What is the Constitution
One of the most common ways we get asked questions on our platform is ‘what does the constitution say about ….’ or ‘this happened to me, is it constitutional?’
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution is the supreme law of the land of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is a very common misconception that all the laws in Nigeria are contained in the Nigerian constitution. This is simply not the case. The constitution is not an aggregation of all Nigerian laws, in fact it is the opposite, it does not have many laws contained in it. Most if the provisions in the constitution are all ‘administrative’ stuff.
Why is the Constitution important?
The Constitution serves two important functions in our humble opinion –
- It is the legal document from which every institution in the country gets its validity, every institution! Everything is somehow linked to the constitution. For example, if you have a company. Even though it is a private company, it is linked to the constitution. How you ask? Well, for the company to be valid, you must have applied for a certificate of incorporation from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) right? The CAC as a body was created via the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). The CAMA was a law created by the National Assembly, the National Assembly was given the power to create laws on companies by Item 62 of the Exclusive Legislative List the 1999 Constitution. You see, linked!So, the Constitution is important because everything is linked to it.
- It contains all the fundamental rights of every Nigerian citizen (more of this below).
This article will attempt to give a brief breakdown of all the key things in the Nigerian constitution which every Nigerian citizen should be aware of:
- The Constitution is supreme – this means that any law or any action which is inconsistent or incompatible with any of the provisions contained in the Constitution is null, void and of no effect.
- The Constitution sets out the powers of the 3 arms of Government – the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary.
- The Constitution states the procedure that must be followed for the creation of a new State or for the boundary adjustment of an existing State (and Local Governments as well)
- The Constitution provides that before any international Treaty can be effective in Nigeria, it must be enacted into law by the National Assembly
- It provides that composition of the Government or any of its agencies must reflect the federal character of Nigeria and there should be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government.
- The Constitution states that the procedure through which an individual can become a Nigerian citizen.
- It also states the procedure through which a Nigerian Citizen can renounce his/her citizenship. (Yes, you can decide that you do not want to be a Nigerian citizen anymore- but the Government has to confirm this)
- It provides for the fundamental rights of all Nigerian citizens. You can read more about this here:
- right to life
- right to dignity
- right to personal liberty
- right to fair hearing
- right to privacy
- right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- right to freedom of expression
- right to freedom of assembly
- right to freedom of movement within Nigeria
- right to freedom from discrimination
- right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria
- The 1999 Constitution provides that a person has to be at least 35 years old to be a Senator, and at least 30 years old to be a member of the House of Representatives.
- The Constitution provides that a person has to be at least 40 years old to run for the office of President, and lays down the process for electing a President. It states that for a President to be elected he must win a simple majority of the election and have not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all States in Nigeria
- The 1999 Constitution protects the National Youth Service legislation, the Land Use Act, the Public Complaints Commission Act, and the National Securities Agencies Act, so the only way these 4 laws can be amended is to follow the procedure to amend the Constitution itself, therefore it puts these laws on the same level as the Constitution.
- It sets out the process for creating a political party.
- It sets out the roles of the different Judges for all the courts, and the criteria for their eligibility.
And there you have it, we have tried to distill the Constitution into 14 points which every Nigerian should know about. Obviously there are many more provisions contained in the Constitution, for example it deals with the creation of many state agencies like the Armed Forces, the Police Force etc. You can download a copy of the Constitution here – 1999-constitution
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