By John Maton, Esq
There are many definitions of a Constitution from various perspectives. They agree that a country’s Constitution is written instrument embodying the basic rules, principles, obligations and laws that determines the organization of that entity, powers and duties, and guarantees rights of the citizens and people within and of that country. A Constitutional Amendment then is a modification of this instrument according to prescribed guidelines, the location of the guidelines for modification and the prescribed terms varies from one country to another. Many countries usually adopt one of two popular methods of Amendment; the first is a revision of parts of text with the intention of replacing or repealing the original, while the second involves having the revision appended to the original without having it deleted.
PROCEDURE IN NIGERIA
The Bills and other proposals for alteration is usually initiated by the Executive or a Member of the House, introduced for reading and debate, referred to a committee for critical analysis that may involve public hearing and consultation to propose amendments, voted on, passed for third reading, transmitted to conference committee for harmonization, passed by two-third majority, transmitted to State Houses for concurrence by a minimum of two-third, and then returned to the National Assembly. There are two positions on when it takes effect, supporters of the first argue it automatically comes into effect while dissenters debate the need for Presidential Assent.
There have been three sets of amendments (“Alteration Bill”) to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), these were in 3rd June, 4th November, and 15th December, 2010. The 4th began in November 2012 that was submitted to former President G.E. Jonathan for assent that was not given before he left office, which led to the passing of this responsibility to the new President, Muhammadu Buhari.
Constitution; Constitutional Law; Constitutional Amendment; Constitutional Reform; 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; Assent of the President; National Assembly; Senate; House of Representatives; Alteration; Amendment;
According to Section 9, of The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), hereafter to referred to as “CFRN”, The National Assembly will not be allowed to alter any of the provisions of the Constitution through an act for alteration unless:
the proposed alteration is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States;
altering the provisions of Section 8, 9 or Chapter IV of the Constitution is approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and also approved by resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-third of all States;
for the purposes of Section 8, and Subsections (2) and (3) of Section 9, the number of members of each House of the National Assembly shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the number of members specified in sections 48 and 49 of this Constitution.
The rules, principles and laws governing matured societies evolve with the passage of time through various ways, and since constitutions derive authority and legitimacy from the people, it is expected that growing concerns of the majority need be formally addressed and codified. The major concern was that the CFRN was Poorly Written; the death of General Sani Abacha on 8th June, 1998 left intense pressure on his successor, General Abubakar Abdulsalam, by citizens and the international community to hand over power to civilians, meaning he was in office barely ten months which led to a rushed Constitution that came into force 29th May, 1999. The constitution was both poorly drafted and unsatisfactory in considering the rights and different diverse sections of all the people, necessitating alteration and amendment. Other issues and concerns are: Call for Restructuring, Concentration of Power at the Center, Desire for Self Determination, Scramble for Resource Control, and Religion, to mention a few.
There are so many difficulties facing the alteration process, it is my opinion that the most notable of them are:
National Assembly Structure: most of Nigeria’s laws and policy were copied from foreign jurisdictions, one of them being the number of members allowed to represent each state. The North since then has advocated for more and more representatives making their number the largest block. The implication of this is that no alteration/amendment will go through unless they support it;
Keeping Track: the refusal of former President G.E. Jonathan to assent to a lump of alterations made the National Assembly evolve its method to sending small clusters of alterations for assent. While this ensures smoother running of the process, it makes tracking and use of these alterations difficult;
Lack of Political Will: because of the diversity and different interests in the country, the Politicians in power are often unwilling to make hard-choice alterations for fear it would affect chances for gaining benefits and re-election;
Untrained Legislators: it is one of the concerns of educated Nigerians that the statutory recognized law-making body for the country is often composed of members with little or no knowledge about the law much less legislating, there is no focus on the law and associated problems but on infrastructure and politicking;
Debate over Assent: as discussed above, there are two different perspectives to the requirement of assent and when an altered part of the law takes effect; supporters of the first argue the altered part automatically comes into effect, while dissenters debate the need for Presidential Assent before the altered law comes into force. This debate often delays the quick passage of laws, by complicating the process;
Timeline: the activities of every House begin and end with that assembly, meaning the process of alteration if not completed ends at the deadline of re-election of a new assembly to office, discussions cannot continue at new assembly.
While the alteration process is different in other countries, the concerns identified show that the Nigerian process must be done very carefully in accordance with prescribed guidelines to avoid further problems. Having noted the fact Nigeria has had three separate alterations, emphasis must be made on the need for the large amount of pending work to be done to ensure the CFRN does not dwell in the pass, but address the current growing concerns of the majority.
Careful and Methodical fulfillment of conditions for alteration;
Adopt innovative strategy that eliminates loopholes while taking into consideration diversity and concerns of all interest groups;
Laws and alterations be made in explicitly clear terms
A fresh single-document handy and readily accessible.
Nat Ofo. Amending the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, African Journal of Legal Studies 4 (2011) 123–148
David A. Strauss, The Irrelevance of Constitutional Amendments, University of Chicago Law 2001. Accessed on 30th March, 2021 at:
HG.org Legal Resources, A New Constitution for Nigeria: Some Fundamental Issues Arising, accessed on 30th March, 2021 at:
Idayat Hassan, Nigeria’s Constitutional Reform Process: The Quest for People-Driven Constitution, 18th October 2017, accessed on 30th March, 2021 at:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Apollos Maton Esq. DRS. ChMC. ACIArb (UK).
Dispute Resolution Specialist & Young Plateau Politician Passionate about Sustainable Development, Leadership, Rights Protection, Education, Physical Fitness and Literature.
In this article: