Richards Constitution of 1947 | Features, Merits & Demerits

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Authur Richards Constitution of 1947 In Nigeria | Features, Merits and Demerits

Richards Constitution
Arthur Richards, 1st Baron Milverton

Background of Richard Constitution

The Richards Constitution which took its name from Sir Arthur Richards (later Lord Milverton), 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.

Second, the West African Students Union (WASU) had been agitating for selfgovernment for Nigeria and other British West African countries since 1941. In particular, WASU demanded a federal system of government for Nigeria. This demand also called for a change of colonial policy.

Third, there existed two contending demands for political reforms within the Nigerian society itself. In the first place, some people argued that the native authorities should be strengthened and power should be devolved to the regions. The main demand of this group was that regional governments should have more powers than the central government in any constitutional arrangement.

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The Northern Emirs and British colonial officials had sympathy for this view. The other demand was that native authorities should only serve as electoral colleges for election into Regional Assemblies and the central legislature in Lagos.

In other words, the proponents of this view argued that there should be a strong central government. The educated Nigerians and nationalists in the coastal towns were in support of this position. These two contending arguments are still being canvassed in Nigeria today although it would appear that the contending groups have switched position.

Finally, the influence of Governor Bourdillon (1935 – 1943) whom Richards succeeded in 1944 was very significant. Governor Bourdillon had divided the Southern Protectorate into Eastern and Western Provinces in 1939. He had also called for political unity and encouraged the northern emirs to abandon their isolationist tendencies and take pride in sharing the administration of the whole country with the southerners.

It was against this background that Sir Arthur Richards became the governor in 1944. He forwarded his constitutional proposals to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 6th December, 1944.

His main object in drawing up the new constitution was threefold, namely, “to promote the unity of Nigeria; to provide adequately within that unity for the diverse elements which made up the country; and to secure greater participation by Africans in the discussion of their own affairs”. The Constitution was expected to last for nine years.

Features of Richards Constitution of 1947

The constitution had the following features.

  • Creation of Central Legislature

A central legislature was established. The legislature had 45 members made up of:

  1. The Governor (President)
  2. 13 ex-officio members
  3. 3 nominated official members
  4. 24 nominated unofficial members
  5. 4 elected members.
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The body made laws for the whole country. Majority of the unofficial members were indirectly elected by the Regional Assemblies.

  • Creation of Regions

Perhaps the most important feature of the Richards Constitution was the creation of three regions, namely, Northern Region, Eastern Region and Western Region (which included Lagos). The Chief Commissioner was the head of government in each region.

  • Regional Legislatures

Regional Assemblies were established in the Western Region and Eastern Region respectively. The Northern Region had both a Regional Assembly and a House of Chiefs. Majority of the members of the Regional Assemblies were selected by the Native Authorities.

The significant role assigned to the Native Authorities and the establishment of a House of Chiefs for the Northern Region underlined the influence of traditional rulers, especially Emirs in the political system.

  • Executive Council

An executive council was established. The Governor presided over the council which had only official members who were heads of government departments.

Aims And Objectives Of Richards Constitution

The main aims and objectives of Richards Constitution are;

  • To introduce regionalism

This was by creating three regions out of the three provinces.

  • A broad based constitution

This was different from Clifford’s Constitution and it was meant to embrace all parts of the country.

  • Creation of opportunities

The introduction of regionalism was a process of creating opportunities for Nigerians to be involved in the affairs affecting their country.

  • The legislative council

The council was introduced in order to accommodate every section of the Nigerian society.

Merits of Richards Constitution of 1947

The Richard Constitution had the following advantages.

  • Introduction of regionalism was a foremost achievement of this constitution. The format 3 provinces gave way to 3, regions – North, West and East.
  • The north and south were brought together for legislation.
  • The full blown federal structure of 1954 was laid down by this constitution.
  • Richards Constitution gave the unofficial members a majority in the legislative council.
  • Many Nigerians were represented in the Legislative Council even though in an unofficial capacity.
  • Bi-cameral legislature – The North had Houses of Assembly and Chiefs, thereby introducing bicameralism into the system. However, East and West region had only unicameral legislative body.
  • It brought together for the very first time since 1923, Northern and Southern Nigeria making for the unity of the country.
  • Regional assemblies later became the electoral college for electing representatives into the central legislature.
  • It provided a link between the native administration and the Central Legislative Council through the Regional Assemblies.
  • The Constitution serves as a stimulantis activities.
  • Franchise qualification was reduced from one hundred pound to fifty pounds annual income and 24 months to 12 months residence.
  • The constitution provided for one Nigeria in the Executive council.

Demerits of Richards Constitution of 1947

The Richard Constitution had the following disadvantages.

  • The Executive council was still dominated by Europeans as in Clifford’s Constitution. No changes were made.
  • Elective principle was retained by Richard’s and Lagos and Calabar were only favoured. This principle of representation was not extended to other parts of the country.
  • The country was divided into 3 un-equal regions, making the North larger than the other two combined.
  • Limited powers were given the regional assemblies to legislate on minor matters and this should be subject to the governor’s reserved powers.
  • The chiefs were nominated and not elected into the Legislative Council. Therefore, they mainly represented the interests of those that nominated them.
  • The governor exercised veto power to veto bills and can decline or accept advice from members of the executive council.
  • Constitutional proposals was rushed through both in the legislative council andin the British parliament. Nigerians were not involved in discussing the proposals.

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