What is today known as Nigeria is a product of British Colonial rule. In 1914 the first Colonial Governor-General of Nigeria, Lord Frederick Luggard amalgamated the southern and northern protectorates to form Nigeria. Earlier on, another British explorer Mungo Park had discovered the River Niger; hence the name Nigeria literarily means Niger area.
Nigeria remained a colony of Britain until October 1, 1960. The British administered the country in three regions, namely: Northern, Western and Eastern. Each region had a government, which was responsible for the affairs of that region. This arrangement started in 1946 under the Richards Constitution – which was the first federal constitution of Nigeria. The federal and regional governments were allocated separate functions, thus putting every Nigerian under two governments. Each government had a Legislature (called the House of Assembly), and Executive (made up of Ministers), and a Judiciary.
Initially, the Nigerian legislature was not representative. Between 1922 and 1951, Nigeria operated a limited franchise. Elections were limited to only two coastal cities of Lagos and Calabar. Lagos was the first-class town while Calabar attained the rank of a second-class town about 1922. The High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, Sir Ralph Moor, pointed out two practical difficulties against the representative government in Southern Nigeria. The first, according to him, was that it was difficult to find suitable candidates to represent African and European residents. Secondly, he complained of poor communication. These were, however, official excuses to allow the colonial officers to rule without Nigerian participation.
Elective representation was introduced gradually and in stages. It was first introduced into town councils where the colonial government experienced the least problem. In May 1919, elective representation was granted for the Lagos Town Council. This was allowed, perhaps, in exchange for the power to impose township rates, which was
introduced in the Township Ordinance of May 29, 1919. The first election in Nigeria was held in the Lagos Town Council on March 29, 1920. The following people were elected: Mr. A. Folarin (Lawyer), Dr. A. Savage, and Mr. G. D. Agbebi (Engineer).
The Clifford Constitution of 1922 extended elective representation to the Legislative Council, which was made up of 27 colonial officers as official members, 15 unofficial members, nominated by colonial officers, and four elected Africans. This meant that out of forty-six (46) members, the officials were in the majority. The four elected
representatives were J. E. Egerton Shyngle, E. O. Moore, Prince Kwamina Ata-Amonu (all of them lawyers), and Dr. C. C. Adeniyi-Jones. The qualification for election included sex, nationality, age, residence, and income. A prospective legislator must be a male of twenty-one years and above. He must be either a British subject or a native of the Protectorate of Nigeria and must have been resident for twelve months in the constituency before registration. The registration requirement for legislative elections was different from that of local government elections. Finally, the prospective legislator must have a total annual income of not less than one hundred British Pounds during the calendar year preceding the date of the election.
Apart from the above qualifications, a candidate could be disqualified on the following
- Any candidate that committed a crime punishable by death, or one which attracted imprisonment with hard labour at any period did not qualify for election. Besides, anybody that had been imprisoned for any period exceeding one year, and who was not granted a free pardon by the British Crown was ineligible.
- Equally disqualified were persons of unsound mind, bankruptcy, and persons living on charity. Finally, public servants were disqualified because anybody receiving a salary from public revenue could not contest an election.
Naturally, democratic elections call for political parties. That was exactly the situation in Lagos when Herbert Macaulay in 1922, formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). The NNDP won all the legislative council elections in Lagos until 1947. The members of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) formed in 1944; allied with the NNDP to win all the three Lagos Legislative Council Seats. The situation in Calabar was different.
There was no political party. It was the Calabar Rate Payers’ Association that successfully sponsored the election of C.W. Clinton, who represented Calabar from 1928 to 1938. Similarly, it was the Calabar Improvement League, a sociocultural organization that sponsored the election of Rev. O. Effiong in 1938. This meant, therefore, that only independent candidates contested elections in Calabar.
A Constitution is a set of rules and procedures for the smooth running of a country. Usually, it defines the powers of the three arms of government i.e. Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. It also defines their tenure. A Constitution cannot be changed by anybody except by the procedure that is written into the Constitution itself. This is a condition for all written Constitutions that make them rigid. On the other hand, unwritten Constitutions, like that of Great Britain, are flexible because the same simple process that the laws are made can amend them.