The history of Nigeria is actually quite interesting, especially when it comes to the question about constitutional development in Nigeria before Independence. Let’s look through some facts you have never heard before!
What does Constitution mean?
First of all, a constitution is a collection of rules and regulations which govern or guide the actions of a nation. Usually, it can help a government to do its work, and it also helps citizens not to forget about their duties and rights. Basically, a constitution can be called “the law”. So, the significance of a constitution in any given community cannot be overemphasized.
Moreover, it is the basic and organic law of a country or state which forms the establishments and decisions of the government, determines the capability of governmental sovereign powers, and guarantees individual civilian rights and civilian liberties.
The Nigerian constitution is the superior law of the territory and the acts of people and parliament should not contradict it.
It is commonly known that one of the sources of the constitution is another organic law. Let us take a second to hunt down the history of Nigerian constitution from 1922 to 1979. This can help us to realize, how the preceding constitutions were formed in Nigeria and to see the principle of our present constitution.
Interesting facts about the Constitutional development in Nigeria
According to the history of Nigeria, in 1861, after the capture of Lagos by the British, a Legislative and Executive Council were set. In 1862, Lagos and other British regions in the Gold Coast were placed under the authority of a Governor General which was based in Sierra Leone on 19 February 1866. Actually, all of them had their own Legislative Councils.
What is interesting is that in 1874 Lagos and the Gold Coast were launched into an individual colony. As a result, Lagos passed into an individual political object with its own Governor, Legislative and Executive Councils in 1886.
Did you know that the colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria were united in 1906? What is more, the Legislative Council of Lagos was authorized to make laws by decree in 1906.
One more interesting fact is that the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was joined to the Protectorate and the Colony of Southern Nigeria and they were called the colony and protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. As for the Legislative Council, it was empowered to make laws only for the colony. The governor was empowered to make laws for the protectorates. The large population of the country was the main reason for that.
An advisory body, the Nigerian Council, was accepted instead of the Legislative Council for the country. The Nigerian Council consisted of 30 members (17 officials and 13 non-officials). As for the non-officials, it is known that 4 of them were assigned by the governor to introduce shipping, commercial, banking, and mining interests. The Calabar Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Mines, and Lagos Chamber of Commerce had only one member each.
Constitutional development in Nigeria before Independence
According to the history of Nigeria, there were four constitutional periods before the Independence. Here is a list:
1) The Clifford Constitution of 1922;
2) The Richard's Constitution of 1946;
3) The Macpherson Constitution of 1951;
4) The Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
The Clifford Constitution of 1922
In 1919, the governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, on assuming office was pressured by the West African Congress, which was led by Caseley Hayford, to ensure constitutions in West African liable states. As a result, this led to the Clifford Constitution establishment in 1922.
The Clifford Constitution introduced the first voting system in Nigeria. The first voting was held in the legislative council with four slots: three for Lagos and one for Calabar. Nevertheless, the voting was grounded on a restricted franchise which bounded the election to those that gain a minimum of 100 pounds per year. It was too expensive for almost all Nigerian people.
Also, the Clifford Constitution injected a legislative council instead of the Nigerian Council. This council contained 46 members with the governor as the leader. As for these members, 23 of them used to be officials and 19 non-officials. The other 4 were voted earlier. By the way, the council could enact laws only for the Southern part of Nigeria. While the governor enacted laws for the Northern part of Nigeria.
Speaking about the executive council, it had no Nigerians and consisted of the chief secretary, governor, an administrator for Lagos, lieutenant governors, director of the medical service, attorney – general, commandant of the Nigerian Regiment, Comptroller General, and Secretary for domestic cases.
The Richard's Constitution of 1946
At the end of 1944, the governor, Sir Arthur Richard proposed a new constitutional modification. The main reason was the pressure set up on him by the well-educated elite. They thought that the Clifford Constitution did not introduce the native population. Thus, the governor represented the constitution with the following targets:
1) To facilitate the Nigeria’s unity;
2) To ensure enough various elements that draw up the land;
3) To ensure the bigger involvement of African people in the definition of their own cases.
The Richard Constitution envisaged a new legislative council which consisted of the governor, 16 official members, and 28 non-official members. Two of the 28 non-official members were proposed by the governor while four were chosen. The Northern part had 11 members; the Western part had 8 members while the Eastern part had only 6 members. The voted four members were from Lagos and Calabar. By the way, as a result of the Richard Constitution, the council enacted laws for the whole country.
Also, this constitution envisaged regional houses of assembly. Usually, the members of the assembly were assigned by the native authority. However, these were just grounds for discussing national issues, but not legislative bodies. The Eastern and Western parts had unicameral legislature while the Northern part had a house of chiefs.
Did you know that the Richard Constitution reduced the amount of the limited franchise from 100 pounds to 50 pounds? That was considered to be an advantage because more people could elect and be elected for. Still, it remained too expensive for the bigger part of Nigerian people.
In spite of all these renovations compared to the Clifford Constitution, the Richard Constitution still had some imperfections.
The Macpherson Constitution of 1951
Owing to the problems of the Richard Constitution, the country felt that a new constitution was needed. That is why the governor, Sir John Macpherson, did not want to make the mistakes his precursor has made and decided to include Nigerians in the constitution-making process. The consultation with Nigerians was very wide and even reached the village levels. As a result, all of these and the Ibadan Conference in 1950, led to the establishment of the Macpherson Constitution.
The Macpherson Constitution envisaged a federal legislative body called the House of Representatives. It consisted of 136 voted representatives, 6 ex-official members, and 6 nominated by the governor. 68 members were from the Northern part, 34 from the Western part, and 34 from the Eastern part.
Also, the Macpherson Constitution provided regional legislatures that could enact laws for each regions. The legislative bodies in the Western and Northern parts were bicameral. Each had a house of chiefs alongside the regional legislature. In the Eastern part, it was a unicameral legislature.
The Lyttleton Constitution of 1954
In spite of the renovations in the Macpherson Constitution, it couldn’t unite all the Nigerian people. That is why it collapsed because of legislative challenges. In 1953, Anthony Enahoro proposed that Nigeria should gain independence in 1956.
The Northern part, who thought that they were not ready to gain independence, were against this. The reaction in Kano and Lagos were not positive, and the Northern part threatened to separate.
In a bid to settle things down, Oliver Lyttleton, the colonial secretary of that time, asked the chiefs to go to London to hold a special conference. They discussed a lot of problems during the session and councils were established. As a result, this conference became the reason for the Lyttleton Constitution establishment.
That is why the constitutional conferences of 1953 and 1954 held in London and Lagos are considered to be the main reasons for the Lyttleton Constitution establishment. This Constitution completely represented a federal system, with Northern, Eastern, Western, and Southern Cameroons. Whereas the Federal capital territory was situated in Lagos.
The West African Court of Appeal was eliminated. There was a Supreme Court for the whole country and separate High Courts of Justice for every region. Nevertheless, the Highest Court of Appeal was the judiciary committee of the privy council. By the way, the Eastern and Western parts became independent in 1957, whereas the Northern part became independent in 1959. As for the Southern Cameroon, it should be mentioned that it opted out of Nigeria because of the referendum.
So, as you can see the constitutional development in Nigeria is rather interesting. Step-by-step the leaders tried to improve it as much as possible. In any way, this article is about constitutional development before independence. So, check out the second part of our story! Good luck!