The 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria was the outcome of a series of conferences held in Lagos and London between 1957 and 1959 to resolve the problems which had emerged as a result of the implementation of the Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
The most notable of such conferences were the London Constitutional Conference of 1957 and the Lagos Constitutional Conference of 1958. The major decisions of these conferences are highlighted here in order to underline their effects on the 1960 Independence Constitution.
London Constitutional Conference Of 1957
The conference was held in London between 23rd May and 26th June, 1957. The Secretary of State for the Colonies presided over the conference which was attended by eminent Nigeria politicians from the different political parties.
The major contentious issues discussed at the conference, and on which some decisions were reached included the following:
Lagos Constitutional Conference
The Lagos Constitutional Conference was held in Lagos m 1958 as a follow-up to the London Conference of 1957. The major issues discussed and resolved at the conference included the following:
Final Constitutional Conference
The final constitutional conference took place in London in May 1960. It was a small conference convened to discuss outstanding issues in respect of the impending independence of the country.
The conference attended by only officials of federal and regional governments considered the draft Independence Constitution of Nigeria. It then agreed that the decisions of the three conferences (London, Lagos and final conference) should be incorporated into the Independence Constitution.
Features of the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The Nigerian Independence Constitution of 1960 had the following characteristics and features;
- Parliamentary Government: The constitution provided for a democratic parliamentary system of government.
- Federalism: A federal system of government was retained.
- Head of state: The Governor-General was the Ceremonial Head of State, representing the Queen.
- Head of government: The Head of government and administration was the prime minister.
- National parliament: The constitution provided for a bi-cameral legislature at the centre, namely, the Senate and House of Representatives.
- Regional legislature: Each of the three regions had a House of Assembly and a House of chiefs.
- Regional head of government: The 1960 independence constitution provided for a premier as the Head of the executive for each of the regions. Also, provision was made for a ceremonial governor for each of the regions.
- Fundamental human rights: The fundamental human rights of the citizens were entrenched in the constitution.
- The privy council: The final court of appeal was the Privy Council in London.
- Citizenship: The constitution defined who a citizen was and how to acquire citizenship.
- Procedure for amendment: The Constitution contained the procedure for amendment. The 1960 Independence Constitution was rigid.
- Creation of regions: It laid down the procedure for creating new regions, e.g. Mid-Western region was created in 1963.
- State of emergency: The federal government was given the power to declare a state of emergency in any part of the country, if there were crises or war. However, resolution would be passed by the House of Representatives with a two-third majority supporting it.
- Division of powers: The constitution divided the legislative powers of government into three – exclusive, concurrent and residual lists. For example, only the central government could make laws (through the parliament) on issues listed under exclusive legislative list: (currency, power, defence, external affairs etc).
- Appointment of judges: Judges of the Supreme and High courts were appointed on the advice of a Judicial Service Commission consisting of judges.
Achievements of the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The major achievements and advantages of the 1960 independence constitution of Nigeria include:
- Independence for the country: To some extent, colonial rule gave way to a govemment of Nigerians. The constitution ushered in independence for the country.
- Bi-cameral legislature: The regional and central governments had bi-cameral legislatures, e.g. the Senate and House of Representatives (parliament) for the central government and Houses of Assembly and Chiefs for the regions.
- Human rights: The constitution made provision for the fundamental human rights of citizens.
- United Nations Organization (UNO): Nigeria became the 99th member of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) after her independence.
- Citizenship: It defined citizenship and how it could be acquired.
- Division of powers and functions: It divided the legislative powers of the government into three exclusive, concurrent and residual legislative lists.
- Appointment of Judges: Appointment of Supreme Court and High Court Judges was Stipulated in the constitution, with the advice coming from the Judicial Service Commission.
Weakness of the 1960 Independence Constitution of Nigeria
The failures and weakness of the 1960 independence constitution of Nigeria are;
- Partial independence: The independence of 1960 was a partial one because it did not bring a total sovereignty to the countly. The Queen was still the Head of state.
- Final court of appeal: Even though there was a Supeme court in the country, yet, it had no power over appellate eases. Nigerians could only appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
- Some elements of interference: There was the possibility of Britain still interfering in the internal affairs of the country as Iong as the Queen remained the Head of state.