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JURIST's Nigeria Correspondent is Yemi Akinseye-George, Acting Head and Senior Lecturer, Department of Public and International Law, University of Ibadan.
[Ibadan; Special to JURIST] On 29 May, 1999, a democratically-elected civil government and a new constitution were inaugurated in Nigeria. The country was previously under an unelected military government, which ruled by Decrees, having suspended the country's constitution. Decrees are laws passed by the military dictator without any input from the public. They often abridge civil liberties, operate retrospectively and oust the jurisdiction of courts. One of the most notorious Decrees of the military government in Nigeria was the State Security and Detention of Persons Decree No. 2 of 1984, which authorized the Head of State or officials designated by him to arrest and detain without trial persons who are regarded as security risks.

Decrees were effectively applied to restrict free speech, suppress opposition and to delay the return to civil rule.But through sustained pressure by civil society organizations, the international community and other pro-democracy campaigners, the military eventually relinquished political power in May, 1999.

The 1999 Nigerian Constitution is essentially the same as that of 1979, which was in operation for only four years (1979 - 1983) before it was eliminated by the military. The main features of the new constitution include the following: Separation of Powers, Federalism, Bill of Rights, Party System, and Secularism.

Separation of Powers

Unlike military rule which gave both legislative and executive powers to the military head of state, the new Constitution adopts the concept of separation of powers. It vests the Legislative powers of the Federation in a bi-cameral National Assembly made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Whilst each state of the Federation is represented by three senators, representation in the House of Representatives is based on the population of each state. In all, there are 108 Senators and 475 representatives. All members of both Houses of the National Assembly are elected.

The executive powers of the Federation are vested in the President who is to be assisted by a Vice President and a number of Ministers. The President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

The Judicial powers are vested in a set of courts the highest of which is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The courts have the power to review executive and legislative acts and to declare them void if found to be in violation of the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees the independence of judges.


The Constitution maintains the federal principle, which was first introduced in the country by British Colonial authorities in 1954. There are three tiers of government namely Federal, State and Local. There are 36 states in the country and 768 local government areas. The respective powers of each tier of government are clearly delineated by the Constitution. The states do not have a separate constitution. Each state is governed by a Governor and a House of Assembly elected by direct franchise.

Bill of Rights

The Constitution provides for a bill of rights which guarantees a set of civil and political liberties such as:

  • The right to life
  • The right to dignity of the human person
  • The right to personal liberty
  • The right to fair hearing
  • The right to private and family life
  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • The right to freedom of expression and the press
  • The right to peaceful assembly and association
  • The right to freedom of movement
  • The right to freedom from discrimination
  • The right to property.
A number of social, cultural and economic rights are prescribed by the Constitution in its second chapter, but unlike the Bill of Rights, these are unenforceable and are classified as fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.

Legal aid is provided for indigents and a special jurisdiction is vested in the High Court to redress any breach of these human rights.

Party System

The Constitution provides for the registration of political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The conditions for registration are designed to ensure that political parties are Federal in character, and not based on religious or tribal sentiments. There are at present three political parties, namely the Peoples' Democratic Party, the All Peoples' Party and the Alliance for Democracy.


The Constitution expressly prohibits the adoption of any religion as state religion. This notwithstanding, some states in the Northern part of the country have proceeded to introduce Sharia law into their states which have predominantly Moslem population.


The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000

In June this year, President Olusegun Obasanjo signed into law a bill that allows for the creation of an agency to investigate corruption charges against any Nigerian, including the President, the Governors and their deputies. Accordingly, the government has established an anti-corruption commission known as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. The problem of corruption rates high on the agenda of the Nigerian government in view of the country's rating by Transparency International as [the world's / Africa's ??? Ask Author] most corrupt country.

Niger Delta Development Commission Act 2000

This Act establishes a commission dedicated to protecting the interest and sustainable development of the Niger Delta area, where over 90% of country's oil resources are located. This area has suffered severe deprivation and environmental degradation through neglect and mismanagement during the military era.

Yemi Akinseye-George
JURIST Nigeria Correspondent
Department of Public and International Law
University of Ibadan

October 18, 2000


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