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History Of Nigerian Constitutional Development From 1900 To 1999


The Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nigeria has had a series of constitutions. The current constitution was enacted on 29 May 1999, inaugurating the Nigerian Fourth Republic.

To better understand its broad constitutional development, one has to first review the concept of “One Nigeria’’ dating as far back as 1914 when Lord Frederick Lugard succeeded in amalgamating the Northern and Southern Protectorates.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria which gained independence in 1960, after a long period of colonialism by the British government, has a remarkable constitutional development. The constitutional development in Nigeria from 1914 till date can be divided into two generation:

Types of Constitution in Nigeria

  • The pre-independence generation (1914–1960) and
  • The post-independence generation (1960-1999).

The pre-independence Generation (1914–1960)

According to the history of Nigeria, there were four constitutional periods before the Independence, they were:

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.

Recommended: Functions Of Nigerian Constitution

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.

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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.

The post-independence generation (1960-1999)

Nigeria’s first constitution as a sovereign state was enacted by a British order in council so as to come into force immediately upon independence, on 1 October 1960. Under this constitution Nigeria retained Queen Elizabeth II as titular head of state.

1963 constitution (First Republic)

Independent Nigeria’s second constitution established the country as a federal republic. It came into force on 1 October 1963 (Nigeria’s third anniversary as an independent nation). The 1963 constitution, which was based on the Westminster system, continued in operation until a military coup in 1966 overthrew Nigeria’s democratic institutions.

1979 constitution (Second Republic)

The 1979 constitution, which brought in the Second Republic, abandoned the Westminster system in favour of an American-style presidential system, with a direct election,directly-elected. To avoid the pitfalls of the First Republic, the constitution mandated that political parties and Federal Executive Council (Nigeria cabinet) positions reflect the “federal character” of the nation: political parties were required to be registered in at least two-thirds of the States of Nigeria or states, and each state had to have at least one member of the cabinet from it.

1993 constitution (Third Republic)

The 1993 constitution was intended to see the return of democratic rule to Nigeria with the establishment of a Third Republic, but was never fully implemented, and the military resumed power until 1999

1999 constitution (Fourth Republic)

The 1999 constitution restored democratic rule to Nigeria, and remains in force today. In January 2011, two amendments of the 1999 constitution were signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, the first modifications since the document came into use in 1999.

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