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Lesson Note

Subject: Government

Topic: The Constitution

Lesson Objectives: By the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:

  1. Define the term constitution;
  2. State at least five importance of a constitution;
  3. State seven major sources of constitution;
  4. State and explain with advantages and disadvantages a written constitution and unwritten constitution;
  5. Identify other types of constitution.

Lesson Discussion

A constitution is a body of fundamental rules principles laws and conventions that guide the conduct of affairs in a particular state or country.

Parts of the Nigerian Constitution

The Nigerian Constitution is a federal constitution. It is broadly divided into three parts called lists. These lists specify the areas in which each of the two levels of government is empowered to make laws. The exclusive list contain matters on which the central government can legislate or make laws, the residual list contain matters on which the state government can legislate or make laws, while concurrent list consist of issues which both the central and state governments can legislate upon. The exclusive list includes defence, aviation, customs, foreign affairs and currency. The residual list includes chieftaincy affairs, motor parks and market stalls, local taxes collections, while the concurrent list contains issues such as education, agriculture, health services, road construction, etc.

Summary of Constitutional Development in Nigeria

A major constitution for Nigeria was called Clifford Constitution of 1922. It was written by the British who did not allow Nigerians to make any suggestions for the contents of the constitution. This constitution introduced the process of electing people into government.
In 1946, the Richards Constitution replaced the Clifford Constitution in response to agitations by Nigerian nationalists for constitutional reforms. This constitution gave Nigerians a majority in the legislative council but again they were not given any opportunity to make suggestions concerning it’s contents.
For the first time, Nigerians took part in the discussions that finally led to the writing of a new constitution in 1951. It was called the MacPherson Constitution and it created three regions as well as a federal capital for Nigeria.
There was also the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 which empowered the governor’s of the three regions to make electoral regulations for their regions. In other words, it did not provide a uniform electoral system for the country.
Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has had several constitutions. Three of them are however important because they have been used to run government. The first is the 1963 Constitution which made Nigeria a republic and removed all allegiances to the Queen of England.
The 1979 Constitution transformed Nigeria’s system of government from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. The 1990 Constitution marks Nigeria’s resolve to end military dictatorship and establish a democratic system of government. We shall be discussing these Constitutional development later in future posts. Now let’s look at the importance of having Constitution in a nation.

Importance Of A Constitution

  1. The constitution States the organs of government and their.
  2. It also States the relationship that should exist between the arms of government.
  3. A constitution limit the power of the organs of government.
  4. A constitution help in effecting a peaceful change in government as it provides no room for violent change.
  5. It specifies the type of government to operate. It could either be unitary, Federal, presidential or parliamentary system of government.
  6. A constitution stipulates the party system to adopt and the ideological direction of the country.
  7. It stipulates the rights, duties and obligations of a citizen in a country.
  8. A constitution is a symbol of unity, sovereignty and nationhood.

Sources Of Constitution

  1. Acts of Parliament which refers to the bill passed into law by the legislative organ of government is a source of constitution.
  2. Decrees: these are laws made by military government. Such decrees are raw material for making a constitution.
  3. customs and laws which referred to as acceptable principles and ways of living of a people serve as a source of constitution
  4. Judicial precedents: previous verdicts on cases and crucial decisions of courts are essential sources of constitution.
  5. Historical documents: historical reports about the evolution of a country including agreements, treaties or pacts signed with other countries can be source of constitution.
  6. constitutional conferences with their resolutions could serve as important sources of constitution.
  7. International law: countries that are member of international organisation and her strictly to international laws which can also be a source of domestic laws.

Types of constitution

1. Written Constitution

A constitution is said to be written when it is contained and published in a single document.

Features Of A Written Constitution

  • A written constitution is contained and published in a single document.
  • A written constitution always has a preamble which highlights the essence of the constitution.
  • It also States the procedure for each amendment or alteration.
  • A written constitution is always rigid.
  • A written constitution is simple and can easily be consulted.

Those are the features or characteristics of a written constitution. Now let’s move on to the advantages and disadvantages of a written constitution.

Advantages Of A Written Constitution

  1. A written constitution can easily be obtained and consulted
  2. A written constitution ensures stability since the laid down rules and regulations can hardly be manipulated.
  3. It reduces political conflict between the organs of government because their relationship is clearly spelt out.
  4. It helps citizens to know when their rights are violated in order to seek redress in law court.
  5. The written laws cannot be easily manipulated to meet the interest of few influential citizens.
  6. A written constitution facilitates point of reference making in the event of court action.

Everything that has advantage also have disadvantage. Now let us look at the negative aspect of a written constitution.

Disadvantages Of A Written Constitution

  1. A written constitution is always difficult to amend. this makes it unsuitable to accommodate social, political, and economic Dynamics of the environment.
  2. The constitution does not fit all types of government.
  3. There are always litigation arising from violation of one rights or the other.
  4. A written constitution may not cover exhaustively all the items crucial to different tiers and organs of government.
  5. A written constitution may create constant frictions among the organs of government especially if it has some loopholes.
  6. Interpretation of a written constitution is always laced with ambiguity. Countries like Nigeria United States of America Gambia France operate a written constitution.

2. Unwritten Constitution

This is the type of constitution which is not contained in a single document but its provisions are found in several documents, agreement, bonds, charters, Court verdict, parliamentary resolution etc.
Good examples of countries that operate unwritten constitution are Britain and New Zealand.

Advantages of Unwritten Constitution

  1. an unwritten constitution is flexible to operate thereby making it suitable for the Dynamics of the society.
  2. It makes easy for decisions to be made
  3. interpretation of the constitution can easily be made since it is not rigid.
  4. The procedure for amendment is not cumbersome.
  5. Since the constitution is not codified into one document, many areas of misunderstanding can easily be expunged.
  6. an unwritten constitution can adequately cater for emergency situation.

