Afe for Vanguard

June 5, 2024

Democracy and the people’s role (3), by Afe Babalola

Afe Babalola


Originally, the country now known as Nigeria was treated as two distinct and separate countries but the two were merged to further entrench the colonial dominance over the area for the sake of propagating the hegemonic tendencies of the British Colonial Administration and was principally geared towards enhancing the economic base of the United Africa Company (U.A.C.) FORMED IN 1879 WHICH WAS TO LATER ASSUME A NEW NAME, Royal Niger Company in 1882.

It is a matter of recorded history that on December 1, 1899, the Charter granted to the Royal Niger Company was revoked. Barely 24 hours later, Lord Lugard became the first British High Commissioner to the newly designated protectorate of Northern Nigeria. The protectorate of Southern Nigeria was also created from the said Niger Coast protectorate. By 1903 Lugard had succeeded in bringing the Sokoto Caliphate under the British rule.

Lord Lugard thereafter started a campaign towards unification of all British protectorates. This campaign was to yield the first fruit in 1906 when the southern Nigeria Protectorate and the colony of Lagos were amalgamated to become the colony and protectorate of southern Nigeria. The incumbent colonial Governor of Lagos, Sir Eagerton continued as Governor under an enlarged administration. He had been briefly posted to Hong Kong as Governor General. Upon resumption of office Lord Lugard intensified campaign for the unification of the Northern Nigerian protectorate and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and colony of Lagos. The British King had no difficulty in approving of lord Lugard’s suggestion because of his proven track record and experience as a seasoned administrator. The official approval was given on the 22nd of November 1913 by King George V from his court at Windsor Castle.


The amalgamation process took effect from the 1st of January 1914 and Lord Frederick Lugard assumed a new title as Governor-General. It is a significant historical fact that even though the country had in law been amalgamated or unified, yet the day to day administration was not. Whereas a separate legislative body was in charge of law making for the affairs of the colony of Lagos, the Governor General was making laws for the protectorate of Northern Nigeria by proclamation. It is therefore clear to all that the principal reason towards the amalgamation was basically economic.


In the words of P.A.O. Oluyede:

“The gradual unification of the entire country was given a greater impetus in 1912 when Lord Lugard, in his second term in office, was made Governor of both Northern and Southern Provinces and by January 1, 1914, the colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was inaugurated. In January 1914, Lugard amalgamated the Northern Protectorate and Southern Protectorate into one as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria under the British Crown. Thereafter, the Governor of Nigeria, with the assistance of an Executive and Legislative Council, was responsible for the administrative of the country.


The assumption of duty in 1919 as Governor of Nigeria by Sir Hugh Clifford ushered into Nigeria the first Electoral System. The first election took place in 1923 with four seats comprising three for Lagos and one for Calabar. Clifford’s constitution effectively replaced the Legislative Council of 1862 enlarged in 1914 and graduated to the Nigerian Council of 1914. The Legislative Council made laws for the Colony and Southern Provinces while the Governor continued to legislate for the North by means of proclamations.

Governor Clifford was succeeded by Governor’s Cameron and Bernard Bourdillon. Sad enough they left no remarkable imprints on the sands of constitutional development. Before he finally left the shores of Nigeria in 1943, all that Bourdillon succeeded in making were constitutional proposals.


Sir Arthur Richards succeeded Sir Bernard Bourdillon and introduced constitutional reforms in 1946. By these reforms, the existing Eastern, Western and Central provinces that constituted the British Trust Territory of Nigeria became Regions. Each of the emerging Northern, Eastern and Western Regions had a House of Assembly and the North alone had a House of Chiefs in addition. Suffice it to say that these Houses had only consultative powers. Their powers were clearly defined and limited to the consideration of budgets and serving as electoral colleges into legislative council in Lagos.

In spite of its inherent flaws, Richards constitution was a product of painstaking exercise. For the very first time in the history of Nigeria, an arrangement to weld all the ethnic groups together under a unified but slightly loose central government was put in place.


Before the introduction of Richards Constitution in 1946, the NCNC had masterminded a general strike in 1945 that virtually paralysed colonial administration in Nigeria. The collapse of the constitutional arrangement was therefore a matter of time. New parties began to emerge and participated fully in the new arrangement geared towards the replacement of Richards Constitution.

For example, the Action Group (AG) was formed by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo from Egbe omo Oduduwa of whichi Chief Obafemi Awolowo was Secretary. Similarly, Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) evolved from a similar awareness group from the North and was formed by the Sardauna of Sokoto, alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (who was to become the Prime Minister later in life). The NCNC that had been in existence prior to the formation of AG and NPC became increasingly associated with the Igbos.


By 1951, Lord Macpherson took over from Sir Arthur Richards and introduced a new constitution. The new constitution sought to formalize the informal division of the country by his predecessor into three regions with each region now having a lieutenant Governor rather than a Chief Commissioner. With some minor modifications, the legislative and executive councils of the three regions and Lagos were enlarged. Interestingly enough, the unique feature of the constitution was the predomination of the council with Africans whose elections were made possible through electoral colleges. The North and West however continued to operate bicameral legislative whereas only one legislative house existed in the East.

The main critique of Macpherson Constitution was that it sought to operate the country like a unitary state.

The crises that engulfed the Northern part of the country as a result of rioting by the supporters of the NPC when the delegations of AG politicians visited the North for a rally and the consequential threat of reprisals by disgruntled supporters of the AG quickened the convening of a conference in London in 1953 at the invitation of a Secretary of State for the colonies, Sir Oliver Lyttleton.


The aftermath of the constitutional conferences of 1953 was the advent of “Littleton Constitution of 1954” which ushered in federalism. By this singular development, the executive, legislature, judiciary, public service and marketing board were regionalized.

Nigeria thus became a federation of three regions with the federal territory of Lagos as capital. The Governor in Lagos became Governor-General while the Lt. Governors became Governors of the Regions. But after elections by political parties, the Regional Executives became Premiers. The British officials consequently withdrew their membership of both the Western and Eastern legislative Houses although three of them continued to reclaim their positions at the Northern and Federal Executive Councils. The NCNC and NPC formed a coalition government at the center while AG became the official opposition.

The Federal Constitution of 1954 for the first time made provision for an exclusive legislative list reserved for the federal legislature. There was also a concurrent list containing matters that could be legislated upon by the federal and the regional legislatures. Items which were neither stipulated in the exclusive nor concurrent lists were reserved for the regions. These were residual matters.

The House of Representatives was enlarged to 194 membrs including ex-officio and nominated members. The colony of Southern Cameroons was represented by six members. The Governor-General was still President of the Council of Ministers which had ten Nigerian Ministers. All of them had specific Departments to administer. The Governor-General and the Governors had reserved powers.

Each of the three regions continued to have a bicameral legislature, except the East which had only the House of Assembly. Just as Premiers were appointed for the Regions (all of them leaders of their respective parties) Ministers were also appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Premier. Southern Cameroons was ruled by a High Commissioner and some Ministers. In all cases, each Minister had a Department in his charge.

The Judiciary for the first time was re-organised along federal lines. Consequently, the Supreme Court had appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the regional High Courts. The revenue of the country accruing to her are paid into a specialized account and divided between the regions on the basis of derivation whilst the federal government kept about half of the revenue from customs and excise duties.

To be continued…

*Please send your comment/ contribution to [email protected]