John Macpherson succeeded Arthur Richards in 1948 as governor of Nigeria and soon saw the need for constitutional reforms in the country. He established a select committee of the legislative council to review the situation then and advise appropriately.
The chief secretary, Hugh M. Foot was chairman of this committee which included the financial secretary, attorney-general, three chief commissioners and all non-official members of the legislative council.
Consultations were made at various levels and the draft of the new constitution was approved by regional assemblies and central legislative council before final submission to the governor who then got approval of the secretary of state for the colonies, in London. The new constitution came into effect in 1951.
Features of Macpherson Constitution
- The central legislative council was renamed the house of representatives. It consisted of 149 members. The governor was the president with six ex-officio or official members, six special nominees by the governor to represent some interests or communities, and 136 representatives, the North having 68 members while the West and East each had 34 members.
- The central executive council, later called council of ministers was presided over by the governor and consisted of six ex-officio or official members and twelve ministers with four from each region. The ministers who had no executive responsibilities were appointed by the governor, as advised by the regional legislatures.
- There was a bicameral legislature in the Northern and Western Regions the house of chiefs and the house of assembly, while there was a unicameral legislature in the Eastern Region, having only the house of assembly. The regional legislatures were empowered to make laws on certain subjects, subject to the approval of the central council in Lagos.
- There were regional executive councils consisting of the lieutenant governor, five official members and nine ministers.
- There were 90 elected and 14 unelected members in the Northern house of assembly, the West had 80 elected and seven unelected while the East had 80 and eight respectively.
- There were both direct and indirect elections.
- In the North, only male tax-payers voted, while in the West and East, both sexes voted.
- In Lagos as in the regions, the executive councils dominated by Nigerians were the principal policy making body.
- In all executive councils, decisions were by majority vote. The presiding governor in Lagos or the lieutenant-governor in each of the regions cast votes only when there was a tie.
- The governor could sometimes take decisions or act, without, or against the advice of the council of ministers, if he thought that was best in the public interest.
Merits of Macpherson Constitution
- Nigerians at all levels, up to the villages and districts, were consulted in the making of the constitution. And so it was largely a people’s constitution.
- The constitution granted more powers to the regional houses of assembly who were allowed to make laws and advise on most matters concerning their people.
- The legislative houses consisted mainly of elected Nigerians and were no longer dominated by nominees and ex-officio members.
- It promoted and spread democracy by giving Nigerians all over the country the opportunity to elect their members to the legislative houses.
- For the first time, Nigerians were appointed ministers at both the central and regional governments.
- The constitution allowed bicameral legislatures in both the Northern and Western Regions, thereby promoting not only the people’s participation in lawmaking but also the institution of traditional ruler-ship.
- The constitution started a system of revenue sharing between the central and regional governments in Nigeria.
- It furthered the process of federalism by dividing powers between the central and the regional governments and allowing the regions much autonomy
Demerits of Macpherson Constitution
- The constitution still concentrated too much powers in the central legislature with the regional houses’ decisions largely subject to the approval of the central legislature or the governor.
- The central governor also had too much powers for he could act without or against the advice of the executive council.
- Ministers supervised only one or more issues and acted in the legislature as spokesmen of their ministries but did not have overall responsibility for their ministries.
- The constitution allowed ministers to be elected by the regional legislatures which is against the principle of universal suffrage.
- The regional divisions worsened the problems of ethnicity and mutual distrust in Nigerian politics.
- Mass participation was hindered in the North because only male tax payers were allowed to vote.
- With the British still controlling executive power, the constitution failed to transfer power to Nigerians or allow them to participate adequately in governance.
The Macpherson constitution finally collapsed due to the threat of Northern secession by the NPC, the crisis in the Eastern Region house of assembly, the Kano riot and the 1953 motion by Anthony Enahoro for Nigeria’s independence by 1956.