The prime minister and regional premiers met in May, 1963 in order to discuss and settle constitutional issues. So, the conference of heads of government of Nigeria agreed to summon an all-party constitutional conference in Lagos to suggest to it, important changes in the constitution. The all-party conference met in July, 1963 and agreed that Nigeria should become a republic and that the president of the republic should have the same powers and functions as the Governor-General under the Independence Constitution.
MAIN FEATURES OF THE FIRST REPUBLICAN CONSTITUTION OF 1963
- Republican form of government: A change to a republican form of government backed up with a new constitution.
- Type of system: The constitution retained the parliamentary system of government.
- Head of state: The president as a ceremonial Head of state replaced the Governor-General of 1960. The Queen was no longer the Head of state.
- Election of the president: The president of Nigeria was to be indirectly elected through the secret ballot for a period of five years by the Senate and House of Representatives sitting together.
- Powers of the president: He was a ceremonial head; he had no real powers.
- Head of government: The Head of government was the prime minister.
- National parliament: The National Parliament was made up of 44 members of the Senate and 312 members of the House of Representatives.
- Judicial Service Commission was abolished: Appointment of judges were to be made by the president on the advice of the prime minister.
- Director of public prosecutions: This was brought under the political control of the executive.
- Appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: These were abolished and the Supreme Court of Nigeria became the highest and final court in the federation.
- Office of the prime minister: The office of the prime minister was strengthened but remained answerable and accountable to the parliament.
- Removal of a judge: A federal judge could only be removed by a two-third majority of both Houses-Senate and Representatives.
- Removal of the prime minister: The prime minister could not be removed except a vote of no confidence was passed on him by the House and if he refused to resign, the parliament would be dissolved.
MERITS OF THE FIRST REPUBLIC CONSTITUTION
- Republican form of government: The constitution gave Nigeria a republican form of government, based on elections to political positions in government.
- An elected president: The Queen of England ceased to be Nigeria’s Head of state. An elected president became the Head of state.
- Home made constitution: First Republican Constitution was fully a home made constitution.
- Final court of appeal: The Supreme Court became the final court of appeal.
- Fundamental human rights: The rights of citizens were fully entrenched and guaranteed.
- Power of judicial review: The Supreme Court was given the power to check the excesses or unconstitutional actions of the executive and the legislature.
- Political participation: Nigerians were now fully involved in the decision making process of the country.
- Free from external interference: British undue external influence on the country ceased.
DEMERITS OF THE FIRST REPUBLIC CONSTITUTION
- No supremacy of the constitution: There was no supremacy of the constitution but of the parliament.
- Accountable to the parliament: The prime minister was accountable to the parliament and not to the people.
- Abuse of power: The supremacy of the parliament resulted in abuse of power or arbitrary use of power by the legislature.
- The election of the president: This was not based on the decision of the majority but the minority.
- Lobbying or bribery and corruption: These characterised the election of the president by the two Houses of parliament.
- Fusion of power: The executive and the legislature were both fused. It did not make for effective performance.
- Carpet-crossing: It was a common feature of the First Republic. Politicians were shifting party allegiance for some rewards.
FUNCTIONS OF THE PRESIDENT UNDER THE 1963 CONSTITUTION OF NIGERIA
- Head of state: As the head of state, he performed ceremonial functions.
- Leader of the party: He appointed the leader of the party that won majority seats in parliament at the general election as the prime minister.
- Dissolution of the House of Representatives: With the advice of the prime minister, he dissolved the House of Representatives after a vote of no confidence had been passed.
- Council of ministers: He authorized any members of the council of ministers to perform the functions of the Prime Minister when the latter was absent or incapacitated.
- Approval: He approved all the Prime Minister’s appointments or nominees into political positions.
- Assent: He assented or signed into law all the bills passed by the parliament
- Advice: On the advice of the parliament, he could remove judges, directors of audit from office.
- Treaties or agreements: He approved treaties or agreements made with other countries on behalf of the country.
- He addressed the parliament at the beginning and end of the legislative year.
- State of emergency: He had the power to declare a state of emergency or war in the time of emergency.
- He summoned, prorogued and dissolved parliament on the advice of the Prime minister.
- Appointment: He appointed parliamentary secretaries from among the senators and members of the House of Representatives
- Prerogative of mercy: He had the power to show anyone mercy as he wished
- Commander-in- Chief: As the Commander-in-Chief, he controlled the Armed Forces.