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Macpherson Constitution of 1951

In this part of these conjunctions, Macpherson constitution of 1951 will occupy the totality of our attention. It will be safe to recall that Sir John Macpherson inherited what might be described as a problematic constitution from Governor Richard.

By March 1949, a selected committee of the Legislative council was set up to make recommendations on the proposed new constitution of Nigeria. Having examined the problems emanating from the Richard constitution, a wide consultation was made even at the village level.

This was followed by an all-Nigerian constitutional conference in January 1950. Among other things, the conference agreed to the federal system and the transformation of the three regions from administrative to political regions. The new constitution came into effect in 1951 and began operation in 1952.


 Several benchmarks characterized the Macpherson constitution of 1951. For instance, Lai Joseph described the constitution ‘as a liberal constitution in outlook ‘.

The features are epitomized here; primarily, the constitution established for the first time, a legislative council for the whole country called the “House of Representatives”.

It was made up of 149 members as follows: President (appointed from outside the House by the Governor), 6 ex-officio members, 136 representatives selected by the regional Houses of Assembly and Chiefs, and 6 special members appointed by the government to represent interests and communities not adequately represented in the House.

 Additionally, the constitution established a bi-cameral legislature for the Northern and Western regions, that is, the House of chiefs and the House of Assembly for each and a uni-cameral legislature for the Eastern region, that is, the House of Assembly.

It is also germane to submit that the constitution also established, the Central Executive Council known as “council of ministers and regional executive council” respectively.

The Executive council comprises 19 members via a Governor, who is the president, 6 ex-officio members and 12 unofficial members the latter (the regional executive) consisted of the Lieutenant Governor, 5 official members and 9 ministers were created for each of the regions of the country.

 Besides the above features, the constitution also provided for a legislative list for the Central government at Lagos and the regional legislature.

Hence the regular legislatures were empowered to make laws for the peace, order, and government of the regions In respect of agriculture, health, fishing, forestry, education and so on.

While the central legislature had the power to veto a regional bill before it was asserted to by the regional Governor.    

  It is sacrosanct to uncover the fact that the Public service commission appointment, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers were also established in Nigeria with the introduction of the revenue allocation formula, based on the principle of derivation, need and National interest.

It is crucial to add that the constitution was a principal instrument of policy due to the appointment of the majority of the members of the Council of Ministers from the House of Representatives and Regional Executive Council.

This helped to remove to extent autocratic powers from the Governor and L.t. Governors. 


 The unacceptability of Richard’s constitution which gave birth to this constitution would give a sense that the constitution had enormous advantages. It is veracious to say at first that the constitution was an improvement from Richard constitution.

This is because it was established after due consultation with Nigeria, in fact, the constitution introduced a ministerial post in Nigeria for the first time. It is supra-connected to the above to note that the constitution introduced quasi-federalism in Nigeria’s political scene.

Quasi-federalism is when a state has the appearance of being divided into jurisdictions but is in fact a unitary state which has no divided authority. This is the kind of federal system Macpherson established in his constitution.

 It is equally important to know that the constitution introduced for a time a revenue allocation formula in Nigeria based on the principle of derivation needs and national interest. This, though later served as a limitation to the control of finance by the House of Representatives and so no, it safeguard the government purse.

The constitution introduced a single-chamber central legislative house (known as the House of Representatives) and the executive council for the entire country.

The constitution introduced a bi-cameral legislature, the House of Assembly and the House of Chiefs into the Western and Northern regions but only the House of Assembly for the Eastern region.

The composition of the House of Representatives comprised of the President (the Governor), six ex-officio members, 136 elected members and six special members appointed by the Governor to represent interests not adequately represented.

Of the 136 elected members, 68 were to come from the Northern House of Assembly, 31 from the Western House of Assembly and three from the Western House of Chiefs. The remaining 34 members were to come from the Eastern House of Assembly.

 Another related advantage of Macpherson Constitution is that it increased the level of participation of indigenous people in the government. For the first time, the number of unofficial members in the House of Representatives was overwhelming.

It is significant to note that the number of unofficial elected members was far greater than unofficial nominated members.

More importantly, the constitution provided many longing opportunities for Nigerian nationalists to learn the art of constitution-making. In all, the constitution ushered in the formation of new political parties.


As interesting and beneficial as the constitution seems, it is not without its weaknesses. To start with, it is true that the constitution granted elective principles; the franchise granted was limited by economic status and gender.

Importantly or more importantly, the election into the federal legislative council was through electoral process. This was unsatisfactory to some politicians. The Governor still had the power to veto any bill he deemed inconsistent with general interests.

 It is also sagacious to note that the constitution failed to give Nigeria a fully responsible government; rather, it gave Nigeria what could be termed a semi or quasi-responsible government.

Unfortunately too, the constitution did not provide for true political leadership either at the centre or in the regions, for example, there was no provision for the post of the prime minister or premier. Consequently, the government at the Federal had no effective leadership.

It is sad though not too sad, to say that the constitution did not provide for cohesion or team spirit in the council for Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) in the Eastern region which was responsible for the collapse of the Macpherson constitution of 1951.

More than one can write or submit, the constitution did leave us with little testimony, this had been argued by some disgruntled politicians, further widening the ethnic relation gap in the country.

But it should be noted that the spate of ethnic chauvinism and regional divisions that followed the Macpherson constitution was orchestrated by selfish politicians who bent on acquiring powers by all means. Hence, the creation of the Action Group and the Northern Peoples Congress were fogged along ethnic lines.


 What must form the basis of our discussion is not whether Macpherson’s constitution has succeeded to deserve no critics as some do erroneously stress. Though succeeded to a notable extent, his failure seems to have swallowed his successes.

There is an element of truth in the view that his constitution was indigenously hypothesized which served as a new constitution-making process in historical and political Nigeria.

However, several critics have been submitted against its achievements. For instance, Chief Awolowo once asserted that the constitution failed to satisfy the three criteria by which a federal constitution should be judged and concluded that the constitution was therefore a “wretched compromise between federalism and Unitarianism”.

Further, it ushered in an era of ethnic nationalism and regional division- the emergence of two viable parties based on a regional division of the country since each region was largely enough adequate base for each party, Action Group and Northern People’s Congress.

It is not new in the academic and historical community to see a theme or discourse being subjected to a series of critiques from which it may not recover. Macpherson’s constitution was a replica of this phenomenon.

Be that as it may, the failure of the constitution to totally address its post-challenges made it imperative for a new constitution to be drafted, this give a rise to the birth or introduction of the Lyttleton constitution of 1954.

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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.