John Macpherson Constitution of 1951

John Macpherson constitution of 1951 was introduced due to the criticism of Richard constitution of 1946. When John Macpherson became the governor of Nigeria in 1948, the criticism of Richards’s constitution sharpened his political mind and prepared him for a new political leadership in Nigeria.

A new legislative council was set up in 1949 to examine the problems and prospect of introducing a new constitution for Nigeria. The committee suggested a wide measure of consultation with the people, starting from the village, town, and district to provincial level before the new constitution was drafted.

Regional conference met at Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna and made recommendations to the constitution drafting committee headed by the Chief Secretary Sir, Hugh Foot. An all Nigeria constitutional conference was held in Ibadan in 1950 under the chairmanship of Sir Gerald Howe to discuss matters affecting different regions.

At the end, the conference drew up series of recommendations among which were the setting up of federal system comprising Eastern, Western, and Northern regions, the renaming of the federal legislature, House of Representatives and the central executive, Council of Ministers.

They also recommended that the regional legislature should have legislative power instead of advisory power only while the House of Representatives should have a power of review. Also the committee recommended at the conference that each region should have a measure of autonomy in specified subject and that Lagos should have an independent municipality.

John Macpherson constitution was introduced in 1950 but it came into force in 1951. The constitution provided for central legislative and a central executive known as House of Representatives and Council of Ministers respectively. It also provided for Public Service Commission.

The House of Representatives was made up of the President, a hundred and thirty six members, elected from the three regions, six ex-officio members and six special members appointed by the Governor. The House of Representatives legislated for the whole country but its powers were limited.  It had no power over public finance and public service. The governors reserved power inherent in the 1922 and 1946 constitution persisted in the 1951 constitution.

The executive council known as Council of Ministers at the centre was made up of governor as President, twelve ministers (four from each region) and six ex-officio members. The council was charged with responsibilities over external relations; defense, civil service, legal and financial matters.

The twelve ministers had no portfolio; they were not political executives of their ministries. They however worked in cooperation with the council to ensure the decisions were properly executed. At the regional level the constitution provided for two houses of assembly in the Northern and Western regions.

The constitution gave limited powers to the regions in the legislation of certain matters. The regions had power to legislate on social welfare, education, regional public works, native courts, health, regional finance, town and community planning.

The central legislature had power to veto the legislation passed by the regional legislature. The House of Representatives had over riding power over regional legislature and could legislate on any matter. The constitution also created the executive councils in the regions.

Although the John Macpherson constitution of 1951 gave each region power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of its area, the power of the House of Representatives remain superior to that of the regions.

As earlier stated, the constitution provided for regional legislature and regional executive. The Northern and Western regions had house of chiefs and house of assembly. The Eastern region had only House of Assembly.

The Northern House of Chiefs was made up of Lieutenant Governor as President, three official members, all first class chiefs and thirty-seven other chiefs with an adviser on Muslim law. The House of Assembly consisted of the president, four official members, ninety elected members and not more than ten special members representing the interest of communities not adequately represented.

In Western region, the House of Chiefs consisted of the Lieutenant Governor as president, three official members and not more than fifty chiefs. The House of Assembly of the regions was made up of the president, four officials, eighty elected members and not more than three special members.

The Eastern region had only one House of Legislature. The House of Assembly in Eastern region was made up of the Lieutenant Governor as President, five official members, eight elected members and not more than three special members.

Even though the John Macpherson constitution of 1951 was the result of series of consultations with the various levels of government and educated elites, it received some criticisms from the Nigerian nationalists who saw it as a constitution built on compromise.

The continued appointment of special members in the House of Representatives, House of Assembly and the Electoral College system of election were some of the criticisms. They were also criticism on the creation of unequal status and the adoption of two houses of legislature.

In the executive council, the ministers were not given portfolios; they acted as mere officers of government. They had no power to issue orders to their directors. However, they were collectively responsible for all policy decisions.

The governors still retained reserved powers. Apart from these defects, the constitution recorded its own merits, which included the creation of a house of representatives with elected majority and a council of Ministers, creation of a regional autonomy and public service commission. It could be stated that the 1951 constitution enjoyed wide publicity. Generally, the constitution can be seen as constitution that recognized the demands of the people.

However, a conference was held in London between July and August 1953 to examine the defects of the 1951 constitution. The conference was also to consider the crisis in Eastern region in 1953.

The 1953 constitutional crisis in the Eastern region, the motion for self government in 1956, formation of political parties along ethnic cleavages, the resignation of Ministers from the Western region and the failure of the governor to reinstate them among other things led to the breakdown of the Macpherson constitution.

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