Constitutional Development in Nigeria

Constitutional development in Nigeria is the stages of advancement the Nigeria constitution has passed. What is known today as Nigeria is made up of various ethnic groups with socio-political institutions before the British Government brought them together into one administrative unit.

Nigeria witnessed colonial rule, independence, political crisis, military interventions, and democratic rule. The experience acquired from those events helped in shaping Nigerian Constitution. The British interest in Nigeria began in the 15th century when she, like other Europeans embarked on illegitimate trade.

The report that Europeans were being harassed by locals of some Nigeria ethnic groups made the British to establish an administrative agency in southern Nigeria. The conquest of Lagos under King Kosoko in 1851 by the British was a step towards establishing the occupation and British administration in southern Nigeria.

A legislative council made up of eleven members and an executive council was constituted in 1862 to assist and advice the Governor of Lagos on matter relating to the colony. The council consisted of four nominated unofficial members, two of whom were Africans, six officials and the governor.  The authority of the legislative council was restricted to Lagos. The same administrative agencies were later extended to Northern Nigeria.

The British Government by the 1860 was interested in minimizing expenses in their African colonies. In 1866 Lagos, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast and Gambia formed the West African settlement under a Governor General in Sierra Leone.

However, each of the West African colonies retained its legislative council. Between 1874 and 1886 Lagos came under the jurisdiction of a Governor and a legislative council of Gold Coast.

Following the resolution of the Berlin West African conference in 1886 on modalities for effective occupation of colonies in Africa, Lagos regained its separate political identity with its own Governor, a legislative council and an executive council in 1886.In 1906 the protectorate of Southern Nigeria was amalgamated with the colony of Lagos with Sir Walter Egerton as Governor.

When the French and the German started showing interest in the territory now called Nigeria, the British made effort to merge their acquired territories Northern and Southern Nigeria into one protectorate. In 1914 the Northern and Southern protectorate of Nigeria were amalgamated by Fredrick Lugard.

Many factors contributed to the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorate in 1914; among them were the cost of running separate administration in Northern and Southern Nigeria and the need to consolidate the gain of the colony. 1914, Lord Lugard became the first Governor General, he set up a new legislative council known as a new legislative council known as the Nigeria council in addition to an executive council.


The Nigerian Council was made up of thirty six members. The members included the Governor General, two lieutenant generals, members of the executive councils, first class residents in the provinces as officials, seven Europeans representing special interests including banking, shipping and mining and six Nigerians nominated by the governor general.

The Nigeria council was purely an advisory body, according to Lord Lugard “the Nigeria council is an attempt to bring together representatives from all parts of a vast country for purpose of discussion”. The council had neither a legislative nor an executive function. It had no control over finance.

Any resolution passed by the council had neither a legislative nor an executive function. It had no authority unless the governor general thought it necessary or he was authorized by her majesty to do so. The council was a means of conducting public opinion of the subjects. It was an ineffective legislative body.

The traditional rulers who were nominated into the council could neither speak English nor understand it; they therefore did not actively participated in the discussion of the council. As a result of this and many other reasons, many of them did not attend meetings regularly.

Both the educated British and Nigerian unofficial members of the council were unhappy about the role of members in the council. European unofficial member, Mr. Robert McNeil moved a motion contending that the council should either be abolished or made more effective.

The misunderstanding between Lord Lugard and the colonial office affected the working of the Nigerian Council. The impact of the First World War, the growing spirit of nationalism and the demand of national congress of British West Africa led to the decline of the Nigerian council and the establishment of new constitution known as Clifford Constitution.

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