History Of Nigeria Constitution From 1914 Till Date

See History Of Nigeria Constitution From 1914 Till Date Below……

Nigeria is a creation of the Constitution. Nigeria grew into an internationally recognised independent nation, in 1960, after a period of colonialism under the British government which spanned about a century beginning with the formal annexation of Lagos in 1861. Nigeria’s constitutional development history can be divided into two epochs or generations: the colonial or pre-independence epoch –which covers 6 constitutional instruments (1914, 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954 and 1960) and the post-independence constitutional epochs (encompassing 3 instruments – 1963, 1979 and 1999). While each successive pre-independence constitutional instrument was enacted through an order-in-council of the British monarch, their post-independence counterparts were enacted in two ways: an Act of parliament (1963 Constitution) and military decree (1979 and 1999).

The one ‘Nigeria’ story began in 1914 with the Frederick Lugard Constitution. The 1914 Constitution amalgamated the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria under the colonial authority of the British Monarch. The emergent entity was administered under the authority of the British monarch through her appointed agent: a Governor-General. Lord Frederick Lugard was the 1st Governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria. The 1914 Constitution created a Legislative Council of the Colony which was however restricted to making laws for the Colony of Lagos alone, whilst the Governor General made laws for the rest of the country.

Eight years later, the 1914 Constitution was replaced by the 1922 Sir Clifford Constitution. Notably, the latter Constitution established a 46 member Legislative Council which was given law making responsibilities for the Colony of Lagos and the southern provinces. The Council had 27 members including the Governor, the Lieutenant-Governors, other elected and nominated members including three representing Lagos as the administrative and commercial capital and one representing Calabar as a big commercial centre. Notably, the 1922 Constitution introduced, for the first time in any British African territory, the elective principle with Lagos and Calabar being granted the franchise to elect their representatives to the Legislative Council.

1946 saw the adoption of the Arthur Richard Constitution which defined Nigeria, for the first time, in terms of regions – thus dividing the still colonised country into three main regions: the Northern, Western and Eastern regions. This constitution came into effect after the Second World War – an event which had a significant effect on constitutional reforms relating to the governance of colonial Nigeria, and indeed Africa as a whole, as returning African heroes of the war who were conscripted to fight on the side of the British returned with a deeper understanding of national freedom and international sovereignty. In addition, the charter of the United Nations which was adopted after the war made strong reference to the freedom of colonised peoples under the principle of respect for self-determination.

The chain of events culminated in the formation of the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons, which later became the National council of Nigerian Citizens, (N.C.N.C), an organization which engaged in the active mobilization of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria to harness the global tide in favour of self-determination and political independence from the shackles of colonialism. The 1946 Constitution was thus a compromise instrument on the part of the British colonialist designed to establish a constitutional framework in which all sections of Nigeria could be represented on the Legislative Council and which guarantees an unofficial majority both in the House of Assembly and in the legislative council for indigenous Nigerians.

Five years later, the 1946 Richards Constitution was again ditched in favour of the 1951 Sir John Macpherson Constitution. Whereas its successor suffered from the charge of being an imposition of the British colonialists without any input from the indigenous people of Nigeria, the 1951 Macpherson Constitution came into being after an unprecedented process of consultation with the peoples of Nigeria. According to Dikemgba “no other constitution so widely reached out to the people than the Macpherson constitution of 1951”. Instructively, meetings and consultations leading down to its making were held at 5 levels – Village, District, Divisional, Provincial and Regional levels – before the national conference. The regional conferences were held at Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna, respectively and produced a general consensus in favour of a federal system of government with a few differences as to its format. The emergent Constitution represented a major advancement on the old constitutional order by introducing African elected majorities in the Central Legislature and in the Regional Houses of Assembly; endowing the legislative houses with independent legislative power in many area of state activity; and establishing a federal system for Nigeria for the first time.

