The Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nigeria has had a series of constitutions. The current constitution was enacted on 29 May 1999, inaugurating the Nigerian Fourth Republic.
Colonial era (1914–1960)
Nigeria's first constitutions were enacted by order in council during the colonial era, when the country was administered as a Crown Colony. The constitutions enacted during this period were those of 1913 (which came into effect on 1 January 1914), 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1954.
In 1946 a new constitution was approved by Westminster and promulgated in Nigeria. Although it reserved effective power in the hands of the Governor-General and his appointed Executive Council, the so-called Richards Constitution (after Governor-General Sir Arthur Richards, who was responsible for its formulation) provided for an expanded Legislative Council empowered to deliberate on matters affecting the whole country. Separate legislative bodies, the houses of assembly, were established in each of the three regions to consider local questions and to advise the lieutenant governors. The introduction of the federal principle, with deliberative authority devolved on the regions, signaled recognition of the country's diversity. Although realistic in its assessment of the situation in Nigeria, the Richards Constitution undoubtedly intensified regionalism as an alternative to political unification.
The pace of constitutional change accelerated after the promulgation of the Richards Constitution. It was suspended in 1950 against a call for greater autonomy, which resulted in an inter-parliamentary conference at Ibadan in 1950. The conference drafted the terms of a new constitution. The so-called Macpherson Constitution, after the incumbent Governor-General, John Stuart Macpherson, went into effect the following year.
The most important innovations in the new charter reinforced the dual course of constitutional evolution, allowing for both regional autonomy and federal union. By extending the elective principle and by providing for a central government with a Council of Ministers, the Macpherson Constitution gave renewed impetus to party activity and to political participation at the national level. But by providing for comparable regional governments exercising broad legislative powers, which could not be overridden by the newly established 185-seat federal House of Representatives, the Macpherson Constitution also gave a significant boost to regionalism. Subsequent revisions contained in the Lyttleton Constitution, named for Oliver Lyttelton, 1st Viscount Chandos and enacted in 1954, firmly established the federal principle and paved the way for independence.
Constitutional independence (1960)
Nigeria's first constitution as a sovereign state was enacted by a British order in council so as to come into force immediately upon independence, on 1 October 1960. Under this constitution Nigeria retained Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state.
1963 constitution (First Republic)
Independent Nigeria's second constitution established the country as a federal republic. It came into force on 1st of October,1963 (Nigeria's third anniversary as an independent nation). The 1963 constitution, which was based on the Westminster system, continued in operation until a military coup in 1966 overthrew Nigeria's democratic institutions.
1979 constitution (Second Republic)
The 1979 constitution, which brought in the Second Republic, abandoned the Westminster system in favour of an American-style presidential system, with a direct election, directly-elected. To avoid the pitfalls of the First Republic, the constitution mandated that political parties and Federal Executive Council (Nigeria cabinet) positions reflect the "federal character" of the nation: political parties were required to be registered in at least two-thirds of the States of Nigeria or states, and each state had to have at least one member of the cabinet from it.
1993 constitution (Third Republic)
The 1993 constitution was intended to see the return of democratic rule to Nigeria with the establishment of a Third Republic, but was never fully implemented, and the military resumed power until 1999
1999 constitutions (Fourth Republic)
The 1999 constitutioning restored democratic rule to Nigeria, and remains in force today.
In January 2011, two amendments of the 1999 constitution were signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the first modifications since the document came into use in 1999.
- 33. (1) Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
- (2) A person shall be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, to such extent and in such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably necessary -
- (a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property:
- (b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of person(s) lawfully detained; or
- (c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny.
- 34. (1) Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly -
- (a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment;
- (b) no person shall he held in slavery or servitude; and
- (c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
- (2) for the purposes of subsection (1) (c) of this section, "forced or compulsory labour" does not include -
- (a) any labour required in consequence of the sentence or order of a court;
- (b) any labour required of members of the armed forces of the Federation or the Nigeria Police Force in pursuance of their duties as such;
- (c) in the case of persons who have conscientious objections to service in the armed forces of the Federation, any labour required instead of such service;
- (d) any labour required which is reasonably necessary in the event of any emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community; or
- (e) any labour or service that forms part of -
- (i) normal communal or other civic obligations of the well-being of the community.
- (ii) such compulsory national service in the armed forces of the Federation as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly, or
- (iii) such compulsory national service which forms part of the education and training of citizens of Nigeria as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.
