Nigeria

The Richard’s Constitution (1946)

Having exhausted expedient facts and files about the Clifford Constitution of 1922, Richard Constitution would form the next discourse.

It should however be recalled that the isolation policy pursued by Lord Lugard and continued by the Clifford Constitution of 1922 where the North was sheltered from contact with the other parts of the country was anti-national unity.

As such, Bernard Bourdillon who was the then Governor of Nigeria decided to take more interest in the affairs of the whole country, he had almost concluded the new constitution where he proposed regionalism before he retired.

When Sir Arthur Richard became the Governor, he began to work on a constitution which according to him was tailored specially to promote national unity and enhance greater participation of Nigerians in the discussion of their own affairs.

FEATURES OF RICHARD’S CONSTITUTION

THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL

The central executive council of Richard constitution was terminated by Europeans as in the Clifford constitution of 1922. Richard was the president of the council.

LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL

The Nigerian legislative council membership was 44. 16 were official and 28 unofficial members, out of the 16 members, 13 were ex-officio and 3 were nominated, out of the 28 unofficial members, 24 were indirectly elected while 4 members were elected, one for Calabar and three for Lagos.

The constitution also produced an unofficial majority in the central legislative council. It brought the North and South together under one legislature.

In the area of dual membership, members of the central legislature council were at the same time members of the regional councils. The central legislature did not possess a national outlook but a regional one.

REGIONAL HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

The creation of the Regional House of Assembly was also noteworthy. The assembly members were to be elected by the native authorities while the Regional assembly members were to elect members of the central legislative council through Electoral College.

The composition of the house was as follows, Northern Regional consisted of 19 officials and 20 unofficial, and the East had 13 officials and 14 unofficial while the West had 14 officials and 15 unofficial.

BI-CAMERAL LEGISLATURE

 The constitution granted the North a bi-cameral legislature i.e. Regional assembly and Regional House of Chiefs. All first-class chiefs were members by right.

REGIONALISM AND ELECTIVE PRINCIPLE

          Regions were created out of the former province. The constitution still retained the elective principle with the limited franchise. Three representatives were elected for Lagos and one for Calabar.

REVENUE

The revenue of the country was made available to each region in the form of bulk grants. Besides, minority Nigerians were in the minority in the central Executive council.

MERITS OF THE RICHARDS CONSTITUTION

          One of the greatest achievements of this constitution was that it introduced the concept of regionalism into the political history of the country. The former provinces gave way to 3 regions.

          Secondly, it brought the North and South in a common legislative council, this allowed the whole country to meet as a body and deliberate on the affairs of the country. Therefore, this constitution achieves one of the objectives of promoting national unity.

          Again, in the area of Federalism, the full-blown federal structure of 1954 was said to have been laid down by this constitution.

          Another related advantage was that the constitution gave the unofficial members a majority in the legislative council.

          The introduction of the Bi-cameral legislature is also praiseworthy. The North had House of Assembly and chiefs, thereby introducing bi-cameralism into the system even though the East and West had Uni-cameral legislature.

Importantly, the central legislature, Regional Assemblies later became the body (Electoral College) for electing representatives into the central legislature.

WEAKNESS OF RICHARD’S CONSTITUTION

          As good as the aforementioned advantages seemed, they have still, vacuum of weakness. As far as the Executive Council was concerned, it was still dominated by Europeans as in the Clifford constitution, changes were not made. This seriously weakened the constitution.

          Again, elective principles were retained by this constitution, this only favoured Lagos and Calabar. The principle of wider representation was not extended to other parts of the country.

          Division of the country into unequal parts was also unluckily noted. The country was divided into three unequal regions thereby making the North larger than the other two.

          Another area was the limited power of the legislature. The regional assemblies were given limited legislative power to legislate on minor matters and this should be subjected to the Governor’s reserved powers.

          The issue of the nomination of Chiefs was also identified as a weakness. The governor still had the power to veto bills and can reject or accept advice from members of the executive council.

          On the final note, constitutional proposal was not seen as too advantageous. It was rushed through both in the legislature council and in the British parliament. Nigerians were not involved in discussing the proposal

Critiques of Richard constitution

          Despite all the achievements stated above and the fact that the constitution was intended to promote national unity, it was received with hostility first by nationalists.

That the people of Nigeria were not consulted before drawing the constitution as earlier promised by governor Bourdillon was a major critique.

They claimed that Nigerians should be properly consulted before a new constitution would be decided; this promise was not carried out by his successor Arthur Richard. So Nigerians regarded the constitution as an imposition on them.

          Arguments were also raised on the fact that there was no provision in the constitution for Nigerians to take an active part. In the first instances, the constitution was aimed at giving Nigeria greater participation in the discussion of their affairs.

What Nigeria leaders wanted was not “greater discussion” but “greater participation” in the administration of their country. For this, the objective of the constitution was not achieved.

          Subsequently, the nationalists were opposed to the principle of nomination which they regarded as undemocratic.

They maintained that the nominated members could not be truly described as representatives of the people and that their obligations to the Governor who nominated them prevented them from representing the people.

          In addition, some of the Nigerian leaders also opposed the inclusion of chiefs as unofficial members. This was because they regarded them as puppets of the administration.

This was seen in the attitude of some Obas who hurriedly accepted the new constitution. For E.g. the Oba of Benin warmly declared that “the Richard constitutional and political reform for Nigeria is without mincing words the best Nigeria can have at the present”.

In another view, the constitution was accused of being partial against the Southern region, because it deliberately created the house of chiefs in the Northern region and non in the South, people saw this as a way of bringing the Northern Region into the mainstream of Nigerian politics.

          It is discriminating that the regional assemblies were advisory and consultative bodies only. They were not given specified and effective functions to perform. 

They had no power to appropriate revenues and the Governor was not bound to accept the recommendations of the Legislative council.

Nigeria leaders were also irritated by the way the constitutional proposals were rushed through both in the Nigerian Legislative council and in the British parliament. It was spring in Nigeria without notice.

The elite also criticized the constitution on revenue allocation that there was an inherent imbalance in the revenue allocation.

          Richards’s constitution fell below expectations and it was not in any way significant over the 1923 constitution, for it contained the same weakness.

In June 1947, a delegation of NCNC leaders left Nigeria for London to protest against the constitution before the secretary of state for the colonies, they demanded among other things the immediate revision of the constitution.

It was suspended in 1950 against a call for greater autonomy which resulted in an inter-parliamentary conference at Ibadan in 1950. The conference drafted the terms of a new constitution called the Macpherson constitution.

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About the author

Afe Adedayo Emmanuel

Dr Afe Adedayo Emmanuel

AFE, Adedayo Emmanuel Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Department of History and International Studies Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria.

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