ENGLISHNigerian History

CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA

Flag of the British Nigerian Colony 1914-1959. Source: creativecommons.org

The Constitutional development in Nigeria has been a creation of the first documented set of laws for governance in the Colonial Nigeria and the subsequent renewing and amendment of about 4 different Constitutions from 1922 to 1954. That was why, the Constitutional development in Nigeria was described as of four stages whereby 4 different Constitutions came into effect one after the other.

Background

The history of the Constitutional Development in Nigeria can be traced back to the time immediately after the World War I around the year 1920 when the emergent educated Nigerian elites insisted on more inclusion of Nigerians in the governance of Nigeria. The agitators demanded for a new constitution or revising the existing laws.

Prior to the agitations, the British laws in Nigeria recognized only a Council of 36 members called the Nigerian Council. Under the system, the Governor-General heads the Council, while 30 Executive Council members were chosen among the British colonial personnel. And the remaining six members were nominated among Nigerians to represent Coastal districts and the other parts of Nigeria.

Fortunately, in 1922, the agitators demands were listened and a new Constitution was granted by the British Governor-General in Nigeria Sir Hugh Clifford.

The Constitutions

CLIFFORD CONSTITUTION OF 1922

Sir Hugh Clifford, who was considered by many as the Father of Constitution in the Nigerian history

The Clifford Constitution also known as the 1922 Constitution was the first set in the Constitutional Development in Nigeria. The Constitution was designed and granted by the British Colonial Governor in Nigeria Sir Hugh Clifford Clifford in 1922.

Under the provision of the Constitution, new Legislative and Executive system was introduced and elective representation was also introduced. In the new system, the Legislative Council was designed to comprised 46 members, in which 27 members including the Governor-General would be official members. While the remaining 19 members served as unofficial members. Also, of the 19 unofficial, 15 were nominated in which 10 must be Nigerians. The remaining 4 of the 19 members were allowed to be elected.

Furthermore, the Clifford Constitution allowed the formation of political parties and unions. And fortunately, in some ways this provision created a background for the Nigerian nationalism.

RICHARDS CONSTITUTION OF 1946

After Sir Arthur Richards became the Colonial Governor-General of Nigeria in 1943, he showed his concern that the existing Constitution (Clifford Constitution) was actually not suitable for Nigeria. Therefore, in 1946, he introduced a new Constitution purposely with three main principal objectives as follows :

  • To promote the unity of Nigeria
  • To gave a maximum consideration to Country’s diversity
  • And finally to enable greater participation for Nigerians in the governance.

Under the aforementioned principal objectives, the Richards Constitution was granted. Under the provisions, the Legislative Council was reconstructed into a single Legislative Council for the whole of Nigeria. Thus, for the first time, the Northern and Southern Legislators were brought together in oder to discuss the affairs of Nigeria as a whole.

Also, the Richards Constitution come up with the system of Regionalization in which Nigeria was divided into three Regions which included Western, Eastern, and the Northern Region. Again, in its efforts of giving consideration to the Nigerian diversity, the Constitution created Regional Legislative bodies. In the North, a bicameral system was adopted whereby the House of Chiefs and a House of Assembly (collectively known as the Northern Council) were created. While in the Southern part of the country, a unicameral system was used in which a House of Assembly was created in both the Western and the Eastern Regions respectively.

However, it should be noted that all of the Regional Legislative bodies had no legislative power. Rather, they were created to provides a link between the Native Authorities (N.A.) and the Central Legislative Council in Lagos.

In short, the Richards Constitution was considered as a great improvement on its predecessor the Clifford Constitution. Because, the Constitution gave more opportunities to the Nigerians.

MACPHERSON CONSTITUTION OF 1951

MacPherson Constitution also known as the 1951 Constitution was granted by the Colonial Governor-General in Nigeria Sir John MacPherson.

Before the creation of the Constitution, there were many agitations by political elites who showed dissatisfaction on the Richards Constitution which they described as ineffective. Therefore, in order to satisfied the Nigerians agitations, Sir John MacPherson come up with another Constitution in 1951.

Under the provisions of the MacPherson Constitution, a Central Legislature also known as the House of Representatives was improved and designed to comprised a President, six ex-officio members, 136 elected members. Among the 136 elected members, 68 came from the Northern Region, 37 from the Western Region, and 34 from the Eastern Region. Furthermore, the MacPherson Constitution allowed Regional Assemblies to make laws on specific subject which required the approval of the Governor before implementation.

The Constitution also established an Executive Council called the Council of Ministers which was to play the executive role in the country. In the Council, the Governor served as the head, and he appointed 12 Ministers and Six Official members. Four of out of the 12 Ministers were chosen from each Region from those elected by the Regional Legislatures to be members of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos.

In the election system, the MacPherson Constitution improved the electoral processes. Under the new system of election, the process was designed as indirect, whereby electoral colleges were created by a number of intermediate stages through primary elections. And a voter was required to be male adults who paid his due taxes.

However, like the previous Constitutions, the MacPherson Constitution was criticized for its particular weaknesses. For example, the critics pointed out that there was a friction which developed between the Regions and the Center especially about the loyalty of Ministers towards the Center in Lagos. Because, in many cases, the Minister’s loyalty seemed to go to their Party and the Region from which they came from. And this issue caused many problems in carrying out many policies.

LYTTLETON CONSTITUTION OF 1954

The Lyttleton Constitution also known as the 1954 Constitution was granted also by the British Governor-General in Nigeria Sir John MacPherson, as an improvement of the previous 1951 Constitution.

As part of its provisions, the Lyttleton Constitution changed Nigeria totally into a Federation consisting of the Northern, Western, Eastern Region, the Southern Cameroons, and the Federal Capital Territory of Lagos.

On the Legislative part, the Central House or the Federal House of Representatives was entitled with an exclusive legislative list to dealt with. Likewise, the Constitution provided that elections to the House would henceforth be independent of the Regional Houses as was the case in the previous Constitution. The new legislative provision allowed up to 184 elected members, in which 92 members came from the North, 42 from the West, 42 from the East, 6 from Southern Cameroons, and 2 from the Capital Territory of Lagos.

In the Federal Executive Council, the Lyttleton Constitution allowed the appointment of ten Nigerians as Ministers with portfolio based on the recommendation of the Leader of the party with overall majority in the Federation or in the Regions.

In the Regions, the Constitution created the Office of the Regional Premiers who were to serve as the executive heads of their Regions. Furthermore, the Regions were allowed to have the Judiciary and the Public Service.

In 1957, during the London Constitutional Conference, the Lyttleton Constitution was reviewed and the Office of the Prime Minister was created with the responsibility of the Executive Head in Nigeria.

In short, the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 remained the last Pre-Colonial Constitution after which the Independent Constitution of 1960 was created.

Ahmad Abdullahi, BA History

My name is Ahmad Abdullahi, I was born on 10th March, 1994 in Garun-Danga Town, Gabasawa L.G., Kano State. I attended FCE Demonstration Primary School from 2002 to 2007, FCE Staff Secondary School from 2007 to 2013, and Northwest University, Kano from 2013 to 2017, where I obtained bachelor degree in History.

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