The conference which became the last constitutional conference held before the attainment of Independence took place in London from September 29 to October 27, 1958.
The conference resolved, among other issues, that the Northern part of Nigeria should be self-governing by 1959 and that if a resolution was passed by the parliament asking for independence, in 1960, then her majesty government would propose a bill of independence in 1960.
In December 1959, a nation-wide general election was held into the Federal House of Representatives. In the election, no single party won an overall majority as was the case in 1954 while in September, 1960, the parliament had enacted a law on Nigeria‘s independence.
Advantages of the Independence 1960 Constitution in Nigeria
The merits of the Independence Constitution included the following:
The introduction of the federal system of government ensured respect for the feelings of the local people and the promotion of national interest.
Elections to the various public offices at all levels were conducted by an independent electoral commission.
The adoption of the single member constituencies encouraged the emergence of large and few parties thereby bringing together various groups and interests across the country.
The granting of residual powers to the regions strengthened the regional governments in relation to the centralgovernment.
The fact that each region had its own constitution was a recognition of the diverse nature of the Nigerian federation. This helped to reduce the stifling tendency towards uniformity as often seen in pseudo federations.
The parliamentary system adopted under the constitution was simple and easy to understand and above all, it was in conformity with our traditional political system.
The revenue allocation formula which was based principally on derivation enabled each region to develop at its own pace.
Disadvantages of the Independence 1960 Constitution in Nigeria
The Nigerian independence 1960 constitution had certain Disadvantages.
The federal system of government introduced by the Constitution seemed to have disregarded an important federal principle, to the effect that “it is undesirable that one or two units should be so powerful as to be able to override the will of the federal government to themselves”.
But that was exactly what happened in the case of Nigeria under the 1960 Constitution. There were three regions under the Constitution, but the Northern Region was larger, both in area and population, than the other two regions taken together. With this arrangement, a party could simply concentrate its campaign efforts on the Northern Region and win a sufficient number of seats to form the federal government.
That was precisely what the NPC did in the Northern Region. It won most of the seats in the region and a few in the other regions and that was enough for the party to form the federal government.
The enormous powers granted to the federal parliament during an emergency meant that any region which exercised its executive authority to obstruct the Federal Government might be sanctioned.
This was what happened in the Western Region in 1962, when a state of emergency was declared in the region by the Federal Government.
The Independence Constitution left to the federal legislature (Senate and House of Representatives) the power to decide whether or not a state of emergency existed in any part of Nigeria.
What constituted a state of emergency was subjective and the power to declare a state of emergency might therefore be abused. Although, the declaration of a state of emergency could be constitutional or legally correct yet it might not be in the spirit of the constitution.
In a federation, both the central and regional governments are, in theory, coordinate and equal and any attempt by the Federal Government to dissolve the government of a state or region was a complete negation of the principle of federalism.
Hiding under the guise of the Independence Constitution of 1960, the Federal Government unilaterally imposed a state of emergency on the Western Region on 29th May, 1962 without exploring other possible alternatives for resolving the conflict.
A glance at the distribution of powers between the central government and the regional governments showed that the Federal Government was more powerful than the regional governments.
This was illustrated by the fact that exclusive powers were reserved for the Federal Government which also shared the concurrent powers with the regionalgovernments. Even where there was a conflict between federal and regional laws on matters in the concurrent list, the federal law still prevailed. The regional governments only had power over subjects in the residual list.
The Constitution failed to specify the number of ministers to be appointed and, whether or not their appointment should reflect the federal character of Nigeria.
The constitution succeeded only in granting political independence to Nigeria but failed to address important political issues such as the minority problem and the political integration of the country.