Nigeria 1989

Drafters of Nigeria’s 1989 constitution sought to effect a successful transition to civilian democratic rule. Continued political unrest and threats of another coup prompted the military president, General Babangida, to initiate a reform process. Babangida had come to power by ousting another military regime (that had been in power since December 13, 1983), on August 27, 1985. On January 13, 1986, after several military leaders were arrested on grounds of plotting another coup, the president inaugurated a Political Bureau of 17 people to develop recommendations for the country’s political future. The Bureau submitted their report to the government in March 1987.


 The report was leaked, and then officially released on July 1st. The military government developed a 5-year transition program, which was announced by the President later in July. Shortly thereafter, the president established a directorate to educate Nigerians in democratic government and created two new states in the federal system. He then barred all military and criminal elements from participating in party politics in an effort to confer legitimacy on the upcoming elections.

In keeping with the transition program, in September the president appointed a 46- member Constitutional Review Committee to develop initial text for the constitution. The committee was to use the 1979 constitution, the Political Bureau Report, and the related government White Paper as the basis for its work. The committee was given 6 months to complete their efforts, and they submitted their report to the government in February 1988. The government then created a constituent assembly consisting of 566 members, of which 117 were nominated by the federal government and 450 were elected by the local government councilors (who had been chosen in nonpartisan elections held December 12). Thirteen women and five members of the constitutional review committee were included in the Assembly, which began work on May 11, 1988. After nearly 11 months of deliberation (which became particularly contentious over the status of the Sharia court system), the assembly delivered their draft to the military council on April 5, 1989. The ruling council (reconstituted in February to include 19 instead of 29 members), amended this draft substantially, producing a final draft on May 3, 1989.
Nigeria’s military leaders promulgated this constitution on May 5, 1989 and scheduled the transition to be completed on October 1, 1992. A suppressed military coup, violent protests (notably one in July 1989 related to IMF austerity measures), and continued ethnic tension resulted in repeated adjustments and delays in implementing the constitution. In December of 1991, the seat of government was moved from Lagos to Abuja, and state level elections were held. Presidential primaries were held in 1992, but General Babangida annulled the results. In 1993, Babangida resigned and transferred power to an interim government. On November 17, however, the Defense Minister, General Abacha, ousted this (interim) government. Abacha reinstated the 1979 constitution, but dissolved the National Assembly and House of Representatives to assume complete control.
Sporadic violence, repression, and religious and ethnic controversy, had characterized the constitution-drafting process. In the end, many argued that efforts by the Constituent Assembly had been costly and ineffectual. The constitution had differed in only 6 major ways from that which had preceded it, and most of these changes had been made not by the assembly, but the military government, which had retained overarching control of the process.

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