Constitutional Law
CONS202: Clifford Constitution 1922-1946

CONS202: Clifford Constitution 1922-1946

Needless to say, the Clifford Constitution is the longest lasting constitution in the history of Nigeria. A close second is the present 1999 constitution [as amended] which comes in at 21 years- a hairs breadth away from the 24-year duration of the Clifford Constitution.

It is also important to note that the Clifford Constitution introduced the elective principle into the Nigerian political sphere.  It is also the first written constitution in the history of Nigeria. For a long time, Nigerian communities were ruled by unwritten conventions and popularly accepted customs.

The educated Nigerian elites were thrilled with the developments in the Clifford constitution. Up until then, they had little or no say in how they were governed. Their opinions were not sought and they had no say in the decisions that affected their lives. Suddenly, the incumbent Governor or President- depending on how you see it- comes up with this system that would supposedly give them an opportunity to be more involved in the affairs of the nation that had been foisted on them. A sigh of relief indeed.

The principle that was introduced applied to just four slots- 3 of these slots belonging to Lagos and the last to Calabar. The officials elected form Lagos were; Mr. Sapara Williams whom was the first practising Nigerian lawyer; Mr. Egerton Shyngle whom was a lawyer of great repute and popularly known; Dr. C.C. Jones Adeniyi and Mr. Otoo representing Calabar. These, of course, were the only Nigerians to grace the Nigerian legislative council as elected members.

The Executive council was made up of 12 white official members. It should also be noted that the executive council was literally “where all the action was” and the legislative council only acted as an advisory body. Basically, despite the elective principle giving Nigerians an illusion that they had some amount of say in the affairs of their country, the nation was still being micromanaged by the British.

As a matter of fact, even though the legislative council was constituted as an advisory body to aid the governor in decision making, the governor had what is referred to as “Veto Power”. This veto power meant that the governor was not under compulsion to accept and implement the advice given to him by the council. He could simply refuse their advice and walk away like a goddamn boss.

The legislative council was made up of 41 members in total with the governor at the top of course. There were 26 white official members, 15 nominated members[unofficial] and the four elected officials from Lagos and Calabar. Royal instruction 1922 made the administrative officials ex-officials, and this category of people made up the 23 of 26 official members of the legislative council.

The other 3 officials could then be nominated by the governor as far as he had sought leave from the secretary of state, whom was based in London, and the nomination approved.  The veto power of the governor made the legislative council pretty ineffectual because the governor could accept or reject their advice. 

The subject of franchise is one which caused the Clifford constitution to fall under heavy criticism. The criteria set by the Clifford constitution for individuals that could vote or they themselves contest any position was that their income per year could not be lower than N200 or 100euro; or they had resident qualification of 12 months; or they were adult British subjects. Needless to say, these criteria disenfranchised a lot of Nigerians.

Something else that should be noted is that the activity of the legislative council, or inactivity thereof, was limited only to the Southern protectorate. Legislation of the northern protectorate was done by the governor’s prerogative and proclamation.

This system went against the very agenda behind the creation of the country through the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions in 1914 by Lord Lugard.  Why create a country by joining these two very distinct regions and then stull treat them as if they are different. If I am asked, that action gave root to the deep thread of ethnicity and antagonistic religious sentiments in the country.

It also does not make sense for a white man, largely inexperienced in the doctrines of Islam, to legislate for a region as religiously conscious as the north. They probably felt the brains of Nigerians was not developed enough to carry the burden of self-governance.

In a way, it felt like the Nigerians were back to square one. They never had a say in how they were governed and when they thought the opportunity to make a difference had finally presented itself, it turned out to be another scam.

However, this was markedly a big development in our history. The 4 elective seats in the legislative council spurred elites in the likes of Herbert Macaulay, Adeniyi Jones and the rest to pioneer the creation of political parties. In 1923, together with some other educated elites, Herbert Macaulay created the Nigerian National Democratic Party which contested in the subsequent elections and won.

Just to quickly recap all the features of the Clifford Constitution already stated;

  1. It made an executive council composed of 15 members
  2. It also created a legislative council of 41 members- 26 official and 15 unofficial members.
  3. The mass disenfranchisement of individuals based on annual income

The Advantages and Disadvantages.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
1. It introduced the elective principle which gave hope to the Nigerians of one day being at the helm of the political affairs of their country
1. It laid the roots for regionalism and ethnicity

2. The introduction of the elective principle informed the citizens of the importance of political parties and different political parties were created.
2. The elective principle propounded by the constitution turned out to be a sham as it did not encapsulate the impoverished citizens of Nigeria.
3. The Clifford Constitution led to a renewed vigour on parts of the elite as they created not only political parties to agitate for self-rule and nationalism, but also newspaper outlets.3. The executive council created by this constitution again laid credence to the allegation that the British were not too delighted by the minor agitations for self-rule by the elites.
4. The veto power that was given to the Governor led many to believe that the nation was only a step away from a fully dictatorial government.

The 1922 constitution, although in present light could be seen as a failure and a culminating result of the colonial influence of the British on Nigeria, is still as wonder as it was the first of its kind. After lord Lugard became the overseer of the Nigerian state, he ruled by a set of illegible and almost whimsical proclamations.

The Clifford constitution was therefore an effort of the British to soothe the uprisings and haphazardness the previous governor general had left in his wake. Also, the then West African Congress, under the impeccable leadership of Caseley-Hayford had agitated for constitutional rule in Africa.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, i am always happy to receive feedback and I love answering questions, so make sure you ask those questions if you find a particular part of the post incomprehensible. Do not forget to like, share and subscribe! Next time I will be tackling the 1946 Richard Constitution.

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