Features of Lyttleton constitution 1954: Oliver Lyttleton constitution of 1954 is a very significant constitution in the historical constitutional development of Nigeria. This is so because it provided the basis for independence in Nigeria. Another reason is because, the 1954 constitution was the last Nigerian constitution that was initiated by a British Governor. However, this does not mean that Nigeria was totally free after Lyttleton constitution.
The criticisms by Nigerian nationalists on the previous Macpherson Constitution led to the establishment of the 1954 constitution. Basically, Nigerians argued that there was no autonomy in the regions and that it is necessary to draft another constitution that will grant self-government in every part in Nigeria. Thus, Lyttleton constitution came into force in 1954 to resolve that defect.
Nonetheless, there are other characteristics or features of Lyttleton constitution of 1954 that are worthwhile to know. In this article, we will be looking at those features and some of the defects that propelled the drafting of another constitution.
Establishment of Lyttleton Constitution
The constitution of 1954 is one of the constitutions that was not named after the governor or the governor-general of Nigeria. Rt. Honorable Mr. Oliver Lyttleton MP, then secretary of state for the colonies encourage the drawing of a new constitution. The role he played in making of the 1954 constitution earned him the reward of associating the constitution with his name. Lyttleton spearheaded the drafting of a new constitution for Nigeria in 1953.
Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1953 and Lagos in 1954 to harmonized views of Nigerian political elites, colonial administrators and the proposals of the fiscal commission headed by Sir Louis Chick on the new constitution.
In the conference, matters like regionalization of public service and judiciary, appointment of regional premiers and regional ministers, direct election of members of House of Representatives, enlargement of central legislature to a hundred and eight four members, etc were discussed.
Consequently, the Lyttleton constitution came into force. The constitution made Nigeria a federation of the regions.
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Features of Oliver Lyttleton Constitution of 1954
1. It provided for a division of power between the central government and the regions. Area of legislative competence between the central (federal) government and regional government were spelt out in the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists.
The subjects in the exclusive list includes external affairs, immigration, defence, atomic energy, copyright, census, currency, mining, patent, banking, custom, foreign exchange etc.
In the concurrent list both the regional government and the federal government have right to legislate. However, where there is a conflict of law, the constitution provided that the federal law would privail over the regional law. Matters in the concurrent list includes, education, health, public works, insurance, statistics etc.
The residual list contained matters of legislative competence of the regions only.
2. The governor of Nigeria was renamed Governor-General and the Lieutenant-governor renamed governor as were the case in 1914.
3. Members of the House of representative were made up of 184 directly elected members, a speaker and three ex-officio members – the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and the Attorney General.
4. Members of the House of representative were elected from the regions on direct election. The Northern Region had ninety-two; Southern Cameroon six and Lagos two members.
5. Membership of regional legislature was no longer combined with a set in the House of Representatives.
6. The Northern and Western Regions had Bicameral Legislature – House of Chiefs and House of Assembly.
7. There was a special member but no official member in the house.
8. Eastern region has only a House of Assembly.
9. The post of a speaker and deputy speaker were created in the Eastern and Western regions. The House of Assembly in the Eastern Region has no official or special members.
10. The executive council known as the Council of Ministers consisted of the Governor-General, three official members, three Ministers from each region and one member from Southern Cameroon.
11. Regional governors ceased to sit in the Council of Ministers, under the 1954 constitution.
12. The post of premier was created in regions and regional premiers presided over the executive councils.
13. The executive council in Northern Region was made up of three ex – officio members and thirteen ministers of who eight were charged with responsibilities.
14. The Eastern region had nine ministers in the executive council and no ex-officio member.
15. In the Western region the executive council was made up of the governor and nine Ministers.
16. The ministers in the federal executive council were drawn from the House of Representatives on the advice of the Majority leader or Regional majority leader. The ministers participated in fashioning out government policies and in executing them.
17. The Governor-General presided over the council of ministers.
Criticisms of Lyttleton constitution of 1954
In spite of all the efforts made by Lyttleton constitution to correct some of the major weaknesses of Macpherson Constitution, it still had the following defects:
1. The constitution made no provisions for the office of the prime Minister and this automatically made the Governor-General the president of the Council of Ministers.
2. The constitution failed to provide for the second chamber at the federal level as is done in other federation.
3. None of the leaders of the majority political parties was in the Federal council of Ministers and this was the Council of Ministers to look to their regional leaders for instructions and guidance.
4. The constitution did not allay the fear of smaller regions as a result of the Northern region being larger than Southern regions put together.
5. It failed to provide for a uniform Electoral system throughout the country.
6. The constitution still vested reserve and veto powers on the Governor General and Regional Governor.
7. The constitution retained members in the Federal Executive Council and in both northern Houses of Assembly and Chiefs.
In summary, Lyttleton constitution made Nigeria a federation, spelt out areas of Jurisdiction between the two levels of government, reinforced direct election, made some ministers heads of departments and provided the post of premier for the regions.
The constitution did not provide for bicameral legislature in the center and Eastern region. The post of prime Minister was not created. However, Electoral College system of election was retained. Apart from these defects, Lyttleton constitution is one of the best constitutions during colonial era in Nigeria because it gave rise to the independence constitution of 1960.