Prior to the British conquest of the different nations making up the present day Nigeria, these Nations were independent nation states – and communities independent of each other and of Britain.
IN the beginning, there was no Nigeria. There were Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Kanuris, Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukars, Edos, Ibibios, Efiks, Idomas, Tivs, Junkuns, Biroms, Agnas, Ogojas and so on. There were Kingdoms like, Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Brass, Itsekiri, Benin, Tiv, Borno, Sokoto Caliphate (with loose control over Kano, Ilorin, Zaria etc) Bonny, Opobo, etc.
Prelude to the Creation of Nigeria
The bulk of what is now Nigeria became British Territory between 1885 and 1914, although some autonomous communities were not conquered and incorporated in the protectorate until the early twenties. Between the 15th and 19th Centuries, European relationship with West African States were trade/commercial, with little or no political undertones. The Europeans depended on the coastal rulers not only for securing trade, but also for the safety of their lives and property. Thus European traders went out of their way to ensure they were in the good books of Native rulers.
It should be noted that the main commodity during this period were human beings. This was the era of slave trade. It was in a bid to protect the lives, properties and trade of British traders that the British Prime Minister, Palmerston appointed John Beecroft as British Consul in Nigeria in 1849. This was the beginning of piecemeal British colonisation of the independent nations of what later became Nigeria.
The Pre-Independence Constitutions
Governor as the sole Executive and Legislature
During the period 1900 to 1906, the Governor of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, exercised full executive powers and was also the legislature. This applied to the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria from 1900 to 1914. The Governor in each case made laws by proclamation. Such proclamation was, however, subject to approval by the British Government. In 1900 the Southern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos were amalgamated under the title “The Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.” In the same year, a Legislative Council was created for the protectorate. At this sage, the Legislative Councils were, however, constituted by officials of government.
In 1914, the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, were amalgamated, and ruled by one Governor-General, Lord Lugard. The Legislative Council of the Colony was restricted to making laws for the Colony alone, whilst the Governor-General made laws for the whole country.
The 1922 Constitution – The Clifford Constitution
In 1922 a new Constitution revoking the 1914 Constitution was promulgated under Governor Clifford. Under this Constitution, a Nigerian Legislative Council was constituted, but its jurisdiction was limited to the Southern Provinces, i.e. the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The Governor continued to be the legislative authority for the Northern half of the country. Also an executive council was established for the whole country.
The 1946 (Richard) Constitution
In 1946, Governor Arthur Richards promulgated a new Constitution which came into effect on 1st January, 1946. Prior to this Nigeria had been divided into three Regions in 1939, the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. The following features of the 1946 Constitution are worth noting:
The new Council was composed of the Governor as President, 16 officials and 28 unofficials (the latter including the four elected persons). This meant that for the first time the non-officials were more in member than the officials.
The majority of the non-officials were elected or nominated by the Regional Legislatures which the 1946 Constitution also brought into being. This meant that the unofficial majority were not subject to the Governor’s control.
The Regional Houses were not competent to legislate, even for their own Regions. They could only consider bills affecting their regions, and make recommendations or pass resolutions for the central legislature in Lagos to consider. It was the latter only that could pass legalisation.
The 1951 (MacPherson) Constitution The 1951 Constitution was the one that really introduced fundamental changes into the Imperial/Native relationship and the relationship between the Native Nigerian groups themselves. The following points need to be noted:
The 1951 Constitution came into being after an unprecedented process of consultation with the peoples of Nigeria as a whole. In accordance with the directives of the Legislative Council, meetings and consultations were held at (a) village (b) district (c) divisional (d) and provincial levels before the (e) regional and finally (f) the national conference.
The reports of each region from village to the regional level were then submitted to the Legislative Council. These reports and recommendations were published in October 1949 and reviewed by a drafting committee of the Legislative Council.
