Constitutional Development in Nigeria: Compiled by Chiedozie Ude

History of Nigeria

The British revoked the charter signed with Tubman Goldie of the UAC (United African Company) and took full control of the administration of Nigeria in 1900.

Lord Lugard became the first Governor General of Nigeria and he established the Nigerian council in 1914 which laid the foundation for constitutional development in Nigeria. The Nigerian council consisted of 36 members (23 official European members and 13 non official members). 6 Nigerians were part of the unofficial members and they were appointed to represent chieftaincy interests. They were; The two Emirs of the north (the Emirs of Sokoto and Gwandu), The Alaafin of Oyo and one member each from Lagos, Calabar and Benin-Warri area.

The National Congress For British West Africa (NCBWA) 1917

It was formed in 1917 by some West African intellectuals led by a Gold Coast lawyer named ‘Casely Hayford’. Its headquarters was located in Ghana with branches in three other English speaking West African countries namely; Nigeria, The Gambia and Sierra Leone.
The first NCBWA meeting was held in Ghana 1920. They criticized the composition of the Nigerian council and demanded the following
1. The introduction of an elective principle in British West Africa.
2. The creation of a West African university.
3. Eradication of discrimination from the civil service.
4. That the judiciary be independent of the colonial administration.

The delegation was snubbed by the colonial secretary of state lord Milner.
However, it is on record that the second governor general of Nigeria Sir Hugh Clifford later gave attention to some of the demands made by the NCBWA.

Clifford Constitution of 1922

It was named after the then Governor of Nigeria Sir Hugh Clifford. It was a response to the 1920 NCBWA’s demands. The constitution is well known for introducing the principle of the ELECTIVE PRINCIPLE.


The Clifford constitution gave birth to the EXECUTIVE and LEGISLATIVE council. The executive council performed advisory roles.
The legislative council was made up of 46 members with 27 of them including the Governor being British and regarded as official members. The remaining 19 were unofficial members 10 of whom were Nigerians including the 4 elected members (3 to represent Lagos and 1 from Calabar). The other 15 non official members were nominated by the Governor.
Note: Legislative council = 46 members
Official members = 27 (including the Governor)
Non official members = 19 (including the 4 elected Nigerians).

Franchise was given to male adults who earned at least 100pounds yearly and had resided in the area for at least 1 year.

Merits Of The Clifford Constitution

1. It established the elective principle – Major
2. For the first time in British West African Territories, Africans were elected into a legislature.
3. It enhanced political parties development in Nigeria
4. It led to the formation of the NNDP in 1923
5. It encouraged the establishment of newspapers in Nigeria e.g. Lagos daily news (1925)
6. It was the longest lasting constitution in the colonial era I.e 1923 to 1946 (23 years)
7. It was the first constitution in Nigeria.

Demerits of The Clifford Constitution
1. Franchise was limited to male adults living in Lagos and Calabar earning at least 100pounds yearly (disenfranchisement of the majority) – MAJOR
2. Too much veto power was vested in the Governor, including the power to single handedly make laws for the northern protectorate.
3. The legislative council was dominated by Europeans

The Richard Constitution of 1946

This was drafted to replace the ill nurtured Clifford constitution. The foundation stone of this constitution was laid by Sir Bernard Bourdillon, the governor of Nigeria from 1935 to 1943. Bernard Bourdillon divided the country into the provinces – North, East and West provinces.
The constitution was almost concluded as at the time Sir Arthur Richard assumed office. Hence, it was named THE RICHARD CONSTITUTION.
instead of provinces, Sir Richard divided the country into three regions. Therefore, he is regarded as the father of regionalism in Nigeria.
The constitution started its operation on January 1,1947. It introduced regionalism in Nigeria.
Note: Regionalism = Richard Constitution
The legislative council was made up of 44 members

Merits Of The Richard Constitution

1. It laid the foundation for federalism in Nigeria
2. It divided the country into three regions and created a regional council for each I.e it introduced regionalism in Nigeria.
3. It introduced bicameralism in the north
4. It created a legislative council in which all sections of the country would be represented.

Demerits Of The Richard Constitution

1. The Richard constitution inherited most of the defects of the Clifford constitution.
2. It limited franchise to both Lagos and Calabar.
3. The constitution was proposed to last for nine years but it lasted for only four years.
4. The educated elites led by the NCNC opposed it and this culminated into its early demise
5. The constitution divided Nigeria into three uneven region (the northern region was bigger than the eastern and western regions put together)
6. The constitution granted too much power to the governor
7. It reinforced the system of indirect rule.

McPherson Constitution 1951

Sir John Macpherson became the Governor of Nigeria in 1948 and pressure was mounted on him by the nationalists to create another constitution. In a bid to avoid the blind alleys of his predecessors he embarked on a nationwide tour thereby allowing Nigerians at all levels to participate in the drafting of a new constitution.
Hence, the Macpherson constitution is known as a HOME BASED CONSTITUTION.
It introduced quasi federalism in Nigeria

Merits Of The Macpherson Constitution

1. It introduced quasi federalism in Nigeria
2. It was a home based constitution because Nigerians at all levels were consulted.
3. It renamed the legislative council to house of representatives which consisted of 149 members.
4. The constitution introduced ministerial system of government. The central executive council was renamed to council of ministers
5. For the first time, Nigerians were appointed as ministers in both the central and regional government
6. It granted more powers to the regions
7. Bicameralism was practised in the north and the west while unicameralism was practised in the eastern region.

Demerits Of The Macpherson Constitution

1. It vested too much veto and reserve powers on the Governor.
2. Ministers were elected by the regional legislatures and this was against the principle of universal adult suffrage.
3. Laws made by the regional legislatures were subjected to the approval of the governor or the house if representatives
4. It did not make provision for the position of a Prime Minister and Premier.
5. It led to the outbreak of the Kano riot of 1953
6. It failed to grant Nigeria independence

Lyttleton Constitution of 1954

The resolutions in the 1953 and 1954 constitutional conferences held in London and Lagos respectively formed the foundation upon which the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 was built. The constitution was drafted as a solution to cure the ills of the Macpherson constitution.

The constitutionl is well known for introducing Full Federalism in Nigeria.

Merits Of The Lyttleton Constitution

1. It introduced full federalism in Nigeria
2. It established the offices of the speaker and deputy speaker in the Nigerian legislatures
3. It introduced direct elections into the federal and regional legislatures in Nigeria.
4. Ministers were made head of departments
5. The governor became known as Governor General and lieutenant Governors became Governors

Demerits Of The Lyttleton Constitution

1. Too much power was vested on the Governor General
2. The constitution did not allay the fears of smaller regions as a result of the northern region being larger than other regions put together.
3. It did not make provision for the position of the Prime Minister.

The London Constitutional Conference 1957

This was arranged to correct the defects of the Lyttleton constitution. It was scheduled to hold in 1956 but was delayed till 1957 as a result of political crises in the eastern region.

Decisions Made At The London Constitutional Conference

1. The office of the Prime Minister was created
2. The Eastern and Western regions became self governing immediately after the conference (1957)
3. The north was to achieve independence by 1959
4. Bicameralism was introduced in all the regions.

Willink’s Commission Of Enquiry 1957

This was set up in 1957 by the secretary of state Mr Allan Lennox Boyd to look into the fears of the minority regions in Nigeria

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