The American Constitution and Adopted Lessons for Better Governance in Nigeria
The United States of America and The Federal Republic of Nigeria incidentally run a Federal system of Government. Although a unitary approach was earlier in place in the United States, a change in the system was later undertaken to federating units.
There lie similarities in the Constitutions of both Countries, written and concurrently operating a Federal System of Government. However, similarity does not automatically metamorphose into workability, while the United States has witnessed transformative growth over years of existence; the same position cannot be assertively taken on Nigeria, though a relatively younger Nation.
Comparing the Provisions of Both Constitutions
The Constitution of the United States is blessed with a preamble, a short but concise expository statement. It is laid out in parts by 7 Articles, featuring an aggregate of 20 Sections, typified by 27 amendments. Article 1 has a total of 10 Sections; it establishes the legislative powers of the United States which is vested in the Senate and House of Representative, known as the Congress.
Unlike the Nigerian lower chamber where the number of Representatives are evenly distributed along delineated political regions, the reverse is the case in the United States. In the United States, the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative.
The requirement(s) for qualification into the aforementioned House is hereby enumerated: An aspirant must have attained the age of 25 years, be a Citizen of the United States at least 7 years before the election and must be an inhabitant of the State of representation.
Where a vacuum is created either by death or removal from office of any of the representatives, the vacuum shall be filled through the issuance of an Executive Writs of Election. The principal officers are chosen by the House, likewise, the power of impeachment lies stricto sensu in the House.
The American Senate on the other hand is composed of two Senators from each State of the Federation. Against the tradition of running elections in Nigeria, they are chosen by the legislature for a term of 6 years, a Senator is entitled to one vote. The American Senate operates in the under listed manner: Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three classes. The seats of the Senators of the first class shall be vacated at the expiration of the second year, of the second class at the expiration of the fourth year, and the third class at the expiration of the sixth year, so that one third may be chosen every second year.
Where a vacuum is created by resignation or any other means, the Executive may make temporary appointments pending the convergence of the legislature. Unlike the House of Representatives, a Senatorial candidate must have attained the age of 30 years, be a Citizen of US for 9 years and be an inhabitant of the State for which he shall be chosen.
The Vice President of the United States although an Executive member shall be the President of the Senate, he is however not entitled to vote to save they be equally divided. Where there be a need for the absence of the Vice President, a President Pro tempore shall stand in his stead.
Article II contains 3 sections. It establishes and vests concurrently the Executive powers of the United States in the hands of the President. Similar to the Nigerian constitution, he holds the office for a term of 4 years renewable on re-election for another term of 4 years. He is elected with a Vice President to be chosen from the same team.
It is worthy of extensive mention that the mode of conducting Presidential elections in the United States of America is quite different from what obtains in Nigeria. The mode is hereby under listed: Each State shall appoint in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, several Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress, but no Senator or Representative, or person holding any office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States and vote by Ballot for two persons of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a list of all the Persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.
The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representative shall immediately choose by Ballot one as President; and if no person have a majority, then from the highest on the list, the said House shall in like manner chose the President.
In choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member of all the States. In every case, after the choice of the President, the Person having the greatest number of votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall choose from them by Ballot the Vice president. Similar to the Nigerian Constitution, the President of the United States shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy and the Militia of the several States.
The third Article of the American Constitution embodies the proviso on exercisable Judicial Powers. By construction, the adjudicatory power of the State(s) is vested in one Supreme Court and such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. Regardless of the above mentioned adjudicatory power, the trial of all crimes except in cases of impeachment shall be by Jury, such trial shall be held in the State where the said Crime shall have been committed. When not committed within any State, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
Article IV seems to be an extension of Article III, further delineating the exercise of judicial powers and procedures. Save for Section 4 which establishes a Republican form of Government for every State in the Union. Article V provides for procedures to undertake in situations warranting amendment, emphasises need not be placed on this part for it expressive and easily digestible nature. Article VI preaches responsibility by absorbing all debts contracted and engagements entered into as valid against the United States.
