Constitutional Development In Nigeria From 1914 Till Date

Nigeria is unarguably one of the most influential countries in Africa. 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.

British colonialism of Nigeria began apparently in 1861 when Lagos ceded to Britain. This occurrence is officially described as the annexation of Lagos. With this annexation of Lagos, British colonialists began spreading their dominance, and finally, in 1914, Lord Lugard became Nigeria’s first British Governor-General and thereupon, he joined Southern Nigeria with Northern Nigeria.

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 generations:

Types of Constitution in Nigeria

  • The pre-independence generation and
  • The post-independence generation.

In its entirety, a constitution is a set of organizing principles, laws, or rules by which a State, country, group, or region is governed. As a federal republic, Nigeria maintains a written constitution officially referred to as the Constitution of Nigeria. Nigeria’s incumbent constitution was promulgated on May 29, 1999 –precisely after the termination of the then military regime headed by General Adbulsalam Abubakar. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic began with the enactment of this constitution.

As implied earlier, constitutional development in Nigeria can be divided into two broad eras which are the colonial or pre-independence constitutional era and the post-colonial or post-independence constitutional era.

Constitutional development in Nigeria from 1914 till date

1. The pre-independence generation is made up of 6 constitutional instruments, including:

  • The 1914 constitution, the 1922 constitution, the 1946 constitution, the 1951 constitution, the 1954 constitution, and the 1960 constitution.

2. The post-independence generation is however made up of :

  • The 1963 constitution, the 1979 constitution, and the 1999 constitution.

The Pre-Independence Constitution

The pre-independence constitutional era lasted 46 years –from 1914 to 1960. During this constitutional era, Nigeria had a series of constitutions enacted by the then British Governors-General. This pre-independence era accounted for 5 different constitutions enacted in 1914, 1922, 1946, 1951, and 1954.

During the colonial constitutional era (from 1914-1960), Nigeria served as a Crown Colony under the control of Britain. In course of this British dominance, Nigeria had its first 5 constitutions by order in council. The foremost of these 5 constitutions was the 1914 constitution. Notably, this constitution was laid down in 1913 but actually became effective on 1st of January 1914.

The idea of one Nigeria dates back to 1914 with the Frederick Lugard Constitution. This Frederick Lugard’s 1914 Constitution amalgamated southern Nigeria with northern Nigeria. The resulting entity was administered under Lord Frederick Lugard’s government.

Constitutional Development In Nigeria From 1914 Till Date

The Frederick Lugard’s 1914 Constitution was later replaced by the Sir Clifford’s 1922 Constitution. The Sir Clifford’s 1922 Constitution formed a legislative council that was given lawmaking responsibilities for Lagos and the southern provinces.

In 1922, the foremost colonial constitution was succeeded by a new constitution which remained effective until 1946. Officially regarded as the Clifford Constitution, this constitution was named after the then Governor-General Sir Hugh Clifford. Under Sir Arthur Richard’s control as the British Governor-General of Nigeria, Westminster declared the approval of a new constitution in 1946. In that same year, the constitution came into effect as implemented by Sir Arthur Richards. Officially known as Richards Constitution, the 1946 constitution vested effective power in the then Governor-General and the Executive Council. In spite of this, the constitution was notable for the provision of an extended Legislative Council authorized to meditate on national issues. In addition, below are the other notable features of the Richards Constitution;

  1. Provision of separate legislative bodies in order to address local questions, issues, and complaints in each of the three regions. Also, these were meant to serve as advisory bodies to the lieutenant governors
  2. Provision of the federal principle which transferred deliberative authority to the regions and further recognized the diversity of Nigeria
  3. Emphasis on the promotion of regionalism as a possible means of achieving political coalition

In 1946, the Sir Clifford’s 1922 Constitution was replaced by the Arthur Richard’s 1946 Constitution which defined Nigeria for the first time. The Arthur Richard’s 1946 Constitution divided Nigeria into the Northern, Western and Eastern
regions. This Arthur Richard’s 1946 Constitution came into effect after the end of World War 2.

Continuation of the constitutional development in Nigeria from 1914 till date …

The enactment of the Richards Constitution in 1946 boosted the level of constitutional development in Nigeria. But due to a vehement demand for intense autonomy, the Richards Constitution was interrupted in 1950.


