NIGERIA 'S CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
By Okey Nwachukwu
In its chequered political history, Nigeria has experimented with eleven constitutions. Pre-independent Nigeria experimented with five constitutions, while it has so far tried out five since attaining independence from Britain in 1960. Each successive constitution was designed to take care of the inadequacy of the previous one.
The first pre-independence constitution named after the Governor General, Lord Lugard was written and published in 1914. The constitution established a Legislative Council known as the Nigerian Council comprising thirty members who included seventeen and thirteen non officials.
In 1922, a new constitution known as Clifford Constitution was introduced. The new constitution was an improvement on the 1914 constitution.
Then came the Richards Constitution of 1946 which was framed by Governor Bourdillon. The main feature of the constitution which incidentally was the last of Governors' Constitution is that it ended the unofficial majority in the legislature; ensuring unofficial numbers of the legislature council out-numbered the official numbers.
Next was the Macpherson's Constitution of 1951. The constitution established a central legislature for the country and also a bi-cameral regional legislature comprising House of Chiefs and House of Assembly. The McPherson constitution could be rightly termed as Nigeria 's first indigenous constitution, evolving a strong national government because a select committee consulted widely across the country to be able to draw up the constitution.
By 1954, a new constitution known as Lyttleton Constitution came into force thus ending the operation of 1951 Constitution, barely three years old.
The collapse of the 1951 constitution was occasioned by a motion moved by the Action Group member of the House of Representatives, Chief Anthony Enahoro, calling for attainment of self governance for Nigeria in 1956. The consequences of this motion opposed by the Northern members of the legislature marked the beginning of political hostilities and even open violence between the ethnic nationalities .
A Constitutional Conference was called in Lagos in 1954 which established the principle of federalism, to ensure that the ethnic diversity was fully captured, giving each component of Nigeria authority over its own affairs.
As stated earlier, Nigeria has, since independence in 1960 experimented with five constitutions. They include the 1960, 1963, 1979, 1995 and 1999 constitutions.
With the 1966 military coup and subsequent civil war, Nigeria abandoned the parliamentary constitution and opted for a presidential constitution in 1979 which vested executive powers in presidency and created a bi-cameral national legislature.
In 1999, another constitution came into force following another effort of a constituent assembly . The new constitution was not significantly different from the 1979 constitution but Nigerians perceived deficiencies that needed to be amended. For the first time in Nigeria 's political and constitutional history a constitution was successfully amended by the National and State Legislatures in 2010.
While experimenting with five constitutions in fifty years, Nigeria has learnt some lessons. The country and its people have learnt that no constitution anywhere in the world is perfect. It also learnt that a constitution can be amended or even altered. Another lesson is that constitution making, amendment and alteration require a great deal of patience and consultation with all stakeholders.
What difference the amendment will make in Nigeria 's political stability, democracy and good governance is yet to be seen. Nigeria has come a long way in forging an acceptable arrangement for peaceful co-existence of its diverse ethnic nationalities. The success of these efforts lies in the ability of the political leaders to live within the spirit of the constitution which is supreme!
Broadcast on Monday September 27, 2010