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What is Constitution?

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A constitution means a document having a special legal sanctity which sets out the framework and the principal functions of the organs of government within the state, and declares the principles by which those organs must operate. In countries in which the constitution has over- riding legal force, there is often a constitutional court which applies and interprets the text of the constitution in disputed cases. Such a court is the Supreme Court in Nigeria, the Supreme Court in USA or the Federal Constitutional Court in South Africa. However, United Kingdom or Great Britain has no constitution. There is no single document from which is derived the authority of the main organs of government such as the Crown, the cabinet, parliament and the courts of law. No single document lays down the relationship of the primary organs of government one with another or with the people.

But the word Constitution has wider meaning. As Bolingbroke stated in 1733: “By constitution, we mean whenever we speak with propriety and exactness, that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason; that compose the general system, according to which the community had agreed to be governed or in more modern words “Constitution in its wider sense refers to the whole system of government of a country, the collection of rules which establish and regulate or govern the government”. According to Lawrence Tribe (1978) “ the constitution is a historically discontinuous composition, it is the product, overtime, of a series of not altogether coherent common promises; it mirrors vision or philosophy but reflect instead a set of sometimes reinforcing and sometimes conflicting ideas and notion”. Whilst this may be true of the American constitution, it is certainly not true of all types especially in developing nations where constitution are often products or heritage of colonial rule.

The term “Constitution” has been variously defined in manners that are often a reflection of the particular constitution or constitutions to which the proponent of a particular definition is exposed. For example, it has been termed as “set of rules that are not subject to the will of the

sovereign authority in the state and which has existed and must exists in any state worthy of the term constitution”, a document, having special legal sanctity, which sets out the framework and the principal functions of the organs of government within the state and declared the principle by which such organs must operate, rules which set out the framework of government, postulates how it ought to operate and makes declaration about purposes of the states, society and the rights and duties of citizens, but no real sanction is provided against violation of particular provisions of the constitution. There is no doubt from the above definitions that writers and jurists based their definitions on the features of a particular constitution within their view. In addition there is often the implication of the “autochthony or home grown nature of constitutions being the basis of its authenticity and effectiveness. However, in many emerging nations especially of the third world, former colonial masters or military governments disengaging from power often enact many of the constitutions in such nations.

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