1999 Transition: Setting Chief Nwodo’s Records Straight

By Akinloye NG

In a recent interview, the former President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Information Minister in the General Abdulsalami Abubakar government, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, made a claim that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn into office as President in 1999 without a constitution; a claim he made because the 1999 Constititution was yet to come to force and also be printed by his Ministry as at handing over time.

The above claim being the first of such, I shall also in this work set the shocking claim straight that Chief Obasanjo was actually sworn-in with a Constititution having being elected under a Decree that took its root from the same  Constititution.

The then Federal Military Government under General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd) after coming to power performed the usual military takeover ritual of repealing and amending existing Decrees and promulgating new ones to legitimize their military rule.

The FMG under General Abdulsalami, empowered by the Constititution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 as amended by the Constititution (Suspension and Modification) Decree 1993 and of all other powers enabling it in that behalf, then promulgated Decree No. 34 and gazetted it on the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 64 Vol. 85 of 1st December, 1998, to midwife the process of transfer of power to civilian rule up to May 29, 1999 handing over point. All the political parties were registered and all the elections were conducted under Decree No. 34 drawing their legitimacy from the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 as amended by the Constititution (Suspension and Modification) Decree 1993.
The process to birth the now refered to 1999 Constititution was on and it all ended as Decree No. 24 of 5th May, 1999; a slightly amended 1979 Constititution which according to Decree Nos. 24 and 34 provisons, can only come into force on May 29, 1999 after swearing-in.

The above are very clear in the preamble of the 1999 Constititution where it said “WHEREAS the Federal Military Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in compliance with the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree 1998 has, through the Independent National Electoral Commission, conducted elections to the office of President and Vice-President, Governors and Deputy-Governors, Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen, the National Assembly, the Houses of Assembly and the local government councils;”

“AND WHEREAS the Federal Military Government in furtherance of its commitment to hand over to a democratically elected civilian administration on 29th May 1999, inaugurated on 11th November 1998, the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee charged with responsibility to, among other things, pilot the debate on the new constitution for Nigeria, coordinate and collate views and recommendations canvassed by individuals and groups for a new Constitution for Nigeria;”

“AND WHEREAS the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee benefitted from the receipt of large volumes of memoranda from Nigerians at home and abroad and oral presentations at the public hearings at the debate centres throughout the country and the conclusions arrived thereat and also at various seminars, workshops and conferences organised and was convinced that the general consensus of opinion of Nigerians is the desire to retain the provisions of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with some amendments;”

“AND WHEREAS the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee has presented the report of its deliberations to the Provisional Ruling Council;”

“AND WHEREAS the Provisional Ruling Council has approved the report subject to such amendments as are deemed necessary in the public interest and for the purpose of promoting the security, welfare and good governance and fostering the unity and progress of the people of Nigeria with a view to achieving its objective of handing over an enduring Constitution to the people of Nigeria;”

“AND WHEREAS, it is necessary in accordance with the programme on transition to civil rule for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 after necessary amendments and approval by the Provisional Ruling Council to be promulgated into a new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to give the same force of law with effect from 29th May 1999:”

In promulgation or legislation, the life of a Decree or an Act or law covers point of coming into force and point of repeal. So, on the issue of 1999 transfer of power from the Federal Military Government to the civilian rule, Decree No.34 empowered by the 1979 Constititution as amended by the Constititution (Suspension and Modification) Decree 1993, came to its end after performing its last provision which is the swearing-in of the president-elect and governors-elect.

The above claim is also in accordance with last part of Decree No. 34 of 1998. It states, “2ND QUARTER 1999 – April to May.

1. Hearing and determination of election petitions and appeals arising therefrom.
2. Swearing in of President-elect, Governors-elect.”
So, Chief Nwodo would have been right by saying Chief Obasanjo was not sworn-in under the 1999 Constititution but under a constitution. The 1999 Constititution was not in form both in print and as a constitution as at the swearing-in time, but only as an incoate Decree which would come to force upon Chief Obasanjo’s swearing-in (which symbolically signified the complete transition to civilian rule) just as other decrees in force will also either self-repealed or change form from decrees to Acts of the National Assembly.

The concluding part of the preamble of the 1999 Constititution is also clear on the above claim. It says “NOW THEREFORE, THE FEDERAL MILITARY GOVERNMENThereby decrees as follows:

1. (1) There shall be for Nigeria a Constitution which shall be as set out in the Schedule to this Decree.
(2) The Constitution set out in the Schedule to this Decree shall come into force on 29th May 1999.
(3) Whenever it may hereafter be necessary for the Constitution to be printed it shall be lawful for the Federal Government Printer to omit all parts of this Decree apart from the Schedule and the Constitution as so printed shall have the force of law notwithstanding the omission.” 
This last part is why the Ministry of Information headed Chief Nwodo was not the one that printed the Constititution as his term expired before the coming into force and printing of same.

Akinloye NG,  Legislative Expert and Public Affairs Commentator

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