On 9 January, 1950, a General Conference of representatives from all parts of Nigeria started meeting in Ibadan to map out the future system of Government in Nigeria with the recommendation of the Regional Conference as the working documents.
The General Conference was composed of 25 unofficial members drawn from the earlier regional conferences as representatives of the three regions, 25 unofficial members from the Northern Legislative Council, 3 official members and the non-voting Chairman who was the Attorney-General of Nigeria. The Conference rose on 29 January, 1950 with recommendations which were accepted and implemented by the Governor of Nigeria.
The new Constitution represented a major advance on the existing state of legislative competence of Nigerians by (i) introducing elected majorities in the Central Legislature and (ii) in the Regional Houses of Assembly (iii) endowing the Legislative Houses with independent legislative power in many areas of state activity (iv) and establishing a Federal System for Nigeria for the first time.
The elected majorities in each Regional House were as follows: North – elected 90, non elected -14, West – elected 80, non-elected – 7, East – elected 80, non-elected 8.
The modes of election were a combination between direct and indirect elections. The Central Legislature had 136 elected members and 13 nominated members. Of these, 68 were from the North and 34 each were from the East and West. The representatives of the Regions in the Central Legislature were elected by the Regional Legislatures from amongst themselves.
This marked the first formal introduction of Federalism into Nigeria. Thus the Conference noted that: “We have no doubt at all that the process already given constitutional sanction, and fully justified by experience, of devolution of authority from the Centre to the Regions should be carried much further so that a Federal System of Government can be developed.” And that:
“The Central Legislature and Executive must retain both residual and overall powers, but since the Central Legislature and Executive will themselves be made up of representatives of the Regional Legislatures and since the policy of greater regional autonomy is so widely accepted, we do not fear that there will be any desire at the Centre unnecessarily to interfere with purely regional legislation or administration”. In his book, “History and the Law of the Constitution of Nigeria”, Dr. Udo Udoma noted that for the first time in the history of the foundation of British-Nigerian relationship and the establishment of Nigeria’s regions by the Richard’s Constitution of 1946, Regional Legislatures were granted powers to legislate over a variety of subjects within the Region. These included: Local government; town and country planning; agriculture and fisheries; education; public works for the region; public health in the region; forestry; veterinary services; land; welfare; local industries; native courts; (subject to central legislation regarding appeals to courts outside the regions); direct taxation (other than income tax and companies tax). The General Conference was of the view that over-centralisation would be a grave error “in this vast country with its widely differing conditions and needs”, and that the policy which had received enthusiastic support throughout the country was the policy of achieving unity at the Centre through strength in the Regions. It was confidently expected that when the Regions felt that they had wide powers to run their own regional affairs, they would be more likely ready to co-operate with the other Regions through their representatives in the Council of Ministers and the House of Representatives in serving the interest of Nigeria as a whole. The Period 1954-60 Between 1954 and 1959, all officials in the House of Assembly and the Central Legislature, were progressively withdrawn. In 1954, there was, for the first time, direct elections into the Federal Legislature. In 1958, all modes of indirect elections were abolished and throughout Nigeria, all elections from then on were by direct polls. The Governors ceased to preside over the Executive Councils in the East and West by 1957 and in the North, in 1959. In 1954, the office of Premier was created in the Regions and the office of Prime Minister was established at the Centre in 1957. Subsequent changes were not fundamental, but merely in further preparation for full independence. For example, the Western and Eastern Regions attained self-government (with the Regional Governor becoming a mere titular figure) in 1957 and in the North in 1959.
Irresistible Inferences From the very brief account given of the background of the establishment of the State called Nigeria, the following inferences are irresistible.
Contrary to the assertions of some scholars, the Federal Structures of Nigeria did not operate from the ‘top’ to the ‘bottom’, but from the ‘bottom’ to the ‘top’.
