The Nigerian 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.
Issue Discussed In London Constitutional Conference Of 1957
The major contentious issues discussed at the conference, and on which some decisions were reached included the following:
Structure of the Legislature at the Centre
The conference agreed that there should be a bicameral legislature at the centre. That is, there should be a Senate and a House of Representatives for the country. The Senate should have twelve (12) members from each region respectively and four from Lagos.
In addition, there should be four special members to be appointed by the Governor-General. The President of the Senate did not have to be a senator, but his deputy must be a senator.
The four Lagos senators should be appointed by the Governor-General while the Regional Governors were mandated to appoint the senators representing their respective regions after due consultation with the Regional legislative houses. A senator must be 40 years old and the life span of the Senate was five years.
The conference also agreed that the House of Representatives should have 320 members elected to represent federal constituencies demarcated on population basis.
Creation of Office of Prime Minister
There was agreement among the parties at the conference that the post of Prime Minister should be created. The Governor-General was given the power to appoint as Prime Minister the leader of the party with the largest majority in the House of Representatives.
As a result, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in the House was appointed as Prime Minister in 1959. He immediately formed a national government based on a coalition of the three main parties, namely, the NPC, NCNC and Action Group.
The conference acceded to the demands of the regions to be self-governing. Consequently, the Eastern and Western Regions achieved self government in August 1957 and the Northern Region in March, 1959.
Creation of House of Chiefs for the Eastern Region
The conference discussed the request for a second chamber for the Eastern Region and agreed that a House of Chiefs comprising 60 members should be established in the region. This was meant to bring the region in line with the other regions, which were already bicameral.
Problem of Minorities
The conference received several petitions from ethnic minorities in the three regions for the creation of new regions or states in their areas. The conference, however, did not buy the idea of creating new states but agreed to establish a Commission of Inquiry, which would look into the problem of minorities in the country.
The Minorities Commission had four members (all English men) and it was headed by Sir. Henry Willink. The Commission did not support the creation of new states as it felt that such an action might delay the march towards independence.
Status of Lagos
The conference observed that there were conflicting proposals on the status of Lagos as the federal capital. Both the Northern and Eastern Regions argued that Lagos should have a separate status but delegates from the Western Region contended that Lagos should be part of the region.
However, the conference agreed that the existing constitutional position of Lagos as the federal capital territory should be retained.
The conference recommended that the Governor-General should establish a Police Commission, which would deal with staff matters – such as recruitment, promotion and discipline in the Nigeria Police Force.
After reviewing the problem of allocating revenue between various levels of government in the federation, the conference recommended that the government should set up a fiscal commission comprising two or three members with experience in federal government finance, to review the finances of the whole federation, and recommend appropriate criteria for the allocation of revenue between central and regional governments.
The recommendation was accepted by the government and a Revenue Allocation Commission was set up.
Status of Southern and Northern Cameroon
At the time of the conference, Southern Cameroon was administered by the British Government as part of Nigeria under the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement. The same applied to Northern Cameroon.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies informed the conference that the people of the two territories would have to decide before the independence of Nigeria whether they would prefer to be administered as part of independent Nigeria or would join the Republic of Cameroon or continue under the British Trusteeship.
The representatives of Northern Cameroon insisted that they would continue to be part of Northern Nigeria but Southern Cameroon opted for a plebiscite to decide the future of the territory.
Independence for Nigeria
Although the Nigerian parties had come to the conference with a demand for Nigeria’s independence in 1960, they were persuaded by the argument of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that the matter be referred to the Nigerian Parliament which would be elected in January 1960 to propose a date for the country’s independence.