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lesson Note
Subject: Government
Topic: Constitutional Development in Nigeria Before Independence
Lesson Objectives: by the end of the Lesson, the learners should be able to:

  1. Narrate Clifford Constitution of 1922;
  2. State the aims and provisions of Richard constitution of 1946;
  3. Discuss provisions of Macpherson constitution of 1951;
  4. State the features of Lyttleton constitution of 1954;
  5. State the resolutions of the London constitutional conference of 1957;
  6. State the reports and recommendations of Willink Commission;
  7. State the outcome of the London constitutional conference of 1958.
  8. Identify the merits and demerits of these constitutions.

Lesson Summary / Discussions

We have previously discussed constitution and the various types. In this lesson, we will be looking at constitutional development in Nigeria before independence.

Constitutional development in Nigeria started with the establishment of the Nigerian Council.

The establishment of the Nigerian Council by Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard
immediately after the amalgamation of the southern and northern Nigeria in 1914 marked the beginning of constitutional development in Nigeria. The council was an advisory body and it has no power to make laws. In composition, the council consisted of thirty-six (30) members, twenty-three (23) of whom were European Officials and thirteen (13) of them were non-official members, seven (7) Europeans and six (6) Nigerians appointed to represent various groups
and interests. The Nigerian Council however existed along side within the
legislative council of the Lagos Colony until it was abolished by Hugh
Clifford’s constitution of 1922.

Sir Hugh Clifford succeeded Sir Lord Lugard as Governor-General of
Nigeria in 1922. He introduced the first formal Constitution for the country.

Features/Merits of Clifford Constitution

  1. The constitution introduced elective principles which for the first time allowed Nigerians fo elect their representatives into the legislative council.
  2. It paved way for the formation of political parties in Nigeria.
  3. More Africans were allowed into the legislative council.
  4. It was the first written constitution for Nigeria.
  5. It established a constitutional government in Nigeria as opposed to government by statutory instrument or orders.
  6. It increased political awareness through political education during political party campaigns.
  7. It enhanced greater political participation by means of political party membership.
  8. It laid the foundation for Nigeria self-Govermment.

Demerits of Clifford Constitution

  1. The British still dominated the legislative council.
  2. Majority of the members of the legislative council were nominated.
  3. The executive council was made up of British officials to the exclusion of Nigerians.
  4. The application of the elective principle was limited to Lagos and Calabar
  5. The constitution limited its jurisdiction only to the southern province.
  6. The governor was vested With veto and reserved powers.
  7. The Franchise was tied to wealth of N200 (one hundred pounds) and residents of Lagos and Calabar

Richard constitution replaced Clifford constitution in 1946. After Sir
Clifford, Sir Bernard Bourdillon became the governor of Nigeria from 1935-1945. He divided Nigeria into three main regions of north, east and west in1959. He integrated some of the proposals of his predecessors in a draft constitution that was referred to as Richard constitution of 1946 but the Constitution became fully operational from January 1947.

Aims of Richard Constitution

  1. To promote the unity of Nigeria.
  2. To provide adequately within that unity for the diverse elements which made up the country.
  3. To secure greater participation by Nigerians in the discussion of their affairs.

Provisions of Richard Constitution

  1. The Richard’s Constitution providcd for a central legislative council of forty-four (44) members. Out of these twenty-eight (28) were unoffical members from the north and the south.
  2. The legislative council was presided over by the governor.
  3. It established a single legislative council for the whole Nigeria.
  4. The principle of regionalism was enrenched into Nigerian constitution.
  5. It introduced two-chamber legislature in the north i.e House of Assembly and House of Chiefs at regional level while one ehamber legislature i.e regional House of Assernbly was introduced to the west and the east respectively.
  6. Franchise was limited to male adults resident in an area for twelve months and earned gross income of £50 (N1O0) per annum.

Merits of Richard constitution

  1. Richard’s comstitution brought the north and south togelher under one
  2. legislative council.
  3. It pronoted the unity of Nigeria.
  4. The constitution recogized and took the diverse clements in Nigernia into
  5. consideration for national cohesion.
  6. The constitution introduced bicaneralism into Nigerian political system.
  7. The conslitution laid the foundatim for fedcral system of government in
  8. Nigeria.
  9. The constitution expanded the NigenaI represcnlalion in the legislative Council.
  10. The constitution linked regional asscmblies to central legislative council in Lagos.
  11. It recognized the regional Assemblies and allocated more power to them.

Demerits of Richard constitution

  1. The constitution was regrded as an imposition because Nigerians were not consulted.
  2. Introducing regionalism, the constitution widens the diversity of Nigerians.
  3. Franchise was limitcd to Lagos and Calabar. Many Ngerians were disenfranchised.
  4. The Governor reserved the veto-power which made the presence of Nigerian unofficial members in the legislative council irrelevant.
  5. The regional councils were mere advisory body that lacked autonomy to decide crucial issues like revenue appropriation.
  6. The executive council Was dominated by the whites.
  7. The governor was too powerful as he presided over both legislative and executive council.