Nonetheless, within three years of its operation, it soon became clear that the expansion of the political space and regional identities fostered by the 1951 Constitution were not backed up by the requisite institutional framework or insightful national leadership for the management of inherent and other tensions or conflict, at the national and regional levels, which followed its enactment. In the wake of reports of violent eruptions in the northern city of Kano which pitched northerners against southerners leading to massive loss of lives and property, the then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Oliver Lyttleton stepped in by inviting the leaders of various political parties in Nigeria to attend a conference in London, in 1953. The outcome of that conference and another cycle of conference and consultations which followed was the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution.

The 1954 Constitution, among others, made regional governments independent of the central government in respect of subjects and legislative powers allocated to them. It also established a unicameral legislature for the federal government and each of the 3 regional governments. In addition, Lagos was taken out of the control of any regional government and made the Federal Capital Territory; regional public services were established for each of the 3 regions; the judiciary was reorganised so as to establish regional judiciaries while autonomy was granted to the Southern Cameroons which was up till that time part of a larger Nigeria and Northern Cameroons. Specifically, for the first time, Ministers were given specific portfolios. Thus, the Lyttleton Constitution could best be described as the transition instrument towards Nigeria’s independence in 1960 under a federal structure with democratically elected federal and regional legislature.

In 1960, Nigeria was granted political independence as a sovereign state under the 1960 Constitution which provided for a parliamentary system of government, 3 regions (Northern, Eastern and Western Regions), a bicameral legislative framework at the federal (Senate and House of Representatives) and regional levels (House of Assembly and House of Chiefs) with the legislative powers of government delineated into three categories or lists – exclusive, concurrent and residual. The parliamentary system designed under the 1960 constitution recognized the British monarch as the Head of State with powers to appoint a resident agent- the Governor-General- to exercise executive powers on her behalf while a Prime Minister elected by the federal parliament acted as the Head of the federal Executive Council. The Constitution also took steps to define ‘Nigerian citizenship’ while outlining constitutionally protected rights for citizens and persons in Nigeria.

However, by designating the Governor-General as a representative and agent of the British Queen or Monarch – instead of the People of the independent and sovereign state of Nigeria, the effect was to render Nigeria a dominion territory – a status which contradicted the very nature and basis of the independence claimed in 1960. In addition, the 1960 Constitution denied Nigeria an effective dominion over its judicial powers as it gave final appellate authority over Nigeria to the Privy Council established by the British Queen instead of the Federal Supreme Court and its judges. Those fundamental derogations from Nigeria’s sovereignty and other observed challenges in implementing the Independence Constitution led to the enactment of the 1963 Constitution.

Thus, the key features of the 1963 Constitution included the establishment of Nigeria’s 1st republic under a parliamentary system of government by replacing the Governor-General appointed by the British monarch with a President elected directly by members of the Nigerian federal legislature. In addition, in place of the Privy Council, the Federal Supreme Court became designated as the final appellate judicial authority over any person or matter in Nigeria while steps were taken to strengthen the independence of the judiciary even further.

In 1966, that Constitution was, however, set aside by a violent military coup d’etat which supplanted the 1st Republic with military dictatorship which was to last for about 13 years –including the civil war period (1966-1969), under 4 military Heads of State, ending only in 1979 when the General Olusegun Obasanjo military administration ushered in the 2nd Republic with the promulgation of a new Constitution.

The 1979 Constitution set up Nigeria under a presidential system of government with a federal government, 19 state governments, a federal capital territory, 3 arms and 3 levels of government. Like the 1963 Constitution, the life-span of the 1979 constitution was abruptly terminated on 31st December, 1983 when the civilian administration of President Shehu Shagari and Vice President Alex Ekwueme was toppled and replaced by the military dictatorship of Generals Muhammed Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon. That regime seeded 3 other extra-constitutional regimes – the General Ibrahim Babangida military dictatorship (1985-1993), Mr. Ernest Shonekan interim civilian-led regime, General Sani Abacha military dictatorship (1993-1998) and General Abdulsalami Abubakar military administration which successfully ushered in the 3rd Republic on the 27th of May, 1999 with the introduction of the 1999 Constitution.


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