- 35. (1) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law -
- (a) in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty;
- (b) by reason of his failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfilment of any obligation imposed upon him by law;
- (c) for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offence;
- (d) in the case of a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years for the purpose of his education or welfare;
- (e) in the case of persons suffering from infectious or contagious disease, persons of unsound mind, persons addicted to drugs or alcohol or vagrants, for the purpose of their care or treatment or the protection of the community; or
- (f) for the purpose of preventing the unlawful entry of any person into Nigeria or of effecting the expulsion, extradition or other lawful removal from Nigeria of any person or the taking of proceedings relating thereto:
- Provided that a person who is charged with an offence and who has been detained in lawful custody awaiting trial shall not continue to be kept in such detention for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment prescribed for the offence.
- (2) Any person who is arrested or detained shall have the right to remain silent or avoid answering any question until after consultation with a legal practitioner or any other person of his own choice.
- (3) Any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing within twenty-four hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention.
- (4) Any person who is arrested or detained in accordance with subsection (1) (c) of this section shall be brought before a court of law within a reasonable time, and if he is not tried within a period of -
- (a) two months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who is in custody or is not entitled to bail; or
- (b) three months from the date of his arrest or detention in the case of a person who has been released on bail, he shall (without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him) be released either unconditionally or upon such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears for trial at a later date.
- (5) In subsection (4) of this section, the expression "a reasonable time" means -
- (a) in the case of an arrest or detention in any place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of forty kilometres, a period of one day; and
- (b) in any other case, a period of two days or such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court to be reasonable.
- (6) Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person; and in this subsection, "the appropriate authority or person" means an authority or person specified by law.
- (7) Nothing in this section shall be construed -
- (a) in relation to subsection (4) of this section, as applying in the case of a person arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of having committed a capital offence; and
- (b) as invalidating any law by reason only that it authorises the detention for a period not exceeding three months of a member of the armed forces of the federation or a member of the Nigeria Police Force in execution of a sentence imposed by an officer of the armed forces of the Federation or of the Nigeria police force, in respect of an offence punishable by such detention of which he has been found guilty.
- 36. (1) In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.
- (2) Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this section, a law shall not be invalidated by reason only that it confers on any government or authority power to determine questions arising in the administration of a law that affects or may affect the civil rights and obligations of any person if such law -
- (a) provides for an opportunity for the persons whose rights and obligations may be affected to make representations to the administering authority before that authority makes the decision affecting that person; and
- (b) contains no provision making the determination of the administering authority final and conclusive.
- (3) The proceedings of a court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the court or tribunal) shall be held in public.
- (4) Whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal:
- Provided that -
- (a) a court or such a tribunal may exclude from its proceedings persons other than the parties thereto or their legal practitioners in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, the welfare of persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, the protection of the private lives of the parties or to such extent as it may consider necessary by reason of special circumstances in which publicity would be contrary to the interests of justice;
- (b) if in any proceedings before a court or such a tribunal, a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a commissioner of the government of a State satisfies the court or tribunal that it would not be in the public interest for any matter to be publicly disclosed, the court or tribunal shall make arrangements for evidence relating to that matter to be heard in private and shall take such other action as may be necessary or expedient to prevent the disclosure of the matter.
- (5) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty;
- Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.
- (6) Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to -
- (a) be informed promptly in the language that he understands and in detail of the nature of the offence;
- (b) be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
- (c) defend himself in person or by legal practitioners of his own choice;
- (d) examine, in person or by his legal practitioners, the witnesses called by the prosecution before any court or tribunal and obtain the attendance and carry out the examination of witnesses to testify on his behalf before the court or tribunal on the same conditions as those applying to the witnesses called by the prosecution; and
- (e) have, without payment, the assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand the language used at the trial of the offence.
- (7) When any person is tried for any criminal offence, the court or tribunal shall keep a record of the proceedings and the accused person or any persons authorised by him in that behalf shall be entitled to obtain copies of the judgement in the case within seven days of the conclusion of the case.
- (8) No person shall be held to be guilty of a criminal offence on account of any act or omission that did not, at the time it took place, constitute such an offence, and no penalty shall be imposed for any criminal offence heavier than the penalty in force at the time the offence was committed
- (9) No person who shows that he has been tried by any court of competent jurisdiction or tribunal for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall again be tried for that offence or for a criminal offence having the same ingredients as that offence save upon the order of a superior court.
- (10) No person who shows that he has been pardoned for a criminal offence shall again be tried for that offence.
- (11) No person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.
- (12) Subject as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefor is prescribed in a written law, and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a Law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of a law.
- 37. The privacy of citizens, their homes, correspondence, telephone conversations and telegraphic communications is hereby guaranteed and protected.
- 38. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
- (2) No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if such instruction ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own, or religion not approved by his parent or guardian.
- (3) No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination.
- (4) Nothing in this section shall entitle any person to form, take part in the activity or be a member of a secret society.
- 39. (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
- (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions:
- Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for, any purpose whatsoever.
