Nigeria : Constitution and politics


Republic with executive President
Nigeria National Assembly
1 October 1960

The May 1999 constitution, like those of 1979 and 1989, and the draft constitution of 1995, provided for a federal republic with an executive President on the US model. Six new states were created in October 1996, bringing the total to 36. The President is elected every four years by universal adult suffrage and is required to include at least one representative of each of the 36 states in the cabinet. There is a bicameral National Assembly made up of a House of Representatives (with 360 seats) and a Senate (with 109 seats), each elected for four-year terms. The state governors and assemblies are also elected every four years.

The constitution also guarantees personal freedom and permits the exercise of Sharia law for consenting Muslims.


In the first elections to be held under a civilian government in twenty years, in April 2003 President Olusegun Obasanjo and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) comfortably won presidential and National Assembly elections and did well in the governorship elections. Obasanjo was emphatically returned as President with 61.9 per cent of the votes, his main rival, another former military leader, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party, polling 32.2 per cent. Commonwealth observers concluded that in most states most electors were able to vote freely and the results of the elections reflected the wishes of the people. However, in certain places ‘proper electoral processes appear to have broken down’ and, in Rivers State in particular, ‘there were widespread and serious irregularities and vote-rigging’.

The ruling PDP’s candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, won the April 2007 presidential election with 70 per cent of the votes, defeating Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP; 18 per cent) and Atiku Abubakar of Action Congress (7 per cent). Turnout was low and the many national and international observers reported serious and widespread deficiencies in the election process, including late opening of polls. Commonwealth observers concluded there were impediments to the full, free and fair expression of the will of voters and that an opportunity to build on the elections of 1999 and 2003 had been missed.

After a period of illness, three months of which he spent receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, Yar’Adua died on 5 May 2010. Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, who had been empowered by the National Assembly to act as President since February 2010, was sworn in as President on 6 May.

In April 2011 PDP candidate Jonathan won the presidential election in the first round, taking 59 per cent of the votes cast and securing more than 25 per cent of votes in at least 24 states. His main challenger, Buhari (now of the Congress for Progressive Change – CPC), took 32 per cent of the votes cast. Voting was widely reported as peaceful and the Commonwealth observer group present, led by former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, declared that the presidential and National Assembly elections were both credible and creditable, and reflected the will of the Nigerian people. However, as it became apparent that Jonathan had won the presidential contest, violent demonstrations erupted in northern Nigeria. In the National Assembly elections, held in the same month, PDP secured 202 seats in the House of Representatives, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) 66, CPC 35, ANPP 25 and the Labour Party eight; and in the Senate, PDP 71 seats, ACN 18, CPC seven, ANPP seven and the Labour Party four.

In the presidential election on 28 March 2015 Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC, with 54 per cent of valid votes cast) defeated President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP (45 per cent). It was the first time an incumbent President had been ousted in an election. In the concurrent National Assembly elections, APC secured 196 seats in the House of Representatives, PDP 133 and All Progressives Grand Alliance five; and in the Senate APC took 60 seats and PDP 48. Turnout was 47 per cent. The Commonwealth observer group led by the former President of Malawi, Dr Bakili Muluzi, described the conduct of presidential and National Assembly elections as ‘generally peaceful and transparent’. President Buhari was sworn in on 29 May 2015.