Owing to strong oppsition from the nalionalists against Richard Constitution due to its weaknesses, Sir John Mcpherson on becoming the
governor of Nigeria in 1948 held series of consultations which culminated in the Ibadan Conference of 1950. Decisions at the conlercnce formed an inlcgral part of the Macpherson constitution.

Provisions of Macpherson Conslitution

  1. Central legislative council was re-organized and renamed the house of Representatives.
  2. African representation in the central legislature was increased from twenty eight (28) to one hundred and thirty six (136) with the north represented by 68 members while the west and the east were represented by thirty-four (34) members each.
  3. There was greater regional autonomy as no executive powers of the regional govemments covered all the matters within the specific legislative subject assigned to the regions.
  4. The central executive council was renamed the Council of Ministers with six (6) ex-officio members and welve (l2) Ministers with four (4) ministers each from the three regions although the ministers then lacked portfolio as they were not in charge of executive affairs or departments.
  5. Bicameral regional legislatures made up of House of Chiefs and the House of Assembly were established in the northern and western regions while a unicameral legislature, the house of Assembly was created in the eastem region.
  6. The regional executive councils consist of the lieutenant-governors and members of the regional legislalure appointed by the lieutenant-governos.
  7. A Public Service Commission for the appointment, dismissal and one disciplinary control of public officers was established for Nigeria.

Merits of Macpherson Constitution

  1. There was a wider consultation before the constitution was introduced. Hence it cemprised some inputs of the nationalists.
  2. The constitution enhanced greater regional autonomy thereby strengthening the base of federalism in Nigeria.
  3. The constituion popularized the electoral principles by increasing the number of elected officials in both the legislative and executive councils.
  4. The bicameral legislalure created in the north and west and the unicameral legistalure in the east enhanced the participation of Nigerians in the ant of govemance.
  5. The constıtution launched Nigeria to a greater height of achieving self rule.
  6. It introduced ministerial post in Nigeria.
  7. It also introduced on the first time a revenue allocation formula in Nigeria based on some principles like derivation, needs, etc.

Demerits of Macpherson Constitution

  1. The ministers appointed into the central exccutive council had no portfolios as they don’t have full execulive charge over their departments.
  2. There was no strong leadership at the central and regional levels as no provision was made for prime minister and premiers.
  3. The constitution does not grant full autonomy to the regions as laws made by the regions can only be operational after he approval of the central legislative council
  4. The constitution failed to secure complete self-rule for Nigerians.
  5. By Providing bicameral legislature in the north and west and unicameral legislature in the east, the constitution mixed up unitary system with federal system of government.

Reasons for the collapse of Macpherson Constitution

  1. The motion for sell-rule moved by late Chief Anthony Enahoro in 1953 contributed to the breakdown of the constitution.
  2. The Kano riot of 1953 was another blow that led to the demise of the constitution.
  3. Lack of national electoral body devise uniform electoral gudelines and principles for the regions led to he breakdown of the constitution.
  4. The entrenchment of regionalism and emergence of political parties on regional bases contributed to the failure of the constitution.
  5. Rivalries among ethnic groups over the control of the central power also led to the collapse of the constitution.
  6. The threat by a joint session of Northern House ol Assembly and Chiefs in 1953 to secede following the disagreement on when Nigeria was to be granted self-rule led to the demise of the constitution

After the collapse of Macpherson constitution, the need for a new
constitution emerged and the secretary of state for the colonies, Sir Oliver Lyttleton convened a constitutional conference to that effect between July and August 1953 in London. The conference attempted to resolve the crises of ethnicity and intense struggle or central power that were tearing the colony of Nigeria apart. To resolve some of the issues not finalized at the London Conference, another constitutional Conference was held in Lagos in 1954. It was the resolutons from both London and Lagos confercnces that formed the essential features and provisions of the Lyttleton constitution.

Features of Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.

  1. The costitution introduccd a federal system of government.
  2. Lieutenant-governors governors in the regions were to be Addressed as governors.
  3. The governor of the country became known as Govemor general.
  4. Regional house of Assemblies were given residual powers and to pass bill into law without the approval of the central government.
  5. Both central/regional legislatures were to legislate on items listed under the concurrent list. If there was a conference number but let in the performance by such the central legislature would override that of the region.
  6. The government provided for the position of a premier as the gvernment in the region.
  7. The governors and governor general were no longer members of the regional and central legislatures respectively.
  8. Ministers at both the regional and central levels of government were allowed to control the departments within their ministries.
  9. There was the regionalization of the civil service. Each region has her civil Service.
  10. Lagos was removed from the westem region and made a federal capital teritory.
  11. The constitution also established a federal Supreme Court for the country.
  12. The judiciary was regionalized.
  13. Regional status was granted to southern Cameroons.