A chain of events resulted in the formation of a body called the National Council for Nigeria and Cameroons. This body later changed its name to the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, (N.C.N.C). This body mobilized indigenous peoples of the country to fight for their political independence.

Meanwhile, this gave birth to an inter-parliamentary summit held in Ibadan [the capital city of Oyo] in that same year. At this summit, the terms of a newly proposed constitution were drafted and in the subsequent year [1951], the new constitution was eventually enacted. Named after the then British Governor-General, John Macpherson.

Just 5 years after the Arthur Richard’s 1946 Constitution came into effect, another constitution took over. The Sir John Macpherson’s 1951 Constitution came into existence.

The Macpherson Constitution came into being in 1951 as Nigeria’s fourth constitution under British colonialism. The Sir John Macpherson’s 1951 Constitution was said to widely reached out to the people than the previous constitutions.

Through the most significant changes in the newly established Macpherson Constitution, the two-sided course of constitutional development was strengthened and this paved the way for both federal unification and regional autonomy. In addition, below are the other significant features of the Macpherson Constitution;

  1. Significant provision of a central governing body together with a Council of Ministers
  2. Expansion of the elective principle
  3. Reinforcement of political participation and party activity at the national level
  4. Provision of similar regional governments broadly authorized to wield legislative powers. Also, the Macpherson Constitution prevented the newly-introduced 185-seat federal House of Representatives from outweighing these powers
  5. Through similar regional governments, the Macpherson Constitution gave a notable improvement to the idea of regionalism

In 1953, there was massive loss of lives and property which was as a result of fights between the northerners and southerners. This violence, however, led to the formation of a new constitution in 1954.

In 1954, a new constitution came into effect. Officially known as Lyttelton Constitution, the constitution was named after the 1st Viscount Chandos, Oliver Lyttelton. Significantly, the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954 allowed for Nigeria’s independence and strongly initiated the federal principle.

The Constitution, however, made regional governments independent of the central government. The regional governments were independent of the central government in the sense that subjects and legislative powers were allocated to the regional governments. The Oliver Lyttleton’s 1954 Constitution is however described as the most instrumental constitution that marked the end of the colonial constitution and helped Nigeria gain independence in 1960.

Still On The Constitutional Development In Nigeria From 1914 Till Date 

Post-Independence Constitutional Era

In 1960, Nigeria gained political independence as a sovereign which was also accompanied by a new constitution known as the 1960 Constitution. The 1960 Constitution introduced the parliamentary system of government.

Since the era of independence, Nigeria has undergone a series of crises which have resulted in constitutional changes. Beginning from 1963, Nigeria has had four different republics and each republic came with its own constitution. The purpose of each republic was to maintain democracy –a system of government which allows a country to be governed by elected representatives. But due to a series of military interventions, Nigeria failed to preserve its democratic institutions until 1999 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar handed over power to a democratically elected President.

Nigeria is currently running it’s the Fourth Republic which was inaugurated in 1999 with its own constitution. Although the associated constitution has experienced some modifications, it remains Nigeria’s supreme document showing the set principles by which the country is governed.

Upon independence from British colonialism in 1960, Nigeria came up with its first constitution as a sovereign state. A British order in council promulgated the constitution so that it would take effect as soon as Nigeria’s independence was reached on 1st of October 1960. Regarded as Independence Constitution, this very constitution empowered the Queen of England [Queen Elizabeth II] to maintain her authority as Nigeria’s ceremonial Head of State.

  • 1963 Constitution [Constitution of the First Republic]

Though Nigeria was already independent beginning from 1st of October 1960, Queen of England remained the ceremonial Head of State of Nigeria until October 1st, 1963 –the third year of independence.

However, some flaws in the 1960 Constitution. led to the birth of another one.

In 1963, Nigerians began to complain about having a Head of State [the Queen of England] who was of British descent and who lived about 3000 miles away from Nigeria. Though the Queen of England performed no administrative functions over Nigeria, many Nigerian leaders believed it was ridiculous for the country’s Head of State to be far away from them. Due to this, an agreement was reached that Nigeria should have an indigenous Head of State who would be elected by the people to serve a five-year term. At the same time, it was agreed that such a person would be a titular Head of State. In this case, he wouldn’t rule the country directly but his name would be used by Ministers in executing governmental functions.

Nigerians succeeded in the decision to have an indigenous Head of State and this gave birth to the attainment of a republican status on 1st of October 1963. Having established Nigeria as a federal republic, the 1963 constitution paved the way for Nigeria to continue adopting the Westminster system which had been in effect prior to independence.

