Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 In Nigeria | Background, Features, Merits & Demerits
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 of 1954
- The constitution introduced a federal system of government.
- The lieutenant governors in the regions became known as governors.
- The governor of the country became known as governor-general.
- Regional Houses of Assembly were given residual powers to pass bills into laws without the approval from the central government.
- Items listed on the concurrent list meant for both the central and regional legislatures to legislate on them. If there was a conflict in the performance of such functions, the central legislature would prevail.
- The constitution provided for the post of a premier as the leader of government in the regions.
- The leader of the political party with a majority in the regional assembly became Premier Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier for the East, Ahmadu Bello, Premier for the North and Obafemi Awolowo, Premier for the West. The regional governors appointed ministers based on the advise of the premiers.
- No provision was made for the post of a prime minister as head of government in Nigeria.
- The governors and Governor-General were no longer members of the regional and central legislatures respectively.
- The governor general and the regional governors still retained the power to accept or reject bills.
- Ministers at both the regional and central levels of governments can control the departments within their ministries.
- The regions now had its civil service and the judiciary.
- Southern Cameroun to remain part of Nigerian federation as a quasi-federal territory, with a legislature of its own.
- Lagos was removed from the Western Region and made a federal capital territory.
- This constitution also established a federal Supreme Court for the country.
Merits of Lyttleton Constitution of 1954
The Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 in Nigeria had the following advantages.
- Regionalization of the civil service and the judiciary: The regions now had its own civil service and the judiciary.
- A federal system of government: This constitution gave Nigeria federal system of government.
- Supreme Court: Supreme Court was established for the country.
- A federal capital territory: Lagos was removed from the Westem region and made a Federal Capital Territory.
- Specific functions to perform: The two tiers of government central and regional were given specific functions to perform.
- Departmental control: Nigerians became ministers at different levels of government with full ministerial responsibilities.
- Speaker and Deputy Speaker: These two offices were created in the country’s legislative houses.
- Regional head of government: The post of a premier as head of government for a region was created.
- Elections: Elections into the Eastern, Western and Central legislatures became direct and with the introduction of indirect election by adult male suffrage in the North.
- Southern Cameroon: Southem Cameroon was separated from the Eastern region.
- Office of the governor: The constitution raised the status of the governor to governor – general and lieutenant – governors to governors.
- Membership of the legislative council: This constitution removed the Governor-General and the Lieutenant-Governors from membership of the legislative council.
- Office of the Premier: It created the office of regional premier for the first time.
- Democratic principles: The constitution extended democratic principles through expanded franchise and membership of the House.
- It reduced the official representatives in the Legislative House: This is due to few slots.
Demerits of Lyttleton Constitution of 1954
The Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 had the following disadvantages.
- Loyalty of ministers to their regional leaders: This happened because their regional leaders were not part of the central decision making body – the federal Council of Ministers.
- No provision for the office of a prime minister: This constitution did not make provision for the office of a prime minister as head of government for Nigeria, even when there was the council of ministers.
- Retention of official members: This constitution still retained official members in the federal and regional executives.
- No uniform electoral system: The North had a different electoral system – Adult male suffrage while the East, West and the Central legislature was direct election based on universal adult suffrage.
- Second chamber: There was no Senate as the second chamber at the central legislature.
- Veto and Reserve powers: Lyttleton Constitution still gave veto and reserve powers to the Head of state (Governor-General) and even to reject bills, accept or reject advice.
- Establishment of a Supreme Court: Even though the Supreme Court was established, it had no power to entertain appellate cases in Nigeria. Also, it was not made the highest court in the country.
- Regionalization of the public service: It strengthened the regions at the expense of the federal public service.
- Appointment: The mode of selecting the ministers was undemocratic as they were appointed instead of elected.
- Regional structure: It retained the three regional structures despite calls for the creation of more regions.
- No plan for independence: The constitution made no plans for eventual independence status like granting self-government.
- No second chamber: It failed to provide for the second chamber at the federal level and Eastern region.