Advantages and Disadvantages 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 merits of the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 in Nigeria include the following:
The Constltutlon recognized the diversity of Nigeria and consequently gave more powers to the regions than ever before.
It introduced a federal system of government in the country. Federallsm is one of the most suitable systems of government for a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. So the Lyttleton Constitution got it right.
Members of the Federal House of Representatives were directly elected and this helped to remove the problem of double loyalty as happened under the Macpherson Constitution in which members of the House were elected by members of the Regional legislatures.
For the first time in the political history of Nigeria, ministers were given control over their ministries.
The constitution made provision for the appointment of Premiers for the regions to coordinate government activities. It was under this arrangement that Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and SirAhmadu Bello were elected as premiers of the Eastern Region, Western Region and Northem Region respectively in 1954.
As much as possible, Nigerians were allowed to run their own affairs without much interference from the colonial officials. A genuine attempt was therefore made to remove ex-officio or non-elected members from the legislature. For example, there were only three ex-official members in the House of Representatives which had 188 members. It was only the Northern Region House of Assembly that had four ex-officio members.
By introducing the elective principle at all levels of government, the Constitution gave immense opportunities to the educated elite to participate in decision-making.
The Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 in Nigeria had the following disadvantages.
The allocation of 50 percent of the total seats in the House of Representatives to the Northern Region, though reflected the distribution of population in the different regions, meant that only laws acceptable to the Northern region would be passed by the house. This therefore amounted to a veto power by the Northern Region in the Nigerian federation. But a veto power is undemocratic in every respect.
The retention of the reserve and discretionary powers of the Governor-General implied that a non-elected official had the final say on laws and policies made by the elected representatives of the people. This was undoubtedly undemocratic.
The Constitution did not make provision for a Prime Minister at the centre although constitutional provisions were made for Premiers in the regions. The effects of this omission were threefold. First, the central government lacked proper coordination as it was headed by an apolitical or non-elected technocrat (i.e. the Governor-General). Second, it encouraged the leaders of the parties to stay back in their respective regions. Finally, it implied a subordination of the center to the regions. These problems did not help the march for a balanced federation and genuine independence.
The constitution strengthened the regional governments at the expense of the centre and this encouraged leaders of political parties, who should normally be at the centre to send their subordinates to represent them in the central government. It was under this condition that SirAhmadu Bello, the leader of the NPC sent his deputy, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to Lagos to represent him.
The arrangement whereby the Governor could appoint and dismiss regional ministers, even though they were responsible to the Premier in the discharge of their duties, seemed contradictory.
The regionalisation of the public service weakened the civil service as highly experienced civil servants had to move to their regions of origin.