On 19 December 1963 the Republican Constitution was passed into law by the federal parliament and became operational on 1 December 1963.
It was a follow-up to the constitutional conference held in Lagos on 25 and 26 December 1963, designed to resolve the following issues:
1. The situation whereby the legislative powers of Nigerian parliaments were still defined only in an Act of the British parliament, making the Queen of England remain the Nigerian head of state represented by the governor-general.
2. The need to change from a state under a monarch to a republic. This became the most important feature of the 1963 constitution.
3. The need for constitutional clarification on the creation of regions and adjustment of boundaries to facilitate this.
4. The need to make the prime minister really effective by giving him more powers over many organs of government.
5. The necessity of replacing the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council as final court of appeal for Nigeria.
6. The need for an increase in the number of seats in the federal legislature with the creation of the Mid-Western Region.
Features of the Republican Constitution of 1963 include:
- The Act establishing the constitution was passed by the Nigerian parliament, instead of the British parliament.
- There would be a Nigerian president as the constitutional head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces to replace the Queen of England.
- The president would be elected by secret ballot by a joint session of the two houses of the federal legislature. He could be removed by impeachment of the house of representatives.
- In the absence of the president of the republic, the senate president would act for him.
- The Supreme Court of Nigeria assumed position as the final court of appeal rather than the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain.
- The judicial advisory committee was abolished, with the powers for the appointment, transfer and promotion of judges vested in the president, on the advice of the prime minister.
- The constitution further favoured the principles of fundamental human rights.
- The number of seats in the senate was increased from 44 to 56 and that of the house of representatives from 305 to 312.
Merits of the Republican Constitution of 1963
1. The Act establishing it was enacted by the Nigerian federal parliament instead of the British parliament.
2. It removed Nigeria from under the headship of the English monarch.
3. It gave the Supreme Court its due position as the highest court for all cases in Nigeria.
Demerits of the Republican Constitution of 1963
1. The constitution did not solve the problem of the creation If new states, thus leaving the Northern Region larger in size than the three Southern regions put together.
2. The election of the president was by the house of representatives and not through general elections.