acted as the running mate of the President during election.
7. The President and vice President can be removed from office by impeachment.
8. There was the principle of separation of powers among the three organs of government.
9. There was a constitutional provision for institutionalized opposition as was done in parliamentary system.
10. A governor who acted as the Chief Executive with a Deputy Governor with other members of the executive appointed by the Governor called Commissioners existed in each state of the federation.
11. The president was empowered by the constitution to appoint his political advisers and 19 Liaison officers who were responsible to him. The governor was also allowed to appoint special advisers.
12. The President and the Governor were to hold office for four years of not more than two terms if re-elected.
13. The National Assembly was bicameral which consisted of the Senate and House of Representatives. The senate was made up of 95 members of which 5 came from each state and one from Abuja while House of Representatives had 450 members and the states had unicameral legislature.
14. The President was also made the commander in chief of the armed forces.
15. Lobbying was allowed while carpet-crossing was disallowed.
16. A council of state was created by the constitution which comprised the President, Vice-president, the former Head of State, former Chief of Justices, Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representative, all the State Governors, the Attorney-General and one paramount chief from each state. The council was empowered to advise the President on important national issues.
17. Another body known as the National Economic Council chaired by the Vice-President with all State Governors and the Governors of the central bank as members was also created.
18. The Judiciary was empowered by the constitution to interpret the law and judicial review power granted to it while the legislature was given among other functions and powers the approval of presidential nominations for high political offices, removal of the Chief Executive through impeachment etc.