A constitution serves as the foundational framework upon which a nation’s governance is built. Its effectiveness and impact on a country’s political, social, and legal landscape are determined by a set of core characteristics. In this article, we will explore the nine essential qualities that define a good constitution.
It is therefore necessary to have a constitution that protects the rights of citizens in a democratic nation. Not only is it necessary for the constitution to protect the rights of its citizens; it should also regulate the activities of government officials and avoid dictatorship.
In this article, i will comprehensively explain some of the functions and characteristics/features of a good constitution. This article is actually to educate legal scholars, students and teachers on the essentials of a well drafted constitution. In addition to that, this article will vividly explain how a good constitution can bring about positive change in leadership and political system of a country.
But before we move to the substance of this work, i would like to give you a concise and well-explained definition of a constitution and its functions.
What is a constitution?
A constitution can be defined as an instrument of the government made by the people, establishing the structure of a country, regulating the powers and functions of the government, rights and duties of individual and providing remedies for unconstitutional acts.
From the above, one can rightly conclude that the constitution is the supreme law of the land. It sets forth the aspirations of the people which it governs, structures the government, the rights and obligations of government on the one hand, and the rights and duties of the individual on the other hand and the provision of remedies for someone performs an unconstitutional action.
Purpose and functions of a constitution
The main purpose of a constitution is to have a working tool that would enhance the organization of an association. The ambiguity and confusion, which would have been the everyday experience of an association, are minimized with the making of a constitution. A constitution ensures the smooth functioning of government; it spells out clear details what should be done and what ought not to be done.
A constitution is an instrument through which certain political objectives are realized. In the case of Nigerian constitution, the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy emphasizes the goal of the government.
It is the constitution that allocates and distributes powers and authorities to the various organ of government. It spells out the kind of government to be adopted whether unitary or federal. The qualifications for election and appointment into various organs of government are obtained by the constitution.
Constitution serves as a significant education factor by declaring and propagating political idea and their aims. It stimulates political values. With the constitution citizens are afforded the opportunity of knowing their duties and obligations to the state and its institutions. Aliens are given the opportunity of applying for citizenship of a country through laid down procedure.
Another important function of the constitution is the enumeration of the rights of individuals that makes up the association. The rights are not the creation of the constitution but it ensure that such rights are protected.
A constitution provides for the type of party system to be adopted in a state. It also provides for the procedure to the adoption in the formation of political party and the conducts of parties in the pursuit of election into the arm of government.
Finally, a constitution specifies the procedure to be adopted in amending the constitution. It states whether simple majority or two-third majority of members of parliament can amend a constitution. It also state whether opinions of the citizens must be sought through a referendum on certain amendments.
Characteristic of a good constitution
Below are the characteristics of a good constitution:
One of the most important characteristics of a good constitution is its ability to adapt to the changing society. A good constitution must be flexible to some extent. It must always adapt to the social, political, economic, technological and other changes that are inevitable in the life of a country for its development and process.
It should be elastic and also be liberally interpreted to meet the ever changing social, economic and political needs of the country. Where the constitution is not flexible, it will be difficult for it to meet the needs of the citizens in times of emergency.
This does not also mean that the constitution should be too flexible, as that will also allow for easy interfering with the provisions of the law. The constitution should make special situations where it can be amended to meet certain developments in the society.
2. Responsibility and accountability:
Another essential characteristic of a good constitution is that, it ensure accountability in government by making laws which will make the actions of the government illegal whenever the make decisions without consulting the masses. A good constitution make ensure that public officers, government and public institutions in the country, carry out their duties an obligation with the consent of the people whom they represent.
In the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria for instance, it is provided that where the president, governor or a senator act illegally, he can be removed from his office if the a considerable number of the people who agrees to that. Even though this is not really feasible in the country today, it is actually a good provision because it will make government officials accountable (to some extent); knowing fully well that the masses have the legal power to remove them from office if they misbehave.
3. Separation of powers of the government:
Separation of powers is one of the most important political theory that must be present in a political system so as to avoid dictatorship. Sharing political powers among the three arms of government helps to ensure that political powers are not concentrated in a single hand.
This theory was propounded by Montesquieu. According to him, if political powers are not shared, only one person or a group of people will control all the affairs of a state. This means that there will be tyranny and abuse of power.
