Lyttleton constitution of 1954 is remembered as one of the colonial constitution that was not named after a Governor-General of Nigeria. Oliver Lyttleton was the secretary of state for the colonies; he encouraged the drafting of a new constitution. The role he played in the process of making the 1954 constitution earned him the reward of naming the constitution after his name.
Lyttleton spearheaded the drafting a new constitution for Nigeria in 1953. Constitutional conferences were held in London in 1953 and Lagos in 1954 to harmonize views of Nigeria political elites and colonial administrators and the proposal of the fiscal commission headed by Sir Louis Chick.
In the conferences, 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 eighty four members etc were discussed.
When the Lyttleton constitution of 1954 came into force, the constitution made Nigeria a federation of three regions. Area of legislative competence between the central government and regional government were spelt out in the exclusive, concurrent and residual list.
Where there is conflict between the federal government and regional government, the federal authority would prevail. The subject in the exclusive list include external affairs, immigration, defense, 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 prevail over the regional law. Matters in the concurrent list include education, health, public works, insurance, statistics, etc. The residual list contains matters of legislative competence of the regions only.
The governor of Nigeria was renamed governor-general and the Lieutenant-governor renamed governor as were the case in 1914. Members of the House of Representatives were made up of 184 directly elected members – the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and the Attorney General. Members of the House of Representatives were elected from the regions on direct election.
The Northern region had ninety two members, Western region forty-two; Eastern region forty two; Southern Cameroon six and Lagos two members. Membership of regional legislature was no longer combined with a seat in the House of Representatives.
The Northern and Western region had bicameral legislature – the House of Chiefs and House of Assembly. The house of chiefs were presided over by the governor in the north and the house of assembly by a president.
In the west, the house of chiefs and house of assembly had a president and speaker respectively. There was a special member but no official member in the house. Eastern region had only a house of assembly. 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. 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.
Regional governors ceased to sit in the Council of Ministers, under the 1954 constitution. The post of premier was created in regions and regional premiers presided over the executive councils. The executive council in Northern region was made up of three ex-official members and thirteen ministers of who eight were charged with responsibilities.
The eastern region had nine ministers in the executive council and had no ex-officio member. In the western region the executive council was made up of the governor and nine ministers. The ministers in the federal council – the council of ministers 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. The post of prime ministers was not created in 1954 because ministers were not fully responsible for organizing their ministries. Only six ministers out of the nine were given portfolios. The governor general presided over the council of ministers.
In summary, Lyttleton constitution of 1954 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.