One of the main features of the 1963 Constitution was the establishment of Nigeria’s 1st republic under a parliamentary system.

However, in 1966, Nigeria experienced its first and deadliest military coup. The consequence of the coup brought about many disasters including great massacre, an abolition of the Westminster system and termination of democracy.

In course of this bloody coup (which occurred on 15th of January, 1966), many Nigerian personalities lost their lives. The most notable of these personalities were Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa [Nigeria’s first Prime Minister], Sir Ahmadu Bello [Premier of the former Northern Region] and Chief Ladoke Akintola [Premier of the former Mid-Western Region]. The so-called coup made General Aguiyi Ironsi Nigeria’s first military Head of State. However, another coup was led in the same year [1966]. As a consequence of this, General Aguiyi Ironsi lost his life and was succeeded by his junior army member –General Yakubu Gowan.

Briefly speaking, the First Republic lasted few years as it began in 1963 and was terminated abruptly in 1966. Due to Nigeria’s first military coup, the First Republic was terminated together with its associated constitution –the 1963 constitution.

Still On The Constitutional Development In Nigeria From 1914 Till Date 

  • 1979 Constitution [Constitution of the Second Republic]

Nigeria’s Second Republic came into being under the influence of the 1979 constitution. As part of the features of the 1979 constitution, an American-oriented presidential system was adopted at the expense of the former Westminster system. Following the implications of the American-oriented presidential system, Nigeria conducted a direct election which produced Alhaji Shehu Shagari as the country’s first Executive President. In order to prevent Nigeria from experiencing the drawbacks of the First Republic for the second time, the 1979 constitution made it compulsory for the Federal Executive Council and political parties to depict Nigeria’s “federal character’’. Going by this, political parties were given the mandate of being registered in no less than two-thirds of the entire Nigerian States. Moreover, each Nigerian State must account for at least one representative among the cabinet members.

Like the First Republic, Nigeria’s Second Republic lasted only a few years beginning in 1979 and ending in 1983 as a result of a military coup. Meanwhile, this coup eliminated the Second Republic together with its associated constitution –the 1979 constitution.

  • 1993 Constitution [Constitution of the Third Republic]

After the abolition of the Second Republic, Nigeria’s democratic institutions were phased out and General Muhammadu Buhari took over in 1983 as Nigeria’s military Head of State until he was overthrown by General Ibrahim Babaginda in 1985.

  1. In the hope to restore democracy in Nigeria, some Nigerian elite organized political parties and contested in an election in 1993. Following the result of the 1993 Presidential election, Chief M.K.O Abiola emerged as the winner and was expected to restore democracy by ascending the Presidential seat. However, a lot of controversies flared up and amidst these, the then military President –General Ibrahim Babangida –cancelled the result of the Presidential election of June 12, 1993. Afterwards, Babangida appeared on air to state the reasons why he canceled the results of the Presidential election held on 12th of June 1993.

In consequence of the result cancellation, riots flared up in South-West of Nigeria and these claimed the lives of many Nigerians. Due to the vehement opposition and severe tension, General Ibrahim Babangida willingly stepped down from his position as military President. Thereupon, he assigned Chief Ernest A. Shonekan to ascend power as the head of an interim national government.

With the intent of bringing back democracy, a constitution was set up in 1993 but without full implementation. The 1993 constitution marked the establishment of Nigeria’s short-lived the Third Republic. On 17th of November 1993, General Sanni Abacha –who served as the Defence Minister of the then interim government –eliminated the constitution and ended the Third Republic after overthrowing Chief Ernest Shonekan. In this manner, General Sanni Abacha became Nigeria’s sixth military Head of State.

  • 1999 Constitution [Constitution of the Fourth Republic]

After the abrupt abolition of Nigeria’s Third Republic by General Sanni Abacha, the military regime was restored and it continued until 1999 when General Abdulsalam Abubakar fulfilled his promise of stepping down from power. On the basis of the 1979 constitution, a new constitution was introduced in Nigeria in May 1999. Being a democratic constitution, the 1999 constitution paved the way for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to become a democratically elected President. Since it was adopted in 1999, the constitution has remained effective to date. Being the first time the 1999 constitution will be modified since its introduction, two amendments were proposed and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan endorsed them in January 2011.

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