Why Salam’s offering on 1999 Constitution is gift to Nigerians

By Idris Chester

Few books, if any, capture the significance of the constitution in the affairs of the Nigerian state than ‘160 Things Every Child Should Know About the Nigerian Constitution, Child Rights and Other Laws.’ Written by ace lawmaker, Honourable Bamidele Salam, Debola Ogundiran and Akintayo Jimoh.

Divided into two parts, the 146-page book crackles in animated dialogue, detailing a brief history of Nigeria, the nation’s constitutional journey from the Independence Constitution to the 1999 Constitution.

Deploying his expertise as a lawyer, teacher and journalist, Bamidele begins the beautiful literary work with the definition of a constitution, highlighting its mileage in the provisions of the rights of citizens as well as the governance structure of the Nigerian State. In his words, the constitution ‘Defines the system of government and creates the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It also defines their powers, duties, qualifications, mode of election or appointment into office and others.”

Written with the intent to give young Nigerians a rudimentary knowledge of the place of the constitution in the affairs of their country, Salam and his co-authors added that “The Constitution of Nigeria defines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, protects their rights by establishing the principles of democracy, fairness and equality of all persons. It ensures that nobody is placed above the law, no matter his position or status.”

The book illuminates the Nigeria’s constitutional odyssey through the 1960, 1963, 1979, 1989 and the 1999 Constitutions. In what students of Politics, History, Law, Political Science, Public Administration and Sociology would find indispensable, Hon. Salam and co took the reader through specific knowledge of what differentiates chapters, sections, sub-sections, and schedules of the constitution from each other, saying, “While chapters and parts are just for reading convenience; sections/sub-sections/paragraphs are the main parts that discuss the laws, processes, duties, powers and established by the constitution. There are 320 Sections in the Constitution.”

“On the other hand, Schedules comprise mostly of lists and descriptions; lists of states in Nigeria, their local government areas and list of legislative powers. It also lists government bodies and institutions, and how they should be formed and function. It offers further explanation on the main provisions contained under sections in the constitution.”

In two brief chapters, the authors succeeded in explaining convincingly the purpose of the constitution and why the constitution is the highest law in Nigeria. “Section One states that the Constitution is supreme and applies to all persons and authorities in Nigeria, regardless of their position or status. Therefore, everyone must obey the constitution and nobody can rule Nigeria or take control of governance without following the Constitution,” the authors wrote.

Perhaps, what most Nigerians would find undeniably useful is Chapter Six which highlighted the process of amending the constitution.

With the 10th National Assembly currently dusting memoranda on key aspects of governance including local government autonomy, fiscal federalism, state policing, electoral reforms, restructuring, and mayoral status of the Federal Capital Territory, among others, ahead of the review of the 1999 Constitution; this chapter offers invaluable information on the exercise.

For a lawful amendment to the nation’s extant laws, the authors stated that “At least, two-thirds majority of all the members of either House of the National Assembly (Senate or House of Representatives) proposing the change must vote in support of the proposal recommending such changes.

“The proposal must be agreed to by at least two-thirds majority of all States’ Houses of Assembly across the country.”

The above however does not apply to Sections 8,9 of and Chapter Four of the 1999 Constitution which deals with fundamental human rights. A proposal to effect changes in the two sections and Chapter Four requires “A submission before either House of the National Assembly; approval of votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all members of Houses of the National Assembly and at least, two-thirds approval of all States’ Houses of Assembly, i.e 24 out of the 36 states of the federation.

In chapter nine, the authors highlighted the processes of creating additional states in Nigeria, citing the provisions of Section 8 (1) of the constitution, while chapter 10 discussed the process of boundary adjustment between two or more states (Section 8(2) ).

The concept of citizenship is tearing my ethnic associations apart today. Who is a citizen of Nigeria? What qualifies one as a Nigerian? These are covered in Chapters 11, 12 and 13, with citations from Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the 1999 Constitution respectively.

Since the return to a democratic dispensation in 1999, many politicians have seen their nominations for elections questioned over allegations of dual citizenship. Hon Salam gave an exhaustive explanation of this and more in Chapters 15 and 16.

In the next chapters, the book defines the fundamental human rights-right to life, fair hearing, and personal liberty among others, while arguing that despite their significance, these rights are not absolute.

Secondary school students will particularly feast on Chapters 31-35 which detail the meaning, purpose and arms of government. Anchoring their argument on democracy, Salam and co emphasised the role of government in the affairs of the citizens and the citizens’ rights of participation in the governance process.

Next is a focus on the National Assembly, its function and the law-making process. Kicking things into high gear, the authors define constituencies and bills, highlighting the power of the President to veto a bill passed by the National Assembly.

“Once a bill has been passed by both Houses of the National Assembly, the Constitution states that such bill must be passed on to the President for his assent or approval. The President, after receiving the bill is required by law to approve the bill, within 30 days for it to become law.

“Nevertheless, the President may choose not to approve the bill within the required 30 days, if he so chooses. Where the President declines his approval as such, he is said to have exercised his veto power, and the bill will have no effect as law.

“The exercise of the veto power may still be cancelled by the National Assembly. So, when the President fails to sign the bill into law in 30 days, the National Assembly can pass the law if two-thirds majority members of the National Assembly approve its passage with their votes,” the authors state on page 41.

Nigerians who are not knowledgeable in how parliamentary businesses are conducted, have Chapter 39 for a guide. The chapter also captures are meetings are held at the hallowed chambers and resolutions are arrived at.

The next five Chapters detailed the Federal Executive, made up of the President and Vice President, the eligibility to vie for both offices and how a Vice President can succeed a President when the latter is unable to perform his functions either due to ill health or mental incapacitation.

If both die or their offices become vacant, Salam says the constitution in Section 146 allows the Senate President to take over as President for a period of three months, within which an election must be held to fill the offices.


The authors on pages 49-50 enumerated instances to warrant the impeachment of the President as provided in Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution.

Federal Judiciary

Described as a complete book on government, 160 Things Every Child Should Know about the Nigerian Constitution also detailed the hierarchy of the Federal Courts as listed by the constitution. They include the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, National Industrial Court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

The book differentiates the courts in respect of their various functions.

State Legislature

Section 90 of the constitution establishes a House of Assembly in each of the 36 States of the Federation to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the state.

As a guide, the authors note that “A law made by the National Assembly is known as an Act while a law of a State of Assembly remains a law.”

It also deals with the process of law-making at the House of Assembly. Like at the federal level, the boom provides the constitutional requirement for one to become a governor or deputy governor of a state as well as what happens in the event of a governor unable to discharge his or her duties.

If the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is not state as has been argued, how is it governed? Chapter 74 of the book handles this effectively.

Child Rights Act

Part B of this highly informative book covers the rights of the child. Perhaps, very few literature are as exhaustive as this one as Hon, Salam and his team detailed not just the rights of the child but the circumstances under which foster parents can take over the nurturing and welfare of the child. The sanctions for violation of the child’s rights are equally spelt out.

This well-written book is a resource material for every Nigerian interested in the constitutionality, good governance and the structure of the political administration in the three tiers of government. It is a manual for anyone who desires knowledge of the rights of the Nigerian Child.

Journalists, particularly those covering politics, judiciary and National Assembly beats need this book for company.

It is highly recommended to young Nigerians while the National Examination Council (NECO) may consider it a recommended text for students of Government and History.

With the 1999 Constitution about to witness a sixth alteration, the authors may consider a review of this all-important literature to capture expected constitutional changes to the nation’s extant laws.

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