The constitution pops up every now and then in discussions, either with reference to a country, an organization or in some other context. Without mincing words, the constitution is a powerful instrument used by ALL the countries in the world, and some organizations to explicitly define functions, limitations, powers, responsibilities, punishments and so many other parameters as may be required, that need explicit definition for the smooth running of a country or an organization.
Whatever definition is given to the individual parameters, accepted by the majority and the resolution signed by the empowered authority, that definition becomes binding on everyone within the constitution’s area of jurisdiction, thereby making it a LAW. The parameters are the constitutional provisions, and could be just about any subject agreed upon by the stakeholders as requiring an explicit definition, general consensus and agreement.
Before diving in further, let us examine the dictionary definition of Constitution and Law, using the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary.
- The system of beliefs and laws by which a country, state, or organization is governed
- A document that describes this system
- An established law or custom
- the mode in which a state or society is organized; especially : the manner in which sovereign power is distributed
- the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it
- a written instrument embodying the rules of a political or social organization
- The whole system or set of rules made by the government of a town, state, country, etc. a
- A binding custom or practice of a community : a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority
- The whole body of such customs, practices, or rules
- A rule or order that it is advisable or obligatory to observe
From the dictionary definitions above, one can understand law as practices, rules, customs and order, that is made by a competent authority in a society or organization, which becomes binding and is obligatory to be observed within that particular society or organization. The constitution is the system of these beliefs, customs, rules and laws by which a society or organization functions, all explicitly defined and compiled in a document. Note that the constitution is not exclusively reserved to state affairs, and is used in private organizations, non government organizations, enterprises etc, but the discussion here about the constitution will focus on the state affairs.
Unlike religious laws found in the Holy Books of the Bible or Koran that are supposedly of divine inspiration and sources, the constitutional provisions are far from anything supernatural. The laws in the constitution are the result of a deliberate process, consciously crafted by the people, meant for the people, and must satisfy a majority consensus before being signed into law by a recognized authority set up by the people and only thereafter becomes recognized as a LAW that is binding.
So, how are the laws contained in the constitutions made?
In principle, everybody who could be potentially affected by the constitution should be involved in the process of making a constitution. In practice, however, this is not so feasible owing to the challenges in managing large population of people in a country, every time a law will have to be made. To solve this, while retaining a semblance of participation by everyone, the country is divided into geographic / political units. Each unit produces equal amount of representatives elected by the people, to represent the people from those units in law making process. These representatives of the people, form the Legislative arm of the government, and are charged with the responsibility of law making, that becomes included in the constitution.
The important thing to note here is that, the constitution is primarily meant for the people’s interest and welfare, is enacted by the people via their representatives and will be enforced also by people, via the law enforcement agencies. So, the crux of the matter is actually the people. Without people, there won’t be anyone to make laws, there certainly won’t be anyone to make the laws for and therefore there won’t be any need for the constitution. This is why the constitution is considered as law made by man for man.
As humans, however, we are inherently prone to divergent and sometimes even conflicting opinions of what is individually considered to be right. This could be attributed to people’s different growth backgrounds, educational levels, life experiences, personal / group interests, religious affiliations or business interests as well as sentiments and emotions. Also worth noting is an inherent Human Error, that is wired in every individual, and could manifest itself during a decision making process, giving room for potential error of judgement. Consequently, it is important to acknowledge that the lawmakers, being also human beings, are very much vulnerable to these human wired factors. They are therefore susceptible to any or multiple of these factors, which can potentially affect the laws they made or voted for, the ones in the making, or those yet to be made.
Considering the vulnerabilities mentioned above, it is therefore inevitable that some form of standard is adhered to, in the process of making laws for the constitution. The majority of the laws in the constitution will fall in any of the three general categories: the people, the State or property. Since the interest and welfare of the people are considered central when making laws for the constitution of a country, it will be appropriate for such laws to lean towards the yardsticks of the fundamental human rights. Secondly, since the laws are meant for the people, they should be easy to interpret, logical and easy to understand such that ambiguities or litigation are excluded. To achieve this, it is therefore necessary that these laws stay in conformity within the three basic laws of thought, also known as the three laws of logic. Let us briefly examine the proffered standards for better understanding.
The Fundamental Human Rights:
this refers to those rights that are inherent to every individual, by virtue of being human and alive. These include right to life, freedom, liberty, fair-hearing, and many more, that altogether total thirty (30) in number, as recognized by the United Nations. For a full list of them, visit the page on Fundamental Human Rights
The Basic Laws of Thought (the three laws of logic): Wikipedia explains this as the fundamental axiomatic rules upon which rational discourse itself is often considered to be based. It goes further to include that they are taken as laws that guide and underlie everyone’s thinking, thoughts, expressions, discussions, etc. There are three of these laws: the law of identity, the law of excluded middle and the law of non contradiction.
- The law of identity: this law talks about the uniqueness of an object or a thing. In other words, a mango can only be a mango, and cannot be an orange. If a particular fruit is a mango, then it cannot be said that it is not a mango, or said to be an orange. It will always be a mango, maintaining that identity and will always remain consistent and true to only that description.
- The law of excluded middle: this law infers that a proposition can either be “true” or “not true”. A response to the question of whether one is hungry can either be a “yes”, or “no”. This law doesn’t recognize a response such as “somehow hungry” or “kind of hungry”.
- The law of non contradiction: The law of non contradiction is about avoiding contradictions. For instance, if a country’s law defines adulthood age to start from eighteen (18) years, then it is contradictory for the country to have another law that will recognize a girl who is less than eighteen (18) years old as an adult, even if such a girl is said to be married. (See the image below).
Implementing these proffered standards when making laws for the constitution of a country will ensure that the constitution is aligned to its primary objective, which is to protect people’s rights and welfare; is unambiguous; logical and concise, thereby eliminating chances of litigation.
Since the constitution is a compilation of laws made by man for man, it is within man’s power, therefore, to make it right. Making it right means making it consistent with people’s best interest and non-confusing.
SUMMARY: Below are the summary of the points covered in this post.
- We understood that the constitution is a compilation of laws for governing a country or an organization.
- Established that these laws in the constitution were consciously created by people, who were elected by people to do so, thereby making the constitution a creation of man.
- Established that the laws in the constitution are vulnerable to error(s), since they are made by human beings who themselves have an inherent error capacity.
- Proffered means to 1) make the constitution consistent with people’s fundamental rights and welfare, as well as 2) have the constitution be as much as possible, non-contradictory and unambiguous.
Don’t forget to download your free copy of the Nigerian Constitution, if you haven’t yet: www.nigerian-constitution.com