In other words, it was not a question of a country that was originally unitary, being broken into federating units, but of formerly totally independent Kingdoms, Empires, Nations and Autonomous Communities being forcefully brought together, and ending up in a Federal Union. Nigeria started as a Unitary State and then opted as a Confederation afterwards.
It is also clear that it is the coming together of these Autonomous Communities that gave rise to a Federal Government. In other words, the Federal Government is an agency of the Nigerian Nationalities which make up the various States. The subsequent “creation” of States by Federal Military Governments must be discounted as part of the distortions and mutilations of the true political order, brought about by unlawful military usurpation of power. Nigeria is, therefore, supposed to be a ‘Federation’ of former Kingdoms, Empires, States, Nations and Autonomous Communities.
Before and right after independence
Bernard Bourdillon the Governor-general at that time initiated and laid the foundation of federalism in Nigeria in 1939 by creating three provinces. He later handed over the constitution to his successor Arthur Richards and it became the Richards Constitution of 1946. At the beginning of formal British indirect rule in 1901, Nigeria was divided into two regions: Northern and Southern, both of which were divided into provinces. From 1901 to 1958, the number of regions was increased to three through both acquisition of territories and partition from existing provinces. However, while native-born chiefs and clerks were appointed to govern the provinces, the regions were governed by the British-appointed colonial authorities, and such regions were made dependent upon the colonial authorities for martial law, manpower and management of resources.
With the approach of independence, power over the regions was given to Nigerian-born citizens, and regional legislatures were established. By the time that Nigeria had declared itself a republic and replaced the post of Governor-General with the post of President, a national bicameral parliament was established and the country was considered a federation of the three regions. The Mid-Western Region was formed from the Western Region in 1966, and Lagos, the capital, was effectively governed as an unofficial fourth region outside the bounds of the Western Region.
First coup, counter-coup and the new states
After the first coup and under the short-lived military government of Aguiyi-Ironsi, the country was reorganized under a central government. Following the counter-coup which resulted in Aguiyi-Ironsi’s deposition and assassination, Nigeria was reorganized as a unitary system, with three of the regions being divided into newer entities and all first-level subdivisions being renamed as states:
Eastern Region was divided into East-Central (Enugu), Rivers (Port Harcourt), and South-Eastern (Calabar) states;
Northern Region was divided into Benue-Plateau (Jos), Kano (Kano), Kwara (Ilorin), North-Central (Kaduna), North-Eastern (Maiduguri), and North-Western (Sokoto) states
Western Region was divided into Lagos (Lagos) and Western (Ibadan) states.
Mid-Western and the states of former Eastern Region made a bid to secede from Nigeria as the states of Biafra and Republic of Benin, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War.
In 1976, six years after the end of the civil war, the states were further reorganized:
Benue-Plateau state divided into Benue (Makurdi) and Plateau states;
East-Central state divided into Anambra and Imo (Owerri) states;
Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) formed from parts of Niger and Plateau states;
North-Eastern state divided into Bauchi (Bauchi), Borno, and Gongola (Yola) states;
Niger (Minna) state split from Sokoto;
Western state divided into Ogun (Abeokuta), Ondo (Akure), and Oyo states
State boundaries and names were also reorganized.
Akwa Ibom state split from Cross River;
Katsina state split from Kaduna
Abia State split from Imo;
Bendel State divided into Delta and Edo;
Enugu State split from Anambra;
Gongola State divided into Adamawa and Taraba;
Jigawa State split from Kano;
Kebbi State split from Sokoto;
Kogi State formed from parts of Benue and Kwara;
Osun State split from Oyo;
Yobe State split from Borno.
Bayelsa State was split from Rivers;
Ebonyi State was formed from parts of Abia and Enugu;
Ekiti State was split from Ondo;
Gombe State was split from Bauchi;
Nasarawa State was split from Plateau;
Zamfara State was split from Sokoto.
Nigeria has remained a unitary state since then!
NB; The bulk of this article was culled from Prof. Itsey Sagay’s article on federalism and other online sources.