Meaning of federal and unitary constitution


Meaning: A federal constitution is one that divides and apportions political powers to the different tiers of government in a particular country, for example, the central, states, and local governments. The powers of each tier are properly defined and derived from the constitution.
Autonomy of each units therefore, guaranteed. For example, functions listed under the exclusive legislative list is for the central government alone to legislate on.

Functions listed under the concurrent legislative
list is for both the central and state governments
to legislate on. If there is a conflict in the exercise of these functions, the powers of the central government would prevail over the state.

Functions listed under the residual legislative list
are for the local government. Nigeria, U.S.A., etc have federal constitutions.

        Features of a federal constitution
1. Rigid and written: Federal constitutions
are always rigid and written.

2. Division of power: Powers are shared
between the central government and other
subordinate units. g. states, local governments, etc.

3. Organs of government: The three organs
of government-executive, legislature and
the judiciary, have their powers and functions
defined and separated in the constitution.

4.Bi-cameral legislature: It always adopts
a bicameral legislature, for example, Senate
and House of Representatives.

5. The supremacy of the constitution: There is
the supremacy of the constitution in a federal

6. Autonomy of the units: There is autonomy
of the units making up a federation.

       Merits of a federal constitution
1. Power sharing: Powers are shared between
the center and other component units, for
instance, state, and local governments. The
the tendency for powers to be concentrated in
one handis therefore erased.

2. Politicalparticipation: This extends to the
grassroots. Decisions are mostly taken after
many consultations are done.

3. Protection of individual rights: The
provision is made in the constitution for the
protection of the rights of both the majority
and the minority.

4. Duplication of functions: Functions are
duplicated, creating the avenue for employment opportunities in the system.

5. Unity in diversity: This is achieved despite
the differences in tribes, culture, language,
beliefs. etc. A federal constitution makes for
unity in diversity.

7. Political stability: Stability is achieved in
the system. This 1s because every interest
group is accommodated. There is no

8. Domination: No particular tribe, religious
group, or sectional interest is especially
favored in a federal state. No powerful
group can dominate others.

9. Supremacy of the constitution: The
the constitution is respected by every tier of
government, political leaders, etc. Not only
that, the citizens of a country must equally
respect the provisions of the constitutions as

         Demerits of a Federal Constitution
1. Too expensive to operate: A federal
constitution is too expensive to operate and
maintain. This is as a result of duplication of

2. Rigid constitution: A federal constitution
is rigid, making it difficult to amend.
Amendment of the constitution involves about
2/3 of the parliament supporting it and 3/4of
state assemblies equally supporting it.

3. Statism/Regionalism: People pay loyalty
more to their states or regions than to the
national government. To them, states come
first before the national government.

4. Secession: A section of the country may
have feelings of rejection and would want to
secede or breakaway.

5. The issue of minority: The minority might
feel neglected in the areas of provision of
infrastructure, employment opportunities, etc. This can affect the unity of a country.

6. Unhealthy rivalry: This could come up
among states in the areas of development,
revenue allocation, etc.

7. Duplication of functions: This can bring
about the waste of resources both human and

8. Revenue allocation formula: This is
always a problem with a federal constitution.
The formula used at a particular time may
not appeal to any of the tiers of government.

9. Weak center: A federal constitution may
produce a weak center. This may affect
decision-making and states may take the
advantage of this to arrogate more powers
to themselves.

Meaning: In a unitary constitution, all political
powers are concentrated in the hands of a single
central authority or government. The constitution
recognizes the sole authority of the central
government. Other component units, for instance,
state or local governments, had no powers
deposited in them.

             Features of Unitary Constitution
1. Flexibility: The constitution of a unitary
the state is flexible, making it easy to amend.

2. Political powers: All political powers are
concentrated in the hands of a single central

3. Component units: Component units are
created by the central government and they
are subordinate to it.

The supremacy of the legislature: There is
the supremacy of the legislature and not the

5. Exercise of political powers: Exercise of
political powers by other component units are
derived from the central government and not
from the constitution.

6. Loyalty: Citizens pay loyalty to only one
government and that is the central

           Merits of a unitary constitution
1. Flexible constitution: The constitution is
flexible, making it easy to amend. The
amendment procedure is in line with the
processes of law-making in the parliament.

2. Development: The developments of the
various units are even and uniform because
the center decides for all.

3. Unity: The concentration of powers in the
hands of the central government makes it
possible for it to enforce unity in the country.

4.Changes are easily made: Changes of
different proportions can easily be made in
the system. For example, in the areas of
infrastructure, restructuring of the economy,
appointments, etc.

5. Strong center: This is because all the powers
in a unitary state are concentrated in the
hands of the central government. The central
the government in a unitary state is stronger than
that of the federal state.

6. Quick decision – making: Decisions are
easily made in a unitary state with a unitary
constitution. This is because the central
government makes decisions in the country.

         Demerits of a unitary constitution
1. Homogenous society: Unitary constitution
is only suitable for a country that is
homogenous in ethnic composition, culture,
language etc.

2. Emergence of a dictator: A unitary
constitution can produce a dictator. This is
because all powers are concentrated in the
hands of the central government.

3. Concentration of power: Concentration
of power in one arm of government can lead
to abuse or misuse of political power.

4. Fundamental human rights: The rights of
the individuals in the system could be denied.

5. Low grassroots input: The center of
decision-making is very far from the areas
of implementation.

6. Lack of care for the masses: The
government at the center may not be
responding to the problems and needs of the

7. Small country: Constitution is only suitable
for a country with a small population. It is not
suitable for countries like Nigeria, U.S.A.etc.

8. Interest groups: It is not possible for a
unitary constitution to accommodate every
interest groups in a system.

9. Amendment of the constitution: The central government can easily amend the constitution for selfish purposes.

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