Based on this, a good constitution must ensure that the political powers are duly shared within the arms of the government and that their powers does no interfere with each other. This is evidently one of the characteristics of a good constitution.
4. Representation of the people in government:
In a heterogeneous country, it is usually advisable for the constitution to provide for the representation of the people in government. This means that the people should be able to choose who can represent them at the federal, state and local level of government.
This is usually done through the establishment of a parliamentary, such as, the National Assembly, which is made up of the elected representatives of the constituent parts of the country, and people, or representative of the constituent parts of the country, and people, or representation of the people in appointment, for instance by way of federal character in appointment into public offices.
Another important quality of a good constitution is that it must be comprehensive. It is important that the constitution be comprehensive because many people depends on the information contained in it. If a constitution is not comprehensive enough, it will lead to miscarriage of justice in many court cases and that is not the purpose of a good constitution.
It should be noted however, that the constitution must not also contain unnecessary information or words. The fact that the constitution must be comprehensive means that it must explain its contents clearly and precisely, to the extent that it will be impossible for a reasonable man to ask any question after reading it.
Lets take for instance; if the constitution is stating the punishment for the crime of rape, it must as well provide instance where bail will be available to the offender and also the number of years for the punishment of imprisonment. This will enable normal citizens to understand the position of the law as regards rape in their country.
6. Protects the fundamental human rights of citizens:
A good constitution must also protect the fundamental human rights of the citizens it was made for. Fundamental human rights are does rights which are inalienable and immutable and are given to every citizen because he/she is a human being.
Human rights are very important. In the constitution of most countries, the fundamental human rights of citizens are usually expressly states and protected to avoid breach.
In Nigeria for instance, the fundamental human rights of every citizen of the federal republic of Nigeria are provided for in chapter 4 of the constitution of Nigeria. Any right which is not provided for in that section cannot be regarded as a fundamental human right.
In light of this, I will say that the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria is a good one for protecting the human rights of its citizens. Same thing with the constitution of the United States of America. The Bill of Rights protects the rights of the citizens of the United States.
Another undisputed feature of a good constitution is clarity. No matter how just and fair the intentions of the drafter of the constitution may be, if he is not clear, he has failed about 70% of his job.
In drafting the constitution, the legislature must not that the law which they are making is meant for both the educated and illiterate members of the society. Thus, they must make sure that simple words are used to express the exact intention of the legislature for creating the law.
Aside from the fact that a clear and precise law helps for a better understanding of the law, it also helps to save the time of the arm of the government which is responsible for the interpretation of the law. Many a time, the judiciary depend on the Laws made by the legislature to ensure justice. In light of that, whenever the language used for making the constitution is not clear, it is a punishment to the judiciary which will definitely have to interpret the law and apply it to real life situations.
8. Independence of the judiciary:
Any constitution that really want to safeguard the fundamental human rights of its citizens must protect and ensure independence of the judiciary. Immunity of the judiciary is provided for in the constitution of many countries of the world. In the United States of America for instance, the judiciary is very well protected so as to avoid influence by other arms of the government.
As it is rightly said, “the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.” If this particular arm of the the government is note protected, the masses will be in great danger. Their rights will be breached and there will be not authority which they can run to. On this note, a good constitution must protect the judiciary and make them independent. This includes financial independence. It is apparently one of the characteristics of a good constitution too.
9. It guarantees Equity, Freedom and Justice:
It is truism that the main objective of the constitution is to ensure Equity, Freedom and Justice. The constitution can do this by stating punishments whether the actions of anyone leads to inequality or injustice.
In the case of injustice, section 36 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria provides that everyone has the right to fair hearing. This means that everyone has the right to be heard. Where this right is breached, the constitution will treat any decision taken as a result of the breach as a nullity.
Take for instance, whenever the Judiciary takes decision on any matter, without hearing the parties which the matter concerns, that decision will be treated as null and void. In the United States, the constitution provides that “no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This means that citizens of the United States must be equally protected by the law.
An effective constitution serves as the bedrock of a nation’s governance, providing a clear, fair, and just framework for its operation. These nine essential characteristics ensure that a constitution remains relevant and effective in safeguarding the rights and interests of its citizens while allowing for the growth and evolution of the society it governs.
Some of the characteristics mentioned here may not be practicable in some political system. For this reason, it is necessary to consider the customs, traditions and local practices of a group of people before making any law to protect them.