Why Nigeria Should Consider Returning to the 1960 Constitution

By Professor Ojo Emmanuel Ademola

Nigeria’s journey towards constitutional democracy has been marked by a series of changes, with various repercussions on the nation’s governance and stability. The Nigerian Constitution has undergone multiple revisions since the country gained independence in 1960, each reflecting the changing political and social landscape. However, amidst challenges and uncertainties, there is a growing call for a re-evaluation of the country’s constitutional framework, with a significant number of voices advocating a return to the 1960 Constitution. This piece aims to examine the reasons why Nigeria should consider revisiting the 1960 Constitution as a pathway towards addressing contemporary governance challenges and fostering national unity.

Historically, the 1960 Constitution represented Nigeria’s foundational legal framework upon gaining independence from colonial rule. It provided for a federal system of government that granted significant autonomy to the regions (Northern, Western, and Eastern regions) while establishing a central government with defined powers. This constitutional arrangement facilitated a degree of regional self-governance, allowing each region to manage its affairs and natural resources, which contributed to socio-economic development within the regions. Additionally, the 1960 Constitution upheld fundamental rights and freedoms, setting the stage for a nascent democracy in post-colonial Nigeria.

Some of the core reasons to revisit the 1960 Constitution are:

1. Preservation of Federalism and Regional Autonomy

The 1960 Constitution embodied the principles of federalism that ensured a balance between the central government and regional authorities. This framework facilitated regional development by allowing states to control and benefit from their resources. Restoring the 1960 Constitution could address the longstanding clamor for the restructuring of Nigeria by devolving powers to the states and addressing issues of resource control. By embracing regional autonomy, Nigeria may mitigate the over-reliance on the central government, fostering healthy competition and development among the regions.

2. Ethno-Religious Harmony and National Unity

The 1960 Constitution provided a sense of balance and representation among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. It recognized the distinctiveness of the various regions and allowed for local governance in line with cultural and social peculiarities. In present-day Nigeria, a return to the 1960 Constitution could address the grievances stemming from the perceived marginalization of certain ethnic groups and reinforce the principles of inclusivity and diversity. By granting more autonomy to regional governments, the nation may mitigate ethnic tensions and promote a sense of belonging and ownership among all ethnicities.

3. Management of Natural Resources

One of the key issues in Nigeria’s governance framework revolves around the control and utilization of natural resources. The 1960 Constitution granted significant autonomy to the regions in managing their resources, providing the foundation for regional economic viability. Returning to this constitutional model could help address the longstanding debate over resource control and revenue allocation, fostering a more equitable and transparent system for resource management. By empowering regions to harness and manage their natural resources, Nigeria could potentially unlock economic potential and promote development across the nation.

4. Strengthening Democratic Institutions and Rule of Law

The 1960 Constitution laid the groundwork for democratic governance in Nigeria, establishing key principles to guide the nation’s political landscape. It emphasized the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, and the independence of the judiciary. Returning to this constitutional framework could reinforce the pillars of democratic governance and institutional accountability, countering the challenges of executive dominance and constitutional infringements. By upholding the tenets of the 1960 Constitution, Nigeria may revitalize its democratic institutions, ensuring checks and balances in governance and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability.

5. Addressing Contemporary Challenges

Nigeria grapples with a myriad of contemporary challenges, including insecurity, economic disparities, and social unrest. The 1960 Constitution, with its provisions for regional autonomy and resource control, could offer a viable platform for addressing these challenges. Restoring this framework could empower regions to address local security concerns, promote economic growth, and implement targeted policies to address social welfare and development. Accordingly, revisiting the 1960 Constitution presents an opportunity to recalibrate Nigeria’s governance structure in response to current realities.

Nonetheless, while the prospect of returning to the 1960 Constitution holds promise, it is imperative to address potential challenges and considerations. The process of reverting to the 1960 constitutional framework would require thoughtful deliberation and engagement with various stakeholders. Furthermore, the need to reconcile historical contexts with present-day dynamics calls for a pragmatic approach to constitutional reform. Balancing the demands of national unity with regional autonomy and resource management requires careful consideration to ensure a harmonized and sustainable constitutional framework.

In conclusion, Nigeria stands at a critical juncture in its quest for sustainable governance and national cohesion. The re-evaluation of the country’s constitutional framework, particularly the merits of returning to the 1960 Constitution, presents an opportunity to address contemporary challenges and foster inclusive governance. By embracing federalism, regional autonomy, and resource management, Nigeria can potentially chart a path towards equitable development and national unity. While the journey towards constitutional reform may be complex, the potential benefits of revisiting the 1960 Constitution underscore the importance of engaging in robust discourse and deliberation towards shaping a constitutional framework that aligns with the aspirations of all Nigerians.

* Prof. Ademola, a pastor, professor and management consultant, writes from UK

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