1979 Presidential Constitution of Nigeria came as a result of the failure of the 1963 Republican Constitution. The 1963 republican constitution was criticized on so many grounds among them were the creation of president without executive power, the executive power was rested on the office of the prime minister. The president was more or less a ceremonial head without executive power.
The census crisis of 1962-1964, the general election crisis 1964 and the Western region conflict of 1965 gave rise to military rule which began in 1966 and ended in 1979. The presidential constitution of 1979 was the product of the constitution drafting committee headed by Chief F.R.A Williams setup in October 1975.
The constitution created the post of an executive president who headed the government. The president was not only the head of state but also the chief executive of the government. He appoints the members of his cabinet with the consent and approval of the Senate.
The constitution created the National Assembly as the highest national law making body of the federation. The National Assembly was made up of two houses namely the House of Senate and the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives was the most powerful house and it was made up of 450 members.
The House of Senate was the highest law making body and it was made up of 95 members. The executive power under the 1979 constitution was vested on the president. The president now becomes the head of state, the chief executive and commander of the federal armed forces of Nigeria. The president chose his cabinet from among members of the House of Representatives, political loyalist and professionals.
The 19 states created by the constitution also had executive governors and house of assembly each. The functions of the Governors and that of the House of Assembly were similar to that of the president and National Assembly. The governors appointed his commissioners with the approval of the house of assembly. The commissioners were accountable to him.
The house of assembly made laws within the concurrent list for the state. The constitution provided for a democratically elected local government council. Grants were made to the local government as part of the revenue allocation by the federal government as a third tier of government.
Another feature of the 1979 presidential constitution was the establishment of important public bodies which included: the Council of State, the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Federal Electoral Commission, the National Defense Council, the Police Service Commission, National Youth Service Corp etc.
The constitution provided for the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. This improvement on the constitution was borrowed from India. The president, the governor and members of National Assembly or House of Assembly were elected for 4 years or two terms (8years).
They could be impeached for abuse of office through the National Assembly in the case of president or State House of Assembly in the case of Governor. It has been rightly pointed out that the 1979 presidential constitution of Nigeria was modeled towards American system of government.
Although the constitution addressed some of the pit falls of the 1963 constitution, it created new political problems which Nigeria and Nigerians politicians had to face. The 1979 constitution was suspended following a military coup which took place on December 31, 1983 that brought General Mohammed Buhari and Idiagbon to power.
Buhari administration lasted till August 1985 when General Ibrahim Babangida removed him. General Babangida administration set up a constitution review committee led by Justice Buba Ado in 1987 and a Constitution Drafting Committee led by Justice Anthony Aniagolu to prepare the 1989 constitution. The 1989 constitution was similar to that of 1979 constitution in so many areas.
The constitution adopted the presidential system of government with an executive president. The National Assembly was made up of the Senate, 91 members, and House of Representatives 45 members. The 1989 constitution created more states and adopted two party system.
The office of a speaker was created for the local government and the independence of the local government as the third tier of government was ensured. The chairman and councilors were independently elected.
The constitution also provided for the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. It is important to note that the constitution was not fully put into practice following political crisis that developed around the presidential election of June 12 1993 in which M.K.O Abiola was leading.