The Richards Constitution which took its name from SirArthur Richards (later LordMilverton), the then Governor of Nigeria, came into effect on 1st January, 1947. But the constitution itself was the outcome of several events that took place within and outside Nigeria since the Clifford Constitution was promulgated in 1922.
Thus, several factors accounted for the promulgation of the constitution. First, the indirect rule policy was a failure in Southern Nigeria contrary to the expectations of the colonial government.
The educated Nigerians were shut out from participation in government and they suffered various forms of discrimination in the civil service. Yet, the size of the educated elite had increased tremendously and the colonial government was faced with the problem of absorbing the school leavers into government service. This was always going to be difficult, as imperial control appeared inconsistent with the granting of powers to educated Nigerians who were agitating for self-government.
1. For the first time in the politicalhistory of Nigeria, the whole country was brought under one legislative authority. That is, one legislative body (the Central Legislature) made laws for the whole country. By so doing, the first objective of the constitution which was the promotion of national unity was achieved.
2. By establishing Regional Assemblies, the constitution recognized the diversity of Nigeria and provided an opportunity for these diverse elements to express their views. With this, the second objective of the constitution, that is the representation of the various diverse interests was realised.
3. The Regional Assemblies provided a forum for Nigerians to participate in the discussion and management of their own affairs. By so doing, the constitution realised its third objective, namely, securing the participation of Nigerians in their own affairs.
4. The constitution ingeniously incorporated the indirect rule into the constitution by linking the NativeAuthorities to the RegionalAssemblies and by linking the latter to the central legislature in Lagos.
5. The constitution allocated distinct functions to the Regional Assemblies.
Demerits of the Richards Constitution
The richard constitution had the following disadvantages.
Like previous constitutions (Hugh Clifford and Lord Lugard), the Richards Constitution was undemocratic as it was an imposition by the colonial government. In short, there was inadequate consultation with Nigerians in drafting the constitution. This was the major criticism of the nationalists, in particular, against the constitution.
The central legislature was dominated by nominated unofficial members. Since they were unelected, the unofficial members were likely to toe the official line in debates in the legislative council.
The constitution failed to take account of the political advancement in the country. Only four members of the legislature were elected, as was the case in 1922.
The Executive Council did not perform executive functions, but continued to play only an advisory role.
There was no effective connection between the Executive Council and the Legislative Council since none of the official members of the former was a member of the legislative council.
The Legislative Council was a mere advisory and deliberative body.
The introduction of regionalism promoted tribalism and allegiance to sub-national groups.
The failure to establish a House of Chiefs in the Western Region was inexplicable given the large number of traditional institutions in the area. The development only showed the contempt which the British colonial officials had for the south.
The veto power of the governor undermined the effectiveness of the legislative and executive councils.
The property qualification of £100 for election to political office had the negative effect of disenfranchising the working population whose annual income was far less than this amount.
The constitution which was supposed to last for nine years was discarded in just four years. This clearly summed up the failure of the constitution to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians for fundamental constitutional and political reforms.