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POLITICS

Legislature: The Journey So Far

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As the nation marks its 58th independence anniversary, KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL looks at how the legislature evolved since the country gained Independence from the British.

The legislature is the bastion of representation in a democracy. Modern democracies, especially the liberal democratic type is about the people exercising their will through elected representatives. The diversity of interests and constituencies represented in the legislature, therefore, makes it an important structure in bringing the people closer to the state and in the exercise of the sovereignty of the people through representation. Thus, for democracy to thrive as an attitude, way of life or intellectual ideal or culture, it requires the active participation of citizens through representation, especially legislative representation.

The hallmark of legislative functions in a democratic setting is representation. This is in addition to the critical roles it plays in lawmaking and ensuring checks and balances since the doctrine of separation of powers is at the heart of presidential democracy. In view of this, the legislature is expected to be the first line of defense, and the bulwark of resistance against the excesses of the executive branch.

According to V. B. Mahajan in his book, “Political Theory”, the legislature is the most important of all the three organs of government because it is the laws made by the legislature that are interpreted and enforced by the judicial and executive arms respectively.

The evolution of the Legislature in Nigeria can be traced to colonial era as such, is divided into two epochs: the pre-independence epoch which covers six constitutional instruments (1914, 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954 and 1960) and the post-independence constitutional epochs (encompassing three instruments (1963, 1979 and 1999). While each successive pre-independence constitutional instrument was enacted through an order-in-council of the British monarch, their post-independence counterparts were enacted in two ways: an Act of parliament (1963 Constitution) and military decree (1979 and 1999).

The formation of the entity known as “Nigeria” began in 1914 with the Frederick Luggard Constitution. The 1914 Constitution amalgamated the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria under the colonial authority of the British Monarch. The emergent entity was administered under the authority of the British monarch through her appointed agent, a Governor-General. Lord Frederick Lugard was the 1st Governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria. The 1914 Constitution created a Legislative Council of the Colony which was however restricted to making laws for the Colony of Lagos alone, whilst the Governor General made laws for the rest of the country.

Eight years later, the 1914 Constitution was replaced by the 1922 Sir Clifford Constitution. Notably, the latter Constitution established a 46 member Legislative Council which was given law making responsibilities for the Colony of Lagos and the southern provinces. The Council had 27 members including the Governor, the Lieutenant-Governors, other elected and nominated members including three representing Lagos as the administrative and commercial capital and one representing Calabar.

Notably, the 1922 Constitution introduced, for the first time in any British African territory, the elective principle with Lagos and Calabar being granted the franchise to elect their representatives to the Legislative Council.

In 1946 the Arthur Richard Constitution which defined Nigeria, for the first time and divided the country into three main regions: the Northern, Western and Eastern regions was adopted. It was an instrument designed to establish a constitutional framework in which all sections of Nigeria could be represented on the Legislative Council and guaranteed an unofficial majority both in the House of Assembly and in the legislative council for indigenous Nigerians.

The Richards Constitution of 1946 had among its objectives the promotion of the unity of Nigeria and ensuring greater participation by Nigerians on their affairs. Notable provisions of this new constitution included the establishment of a re-constituted Legislative Council whose competence covered the whole country; the abolition of the official majority in the Council; the creation of Regional Councils consisting of a House of Assembly in each of the Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces, and creation of House of Chiefs in the North, whose roles were purely advisory rather than legislative. However, the Richards Constitution was crafted without consultation with or participation of Nigerians.

Five years later, the John Macpherson constitution of 1951 replaced the 1946 Richards Constitution. In contrast to the former, the 1951 constitution was drawn after an unprecedented process of meetings, consultations with Nigerians as well as regional and national conferences. These produced a general consensus which adopted a federal system of government. The emergent Constitution represented a major advancement on the old constitutional order by introducing African elected majorities in the Central Legislature and in the Regional Houses of Assembly and gave the legislative houses independent power in many areas of state activity.

Shortly after, the Oliver Lyttleton constitution of 1954 emerged following his intervention as the then British Secretary of State for the Colonies in violent eruptions in Kano between northerners and southerners. Lyttleton intervened by inviting leaders of various political parties in the country to attend a conference in London in 1953 as well as other conferences and consultations during which the constitution was formed. This Constitution amongst other things, made regional governments independent of the central government in respect of subjects and legislative powers allocated to them. It also established a unicameral legislature for the federal government and each of the 3 regional governments. Thus, the Lyttleton Constitution could best be described as the transition instrument towards Nigeria’s independence in 1960 under a federal structure with democratically elected federal and regional legislature.

When Nigeria gained political independence as a sovereign state in 1960, a new constitution named “the 1960 Constitution” was crafted. It provided for a parliamentary system of government, 3 regions (Northern, Eastern and Western Regions), a bicameral legislature at the federal (Senate and House of Representatives) and regional levels (House of Assembly and House of Chiefs) with the legislative powers of government delineated into three lists: exclusive, concurrent and residual.

The parliamentary system designed under the 1960 constitution recognized the British monarch as the Head of State with powers to appoint a resident agent- the Governor-General- to exercise executive powers on her behalf while a Prime Minister elected by the federal parliament acted as the Head of the federal Executive Council amongst other things.

Nonetheless, a few holes were picked in the constitution over provisions that contradicted the essence of the independence. In view of that, the 1963 constitution was enacted. A major highlight of the 1963 constitution as regards the legislature was the establishment of Nigeria’s 1st republic under a parliamentary system of government by replacing the Governor-General appointed by the British monarch with a President elected directly by members of the Nigerian federal legislature.

Evidently, given the place of the legislature in a democratic setting, it is the one arm of government that suffers casualty any time democracy is threatened especially by the military. This is because it is always the first democratic structure to be dissolved, and its powers appropriated and the constitution replaced with military decrees.

In view of the above, the country’s constitutional and political development suffered a set-back after a violent military coup d’etat which supplanted the 1st Republic with military rule in 1966. This development saw the legislature sent into oblivion and the 1963 constitution suspended as the military rule would last over a decade.

In 1977, a constituent assembly was set up to consider a draft constitution proposed by the drafting committee headed by late Rotimi Williams in preparation to the return to democracy. Consequently, the Presidential Constitution was which introduced the presidential system was adopted in 1979 and on October 1, 1979, the country returned to democratic rule.

Unfortunately, the 1979 Constitution like the previous one suffered a setback three years later precisely, December 31, 1983 when the military again, ousted the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari and returned the country back to military rule for another fifteen years.

Ironically, the military also put in place a constituent Assembly which was to draft yet another constitution which produced the 1989 Constitution with which elections into the Federal and State legislature and Governorship were conducted in 1991. That process ushered in the 1992/1993 National Assembly under the supervision of the military.

Surprisingly, on November 17, 1993, all democratic structures were dissolved by the military and the country once again, was returned to military rule. Five years later, in 1998, a constitution review committee was appointed by a new military administration to produce a Draft Constitution. The committee was led by Justice Nikki Tobi. And this birthed the 1999 Constitution and Nigeria’s transition to democratic rule in the 4th Republic under which the legislature has since thrived uninterruptedly.

The legislature in Nigeria, for the greater part of its nationhood, suffered a great deal with the military controlling power for almost three decades. This ‘siege’ saw this democratic structure sent into oblivion which was a serious setback for the country’s constitutional development.

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