- A constitution is a body of fundamental principles, established precedents, conventions, rules and regulations according to which a state or other organization is governed.
- “Constitution is the collection of principles according to which the powers of government, the rights of the governed and the relation between the two are adjusted” – Woolsey
- “Constitution of a state is that body of rules or laws, written or unwritten which determines the organization of government, the distribution of powers to the various organs of government and the general principles on which these powers are to be exercised” – Gilchrist
Importance of Constitution
Each state has a constitution which lays down the organization, powers and functions of the government of the state. The government always works according to the constitution – It is the supreme law and all government institution and members are bound by it. Constitution enjoys supreme importance in the state because:
- It reflects the sovereign will of the people
- It lays down the aims, objectives, values and goals which the people want to secure.
- It contains description and guarantee of the fundamental rights of the people.
- It gives detailed account of the organization of the government. The organization, powers and functions of its other organs and their inter-relationship.
- In a federation, the constitution lays down the division of powers between the central government and the governments of the federating states/provinces.
- It specifies the power and method of amendment of the constitution.
- It lays down the election system and political rights of the people.
- It provides for independence of the judiciary and rule of law.
- The constitution governs all and no one can violate its rules.
Every democratic constitution guarantees to the citizens a protection against arbitrary governmental actions.
SOURCES OF CONSTITUTION
1) Written Document
Most modern constitutions derive their origin from the laws already written down via a constituent assembly. Hence a written constitution refers to a formal document in which the fundamental laws, conventions, rules and regulations which govern a country are written in the form of a book. It embodies the constitution of the state. It enjoys the place of supremacy. The government is strictly bound by its provisions and works strictly in accordance with its provisions. Examples of countries with written constitution are Nigeria, USA, Germany, Japan, Canada, France, Ghana, India, Switzerland and several other states.
Merits of Written Constitution
- It comes in handy for reference purpose.
- Citizens are better aware of their rights when it is written down.
- Due to the general awareness of its provisions by the citizens, it helps to ensure political stability.
- Areas of potential conflicts among organs of government are minimised because a written constitution spells out their functions.
- It reduces the dictatorial tendencies of our leaders because they are aware that the citizens have access to the constitution.
Demerits of Written Constitution
- It is subject to frequent court cases leading to loss of valuable time and energy.
- It is difficult to change as necessary because of its rigid nature.
- It does not cover all subjects hence its comprehensiveness is limited.
- It is not easily adaptable to changing conditions and time.
2) Unwritten Document
This is one in which the fundamental laws, conventions, principles, customs, norms, rules and regulations which govern a country are not written down in any single document. However, an unwritten constitution is not totally unwritten. Some of its parts are available in written forms but these do not stand codified in the form of a legal document or a code or a book. According to Garner, “an unwritten constitution is one in which most and not all, rules are unwritten and these are not found in any one charter or document”. A good example is the constitution of the United Kingdom. All unwritten constitutions are flexible and mostly associated with unitary governments.
Merits of an Unwritten Constitution
- It is flexible hence it is easy to amend
- Many potential areas of dispute are eliminated because it is flexible.
- It is responsive to changing situations because it evolves with time.
- It is easy to interpret thus reducing incidents of litigation.
Demerits of an Unwritten Constitution
- Since it is easy to amend, government may be tempted to amend it, for flimsy reasons.
- It is not easy to prove that a written document has been violated since it is not found in a single document.
- It is difficult for citizens to become aware of all their rights and duties when the constitution is unwritten.
3) Judicial Pronouncements
The Supreme Court is vested with the responsibility of interpreting the laws and also to put life into the basic document to enable it to keep pace with the time. Thus, such judicial decisions act as a source of the constitution. It includes court judgements passed on very important subjects. These are called case laws, and it could also be from superior courts.