The Main Features of Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 In Nigeria
Background to the Constitution
The political crises that hit the country in 1953 created regional and ethnic animosities, which eventually led to the eventual breakdown of the Macpherson Constitution and the consequent promulgation of the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
The two major political crises were the Eastern Regional Crisis of 1953 and the constitutional crises at the centre, which led to the Kano Riots of 1953. These two political events and similar developments led to the promulgation of the Lyttleton Constitution in 1954.
Features of Lyttleton Constitution 1954
The main features of the Lyttleton Constitution may be summarised as follows:
- Introduction of federalism
- Regional autonomy
- Office of Governor-General
- Retention of House of Representatives
- Council of Ministers
- Regional Legislature
- Regional executive council
- The police
- Status of Lagos
- Regionalization of the Judiciary
- Status of Southern Cameroon
Introduction of Federal System of Government
The Lyttleton Constitution made Nigeria a federation comprising a central government and three regional governments. The three regions were Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. Legislative powers were shared between the federal and regional governments.
The Federal Government assumed responsibility for subjects in the exclusive legislative list while residual powers were reserved for the regional governments. Both the Federal and Regional Governments could legislate on subjects in the Concurrent legislative list.
Where there was a conflict between the federal and regional law on any subject in the concurrent list, the federal law prevailed. This was an innovation in constitutional development in Nigeria.
The regions were independent in the subjects allocated to them. This was a marked improvement on the Macpherson Constitution, which provided that regional laws be approved by the central government and subordinated the regional governments to the central government.
Creation of Office of Governor General
The office of Governor-General was created for the whole federation while Governors headed the regional governments. The change in nomenclature was meant to reflect the increased responsibilities at both federal and regional levels of government.
Retention of House of Representatives
House of Representatives was retained at the centre. The enlarged House had 188 members, namely:
- Speaker (presiding officer)
- 92 members representing the North
- 42 members representing the East
- 42 members representing the West
- 6 members representing Southern Cameroon
- 2 members representing Lagos
- 3 ex-officio members (namely, the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, and Attomey-General).
Members of the House of Representatives were directly elected. This was a marked departure from the situation under the Macpherson Constitution which provided for indirect election of members of the House of Representatives.
Council of Ministers
A Council of Ministers was set up to assist in the execution of government policies. Although the council was not new, it, however, had some novel features. The Council of Ministers comprised the following.
- The Governor-General (President)
- Three Ministers from each of the three Regions (Appointed by the Governor of the Region concerned)
One Minister from Southern Cameroon
Three official members
- The ministers were given control of their departments or ministries.
The Constitution continued with the practice of having two legislative houses (House of Assembly and House of Chiefs) in the Northern Region and Western Region respectively. The Eastern Region also retained its unicameral legislature. The legislatures had the responsibility of making laws for the peace, order and good governance of the regions.
The Governor presided over the Northern Region’s House of Chiefs and his nominee was the President of the House of Assembly. The Speaker directed the affairs of the Western Region’s House of Assembly. He was elected by the members from among themselves. Members of the House of Chiefs also elected their own presiding officer. In the Eastern Region, the Speaker of the House of Assembly was appointed by the Governor after due consultation with party leaders in the house.
Thus, the presiding officers of the two houses in the different regions were assigned to different persons and the method of selection also differed from region to region. It would appear, however, that the degree of democratization in the selection process of the leadership of the houses decreased as one moved away from the Western Region to the Eastern Region and then to the Northern Region. So while the representatives elected their own leaders in the Western Region, this responsibility devolved on the executive in the Norther and Eastern Region.
Regional Executive Council
Regional Executive Councils were established in the three regions. A Regional Executive Council was the equivalent of the Council of Ministers at the centre. The Governor of a region appointed the Ministers. He also appointed the Premier who was the leader of the party with the largest majority in the House of Assembly. The Premier could be in office for as long as he enjoyed the confidence of the members of the House of Assembly. The Premier assigned portfolios to the ministers after due consultation With the Governor.
The Constitution provided for the establishment of a Federal Police. This was in addition to the existing Native Authority or local police. The Regional Commissioner of Police recruited the policemen under his command from the region. In the discharge of his operational and administrative duties, the Regional Commissioner of Police reported to the Regional Governor who, in turn, reported to the Governor-General.
This reporting relationship between the Regional Commissioner of Police, and the Regional Governor, is in marked contrast to the present arrangement in which the State Commissioner of Police reports to the Inspector-General of Police even though the State Governor is styled as the Chief Security Officer of a state. Although the political environment may have changed especially with increasing separatist tendencies in parts of the country, the effectiveness of a police force can only be measured by the extent to which local security is achieved.
Status of Lagos
The Lyttleton Constitution provided for a Federal Capital Territory of Lagos which had a neutral status. Lagos had always been part of the Western Region and the problem of the status of Lagos was one of the most thorny issues at the London and Lagos constitutional conferences.
While the Western Region insisted that Lagos should continue to be part of the region, the other regions contended that it should be separated from the Western Region and administered as an independent entity.
Provision was made by the Constitution for any region that desired self government to have it in so far it was in matters within the competence of the regional government.
Regionalisation of the Public Service
Under the Constitution, each region was free to establish its own Public Service Commission. The body was charged with the responsibility of advising the Governor on matters relating to the appointment, discipline anFeatd promotion of civil servants in the region.
Regionalisation of the Judiciary
The Constitution provided for the establishment of Regional High Courts.
Status of Southern Cameroon
Under the constitution, Southern Cameroon was declared a federal territory and controlled directly by the Federal Government. Although it had its own House of Assembly, it was not treated as a full-fledged region.