- (3) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society -
- (a) for the purpose of preventing the disclosure. of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph films; or
- (b) imposing restrictions upon persons holding office under the Government of the Federation or of a State, members of the armed forces of the Federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or other Government security services or agencies established by law.
- 40. Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
- Provided that the provisions of this section shall not derogate from the powers conferred by this Constitution on the Independent National Electoral Commission with respect to political parties to which that Commission does not accord recognition.
- 41. (1) Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit therefrom.
- (2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society-
- (a) imposing restrictions on the residence or movement of any person who has committed or is reasonably suspected to have committed a criminal offence in order to prevent him from leaving Nigeria; or
- (b) providing for the removal of any person from Nigeria to any other country to:-
- (i) be tried outside Nigeria for any criminal offence, or
- (ii) undergo imprisonment outside Nigeria in execution of the sentence of a court of law in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty:
- Provided that there is reciprocal agreement between Nigeria and such other country in relation to such matter.
- 42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
- (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
- (2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.
- (3) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes restrictions with respect to the appointment of any person to any office under the State or as a member of the armed forces of the Federation or member of the Nigeria Police Forces or to an office in the service of a body, corporate established directly by any law in force in Nigeria.
- 43. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
- 44. (1) No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by a law that, among other things -
- (a) requires the prompt payment of compensation therefore and
- (b) gives to any person claiming such compensation a right of access for the determination of his interest in the property and the amount of compensation to a court of law or tribunal or body having jurisdiction in that part of Nigeria.
- (2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall be construed as affecting any general law.
- (a) for the imposition or enforcement of any tax, rate or duty;
- (b) for the imposition of penalties or forfeiture for breach of any law, whether under civil process or after conviction for an offence;
- (c) relating to leases, tenancies, mortgages, charges, bills of sale or any other rights or obligations arising out of contracts.
- (d) relating to the vesting and administration of property of persons adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt or insolvent, of persons of unsound mind or deceased persons, and of corporate or unincorporate bodies in the course of being wound-up;
- (e) relating to the execution of judgements or orders of court;
- (f) providing for the taking of possession of property that is in a dangerous state or is injurious to the health of human beings, plants or animals;
- (g) relating to enemy property;
- (h) relating to trusts and trustees;
- (i) relating to limitation of actions;
- (j) relating to property vested in bodies corporate directly established by any law in force in Nigeria;
- (k) relating to the temporary taking of possession of property for the purpose of any examination, investigation or enquiry;
- (l) providing for the carrying out of work on land for the purpose of soil-conservation; or
- (m) subject to prompt payment of compensation for damage to buildings, economic trees or crops, providing for any authority or person to enter, survey or dig any land, or to lay, install or erect poles, cables, wires, pipes, or other conductors or structures on any land, in order to provide or maintain the supply or distribution of energy, fuel, water, sewage, telecommunication services or other public facilities or public utilities.
- (3) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
- 45. (1) Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 of this Constitution shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society
- (a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
- (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom or other persons
- (2) An act of the National Assembly shall not be invalidated by reason only that it provides for the taking, during periods of emergency, of measures that derogate from the provisions of section 33 or 35 of this Constitution; but no such measures shall be taken in pursuance of any such act during any period of emergency save to the extent that those measures are reasonably justifiable for the purpose of dealing with the situation that exists during that period of emergency:
- Provided that nothing in this section shall authorise any derogation from the provisions of section 33 of this Constitution, except in respect of death resulting from acts of war or authorise any derogation from the provisions of section 36(8) of this Constitution.
- (3) In this section, a " period of emergency" means any period during which there is in force a Proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President in exercise of the powers conferred on him under section 305 of this Constitution.
- 46. (1) Any person who alleges that any of the provisions of this Chapter has been, is being or likely to be contravened in any State in relation to him may apply to a High Court in that State for redress.
- (2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a High Court shall have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any application made to it in pursuance of this section and may make such orders, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcement or securing the enforcing within that State of any right to which the person who makes the application may be entitled under this Chapter.
- (3) The Chief Justice of Nigeria may make rules with respect to the practice and procedure of a High Court for the purposes of this section.
- (4) The National Assembly -
- (a) may confer upon a High Court such powers in addition to those conferred by this section as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or desirable for the purpose of enabling the court more effectively to exercise the jurisdiction conferred upon it by this section; and
- (b) shall make provisions-
- (i) for the rendering of financial assistance to any indigent citizen of Nigeria where his right under this Chapter has been infringed or with a view to enabling him to engage the services of a legal practitioner to prosecute his claim, and
- (ii) for ensuring that allegations of infringement of such rights are substantial and the requirement or need for financial or legal aid is real.