The 1999 constitution provides for a bicameral National Assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109-member Senate. The president heads the executive branch. The judiciary includes a Supreme Court and lower courts. The Fourth Republic infused life and some excitement into the governance of Nigeria. It was the tonic that Nigerians required to recover from the years of successive military regimes. Nigeria's 1999 Constitution has never undergone amendment, because of the nearly impossible requirement that two-thirds of the state legislatures ratify the amendment.
Nigeria is a federal republic with a presidential system. The constitution provides for a separation of powers among the three branches of government. General elections held in February 1999 marked the end of 15 years of military rule and the beginning of civilian rule based on a multiparty democracy. General elections were held for the third consecutive time in April 2007. The victor was Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who assumed the presidency on May 29, 2007. In May 2006, the Nigerian Senate rejected a constitutional amendment that would have permitted President Olusegun Obasanjo to run for a third term.
Nigeria’s current constitution, the fourth since independence, went into effect on May 29, 1999. Modeled after the U.S. Constitution, it provides for a separation of powers among a strong executive, an elected legislature, and an independent judiciary. Critics of the constitution complain that the federal government retains too much power at the expense of the states. Although the constitution proclaims personal freedom and a secular state, it also permits Muslims to follow sharia, or Islamic law.
Executive power is vested in the president, who is simultaneously chief of state and head of government. The president is eligible for two four-year terms. The president’s Federal Executive Council, or cabinet, includes representatives from all 36 states. The National Assembly, consisting of a 109-member Senate and a 360-member House of Representatives, constitutes the country’s legislative branch. Three senators represent each of Nigeria’s 36 states, and one additional senator represents the capital city of Abuja. Seats in the House of Representatives are allocated according to population. Therefore, the number of House members from each state differs. Members of the National Assembly are elected to a maximum of two four-year terms. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, and, at the state level, high courts, sharia courts, and customary courts. The president appoints members of the Supreme Court subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Competition between branches of government and between levels of government also remains weak. The executive has overriding power compared to the other branches of government, and it controls the financial autonomy of the other branches. The executive often determines the leadership of the National Assembly, as do the state governors in regards to the state legislatures. Neither the civil service nor the judiciary is typically powerful or impartial enough to act as an effective constraint on the power of the executive, although the federal judiciary has shown itself to be an increasingly important check. Likewise, the relations between federal, state, and local governments are also top-down, both in terms of revenues and the authoritative use of force. States do not have their own independent tax bases or independent police.
Although the informal patterns of power in Nigeria still leave the balance deeply skewed toward the presidency, the National Assembly has taken several important strides down the long road of asserting its formal institutional prerogatives as provided in the Constitution. In addition to an atmosphere of increasing public debate and opening of political space for civil society, the legislature has also worked to improve its oversight role.
Defined as a mechanism of sequentially rotating offices across Nigeria’s six geographical areas, “Zoning” is neither mandated by the Nigerian constitution nor by statute. Nevertheless, zoning has widespread support among political elites and members of the middle classes concerned with stability, term limits, and equitable access to the presidency. Despite falling short of the competitive free and open standard, advocates defend “zoning” as a historically legitimate solution to the centralization or monopolization of power by a particular lineage (as was done in pre-colonial Zaria, for instance) or by any particular section or group. If respected, zoning guarantees access to high office by each geopolitical region provided they are patient, which thus creates a measure of political stability.
Reportedly, zoning was recommended originally by the national student association as a mechanism for the rotation of power among Nigeria’s competing regions. It was introduced but not enacted during military rule. Interestingly, because the creation of 36 states renders branch offices for each state prohibitively expensive, the federal government, multilateral agencies, and NGOs often use the zones as a cost effective, shorthand method of delivering services, representing regions, or sampling populations in national research projects. The political parties in particular have adopted the zoning principle in their choice of candidates and in parsing out control of elected offices, although the specifics of which zone deserves what office is a source of constant debate.
Today there are 36 states carved from the original three regions and 774 local government areas, up from 171 in 1963. Ironically, the centralization of petro-revenues at the federal center and the creation of additional states have increased political centralization, largely because many states are not effective administrative or economic units and all are dependent on the central reallocation of petro-revenues. Nonetheless, multi-state federalism has given the smaller minorities, which constitute a third of the nation’s population, a greater voice in the Nigerian nation which is less dominated by the potentially explosive competition among the Big Three groups—the Hausa-speakers, the Yoruba, and the Igbo—who count for the other two-thirds of all Nigerians.
Nigeria is divided administratively into the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) and 36 states, which are organized into the following six zones: South–West Zone—Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Oshun, and Oyo; South–South Zone—Akwa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ibom, and Rivers; South–East Zone—Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo; North–West Zone—Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, and Zamfara; North–Central Zone—Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, and Plateau; and North–East Zone—Adamawa, Bauchi, Bornue, Gomber, Taraba, and Yobe.
Each of Nigeria’s 36 states has an elected governor and a House of Assembly. The governor is elected to a maximum of two four-year terms. The number of delegates to the House of Assembly is based on population (three to four times the number of delegates each state sends to the federal House of Representatives) and therefore varies from state to state within the range of 24 to 40. Nigeria’s states are subdivided into 774 local government areas, each of which is governed by a council that is responsible for supplying basic needs. The local government councils, which are regarded as the third tier of government below the federal and state levels, receive monthly subsidies from a national “federation account.” Critics contend that the division of the country into so many districts is a vestige of military rule that is arbitrary, wasteful, and inefficient.
Nigeria’s legal system is based on a combination of statutory (legislative) law, English common law, customary law, and, in the north, Islamic law (sharia). Nigeria’s federal and state courts apply statutory and English common law, whereas local courts recognize the legitimacy of customary and Islamic law. Bribes paid to influence judges and delays in bringing cases to trial sometimes impair the fair and efficient administration of justice. These deficiencies partially explain the popularity of Islamic law in the 12 northern states. Nevertheless, sharia is criticized for the imposition of draconian penalties, although no death penalties have been carried out in recent years. Testimony from women and non-Muslims also carries less weight in Islamic courts.
The president and members of the bicameral National Assembly, consisting of a 109-member Senate and a 360-member House of Representatives, are elected to a maximum of two four-year terms. Universal suffrage at age 18 applies to all elections. Winning candidates are determined according to the British first-past-the-post system, whereby a plurality of the votes ensures victory. Also under this system, members of the National Assembly represent distinct geographic constituencies.
PRONACO (Pro National Conference), is a coalition of Nigerian organizations seeking to ensure that Constitutional Reform takes into account the wishes of the Nigerian people. The current constitution was decreed by the military government in 1999 whereas the PRONACO generated draft constitution of 2006 was a document drawn up by representatives of over 200 ethnic groups from all over the country in a transparent process. Key features of the constitution include replacing the 37 states of the Nigerian Federation with 18 ethnically based regions, devolving power to these regions to the extent possible and leaving only limited powers with the Federal Government. In addition, the constitution calls for the creation of decentralized police forces, the introduction of a parliamentary rather than presidential system, and the payment of 50 percent of revenues to the region of derivation, as well as a 30 percent quota for women in public office. This draft constitution was ignored by the government of Nigeria.
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