Merits of Lyttleton Constitution

  1. The constitution fully divided powers between the central govermment and the regional government thereby introducing true federal system of government in Nigeria.
  2. The constitution widens the practice of electoral principles as direct elections were conducted for representatives into federal and regional legislatures in Nigeria.
  3. The ministers who were appointed were also given portfolios i.e. full
    executive powers to administer the affairs of their departments.
  4. The constitution introduced strong and firm leadership at central and
    regional levels through the creation of the office of governor-general and governors of the respective level.
  5. Through the adoption of federalism, the constitution took into consideration the diverse elements that made up the cntity called Nigeria.
  6. The rcgionalization of the judiciary enhanced smooth administration of Justice.

Demerits of Lyttleton constitution:

  1. The governor-general and the regional governors still retained the power to accept or reject bills.
  2. The constitution failed lo secure complete independence for Nigeria.
  3. The constitution did not provide lor the office of the prime minister at the federal level.
  4. The loyalty of the appointed ministers to political parties which were regionally based weakened the central executive.
  5. The constitution still vested reserved and veto powers on the govermor general and regional governors.

E. The London Constitutional Conference of 1957
The London consituional conteence was held between May 23, and
June 26, 1957 to address and correct the weaknesses of Lyttleton constitution.
Some of the resolutions of the London constitulional conference of 1957

  1. The easterm and westen regions were to be granted self-govcmment after the conference and this was effected in August 195.
  2. The northern region was to be granted self-rule in 1959.
  3. Bicameral legislalure was to be established with House of Assembly and House of Chiefs which would have Similar power to those in nortlhern and eastern region.
  4. The southern Cameroons was to be elevated to the status of a region with its own premier.
  5. The central legislature was to be made bicameral through the esiablishment of the second chamber to be known as the senate.
  6. Membership of the House of Represenlatives to be increased to 320 from 184 members.
  7. Universal Adult Suffrage to be used in electing representative into the new federal legislature and in the westem and eastern regions as well as in Lagos and the southern Cameroon. Male suffrage to be used in the northernm region.
  8. The office of prime minister was to be created. The governor general was to appoint the parliamentarian who has majority of votes in the House of Represcntatives as a prime minister.
  9. The office of premiers was created for the regions and the governors were to appoint the person that has a majority vote in the house of Assemblies as Premiers.
  10. Independence was to be granted lo Nigeria in 1960.
  11. The Police was to be under the control of federal govermment.
  12. A commission of inquiry was to be set up to look into the fears of the minority groups in the regions and the possibility of creating new regions before 1960. The 1957 Minonity Commission was headed by Sir leory Willink and it was set up by the then Secretary of State for colonies, Mr. Allan Lennox Boyd.

Reports and Recommendations of Willink Commission

  1. Fundamental human rights were to be entrenched mto the consintuto to protect the interests of the minorities.
  2. No adjustment was to be made betwecn the three regions of the north, east and west before independence.
  3. Special development Boards were to be established for Niger Delta areas.
  4. Non-Muslimns in the northern region wereto have the option of being tried under a non-Muslim court or not.
  5. Creation of more new regions was not the solution to minority problem hence more regions were not to be created.
  6. Single federal police force was to be maintained to guarantee minority rights. of the minorities. of regional boundaries were entrenched in the constitution.

F. The London Constitutional Conference Of 1958
This constitulional conference was held between September 29 to October 27 1958. It was the last to be held before indepeidence.
The following issues were discussed in the conference:

  1. The report of Willink Commission of Inquiry was received and adopted that no region was to be crealed before the independence date.
  2. Nigeria should be granted independence in 1960.
  3. Northerm and Southerm Cameroons were to decide through a plebiscite whether to stay with Nigeria after her independence.
  4. Fundamental human rights were to be entrenched into the constitution to protect fundamental human rights of the minorities.
  5. The procedure for amending the constitution and alteration of regional boundaries were entrenched in the constitution.
  6. Federal general elections were to be conducted in December 1959 into the Federal House of Representatives. The major political parties were Northern People’s Congress (NPC); National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons later known as National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and Action Group (AG). The former two formed a coalition govermment while the last one, Action Group formed the opposition.

Done studying? see previous lessons in Government

Lesson Evaluation / Test

  1. Highlight the major merits and demerits of the Clifford constitution of 1922.
  2. Discuss the major provisions of Richard constitution of 1946.
  3. Explain the major reasons that led to the collapse of Macpherson
  4. constitution.
  5. What were the reports and recommendations of Willinks commission?
  6. Highlight the major features of the Lyttleton constitution of 1954.
  7. What were the outcome of the London constitutional conference of 1958?

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