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 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.
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. International observers and several Nigerian parties alleged fraud, irregularities, and politically motivated violence in the most recent elections in 2007. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who observed the elections, called the electoral process “a step backward.”
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