The Constitution although not elaborate, adopts pari passu, the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, as the Supreme Law of the Land. The Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Principal governing officers shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support the Constitution, but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States. Lastly, Article VII establishes the Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.
As expected of a radically evolving Nation, the American Constitution as undergone series of amendments, in total 27. When examined with an eagle eye, it appears the conferring Articles. The first amendment does not seem a direct alteration of a prior existing part of the Constitution, rather an express addition positioned to ameliorate the occurrence of a future conundrum.
In a successful attempt to create a Free State, the first amendment mitigates the possibility of Congress making any law respecting the establishment of a religion or its prohibition thereof. In similar fashion to the Nigerian Constitution, it guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, press and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Fifth Amendment houses the clichéd – I plead the fifth. Usually, whenever a defendant standing trial moves to plead the fifth, he/she shall not be compelled in any Criminal Case to be a witness against himself. Amendment XIII eradicated for good the long age barbaric practice of slavery and its attendant evils. The Amendment provides that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Although, Amendment XVII prohibits the manufacturing, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and territories subject to it jurisdiction for beverage purpose. This particular proviso shall not enjoy express enforcement in all States of the United States unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
It is worthy of note that this Amendment has been repealed by a subsequent Amendment XXI, it operation however subjected to the ratification by Conventions in the seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress. After a successful examination of the American Constitution and key Amendments therein, some lessons for possible adoption will now be considered being the concluding and most vital part of this Article.
It simple, concise and expressive nature makes the American Constitution readily digestible and comprehensible. It is a straight forward document which x-rays in simple terms the working apparatus of the United States. A workable document of the sort in a largely literate society makes it almost impossible for Citizens to be oblivious of facts contained therein. The Nigerian Constitution on the other hand, in its cumbersome and exhaustive nature, may not readily be digestible by an average Nigerian especially its record population of illiterates.
A cue can be taken from the second amendment of the American Constitution. It grants citizens the right to keep and bear Arms. There is no doubt Nigeria has witnessed a surge in an insurgency, particularly in the Northern region, kidnapping, armed robbery and all manner of destructive crimes.
Our security apparatus seems overstretched, isn’t this further evinced in the recent outcry of soldiers? It appears viable option citizens be allowed to keep and bear Arms particularly in volatile areas where scores of life have been lost. In the same vein, persons embarking on a journey be given the liberty to bear Arms as protection against the murderous hands of kidnappers.
Some school of thought may evoke a pathetic fallacy of how dangerous it is to allow Citizens to keep and bear Arms. One must be quick to remind them albeit vociferously, every government policy has its attendant evil, with a surge in the number of deaths recorded around the country daily, the protection of life and property should not remain the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government. The Western States seems to have identified this lacuna hence the birthing of Operation Amotekun.
The right to keep and bear Arms has proven a handy panacea in mitigating the occurrence of crime, protection of life and property. In bringing to closure the issue of Security, it is submitted Item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended be deleted and inserted into the Concurrent Legislative List. This will enable Federating Units ample hand in performing the responsibility of securing life and property particularly in this era of insurgency.
A comparison of Federalism in the USA and Nigeria evinces a wide dichotomy. The construction of words in the Nigerian Constitution arrogates by implication power and control to the Federal Government, unlike the American Constitution. An in-depth analysis of the 1999 Constitution reveals it was worded to empower the Central Government over Federating Units, especially in areas of resource(s) control and security.
On a final note, remuneration of Public Officers in the American Constitution is by compensatory payment, suggestive of being minimal, less attractive and reasonable payment of Public Officers, unlike their Nigerian counterparts. A conscious adoption of the aforementioned lessons would make in the long run a better and thriving polity for all and sundry.
Oluwole Kolawole legal practitioner with 6 years’ experience in law, entrepreneurship, leadership and in the development sector. He has worked as a legal associate crafting his interest in Labour Law, Election Petition, Administrative Law, Private International Law, Law of Commercial Transactions and the Law of Contract.