Disadvantages of Unwritten Constitution

  1. Unwritten constitution is susceptible to abuse since the constitution is not codified.
  2. It does not adequately cater for the needs of the citizens especially in the aspect of fundamental human rights.
  3. An unwritten constitution can easily be manipulated by the government in power to meet selfish need
  4. When a constitution is unwritten, unconstitutional acts of government cannot be promptly ascertained and dealt with.
  5. In an unwritten constitution, easy reference cannot be made in dealing with cases because the constitution is not codified.

Other Types of constitution

Below are other types of constitution and they are discussed as follows;

A. Rigid Constitution

A constitution is said to be rigid if it cannot be easily amended. Most rigid constitutions are written. examples of countries which operates rigid constitution are Nigeria, United States of America, France etc.

Merits Of A Rigid Constitution

  1. A rigid constitution is difficult to amend thereby preventing hasty decisions
  2. The constitution cannot be easily amended to meet the interest of personal few.
  3. A rigid constitution guarantees political stability because the constitution is not tossed by wind of change.
  4. A rigid constitution prevents complete domination of the minority by the majority ethnic group.

Demerits Of A Rigid Constitution

  1. The procedure for amendment of rigid constitution is always cumbersome.
  2. A rigid constitution cannot meet emergency need or situation.
  3. A rigid constitution frustrates developmental efforts as the constitution cannot meet political, social, economic and cultural Dynamics of the States.
  4. A rigid constitution may lead to complaints, litigations or civil unrest.

B. Flexible Constitution

a constitution is said to be flexible when all the laws principles by which a state is governed can be amended without going through a difficult procedure. It is the opposite of a rigid constitution. The British constitution serves as a good example for a rigid constitution.

Merits Of A Flexible Constitution

  1. A flexible constitution can be easily amended.
  2. It can easily meet the emergency of a given situation due to its flexibility.
  3. A flexible constitution is less expensive to operate.
  4. The strives and bitterness that exist as a result of rigid constitution is reduced in flexible constitution.

Demerits Of A Flexible Constitution

  1. A flexible constitution encourages the domination of minority by the majority.
  2. It is not suitable in a heterogeneous society like Nigeria for example.
  3. Since the constitution can be easily changed, influential few persons can emerge as dictators.
  4. The constitution is subject to different interpretations thereby giving room for constitutional ambiguities.

C. Unitary Constitution

unitary constitution refers to the type of constitution in which all powers for the exercise of governmental functions are concentrated third at the central government. examples of countries that practice unitary constitution are Britain, Sweden, New Zealand etc.

Features Of A Unitary Constitution

  • Citizens owe allegiance to the Central government.
  • power and authority are concentrated at the central government.
  • A unitary constitution is always flexible.
  • There is supremacy of the Parliament in a unitary constitution.
  • Subordinate bodies is derive their power from the central government and not from the constitution.

Advantages Of A Unitary Constitution

  1. The constitution is flexible and can be easily amended.
  2. A unitary constitution is less expensive to operate.
  3. It fosters national unity.
  4. It encourages political stability.
  5. A unitary constitution adapt to change and the prevailing condition of a country.

Disadvantages Of A Unitary Constitution

  1. concentration of powers in the hands of single authority can lead to emergence of dictatorship.
  2. Majority ethnic groups can easily dominate the minorities.
  3. The central government is always overburdened and this may lead to ineffectiveness on the side of government.
  4. Government is always far away from citizens of the country.
  5. It hinders while the representation of the people in government.
  6. Since the Parliament is supreme, rather than the constitution the fundamental human rights of the citizens may not be guaranteed.

D. Federal Constitution

A federal constitution refers to the type that shares government powers between the central government and the component regions or States and each region is independent within its own spheres.
examples of countries that operates the federal constitution are Nigeria, United States of America, Germany, etc.
The federal constitution is one where government powers are divided between Central organs and the organs of the individual States or provinces that made of the federation.

Features Of A Federal Constitution

  1. The constitution is supreme and not the Parliament.
  2. there is division of government powers between the central government and the component States or regions.
  3. A federal constitution is always written and rigid.
  4. there is duplication of organs of government in all the tiers of government.
  5. There is double allegiance of the citizens to the state and federal government.

Advantages Of A Federal Constitution

  1. A federal constitution fosters unity in diversity. This is because it unites people of different political, social, economic, and cultural origins.
  2. It helps the component States to retain and maintain their identity.
  3. It has to check emergence of dictatorship. this is because government powers are divided.
  4. It brings government nearer to the people.
  5. It encourages wider representation of the people in government.
  6. a federal constitution helps to protect the interest of the minority group from being dominated by the majority.

Disadvantages Of A Federal Constitution

  1. A federal constitution is expensive to operate because of duplication of government powers.
  2. it can lead to political instability because of the friction that exist between the central and component governments.
  3. it may create statism and sectionalism which can threaten peace and stability in government.
  4. there is always problem of how to share the national wealth among different components States and regions.
  5. Also a federal constitution can lead to secession.

Done studying? See previous lessons in government

Take a quick test for this lesson.

  1. What is a constitution?
  2. State six major sources of constitution
  3. Highlight the major features of a written constitution.
  4. What is federal constitution?
  5. Explain the major merits of a federal constitution.
  6. What do you understand by rigid constitution?
  7. State the advantages and disadvantages of a rigid constitution.
  8. What is unitary constitution?
  9. State the merits and demerits of unitary constitution.
  10. What is flexible constitution?
  11. State the merits and demerits of flexible constitution.

Questions answered correctly? Bravo!!

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