The Richards constitution of 1946 came into existence as a result of the defects in the Clifford Constitution of 1922, which was greatly criticised by the nationalists. Bernard Bourdillon, the governor of Nigeria between 1935 and 1943, prepared room for the constitution. He appealed to the northern leaders to join the southern leaders in the legislative council in Lagos.
This, however, could not materialise till he left Nigeria in 1943; and it was his successor, Arthur Richards who continued the work and presented a new constitution in 1946 which took effect from May 1947.
Objectives of Richards Constitution
- To promote the unity of Nigeria.
- To evolve a constitution to cover all parts of Nigeria.
- To divide Nigeria into three regions: North, West and East and create a regional council for each.
- To allow Nigerians to participate more in their own governance.
- To create a legislative council embracing all sections of the country.
Features of Richards Constitution
- The constitution became operational on 1 May 1947.
- It created a central legislative council for the whole of Nigeria.
- The governor could now make and apply laws to the whole country in consultation with the legislative council.
- The constitution provided for regional assemblies in the North, East and West which would not make laws, but discuss legislations and act as electoral colleges for the election of legislative council members.
- The enlarged legislative council now had forty-four members, consisting of twenty-eight majority non-officials and sixteen minority officials. The twenty eight non-officials consisted of nine, six and five nominees representing the North, West and East respectively; four nominees representing business interests and four elected members from Lagos and Calabar. Of the sixteen official members, thirteen were ex-officio while three were nominated.
- The constitution provided for a bicameral legislature of two chambers of a house of chiefs and a house of assembly in the northern region while the eastern and western regions had a unicameral legislature, the house of assembly, each.
- Majority of the representatives of the regional assemblies were selected by the native authorities, namely eighteen officials and twenty-four non-officials for the North, thirteen officials and nineteen non-officials for the West, and thirteen officials and eighteen non-officials for the East.
- In the West and in the East, the chief commissioner was the president of the house of assembly, while in the North, the chief commissioner presided over the house of chiefs, leaving the senior resident to head the house of assembly.
- The regional houses could not make laws but had to advise the legislative council in Lagos whenever the latter sent laws pertaining / applicable to them for consideration. The governor could reject such advice.
- The governor had powers to act contrary to decisions or advice of the legislative council, but had to obtain the approval of the secretary of state for the colonies.
- Two Nigerians, instead of only one appointed in 1943, became members of the executive council.
- Apart from the addition of one more Nigerian, the new executive council had the same composition as that of 1922, dominated by British officials.
Functions Of The Regional Councils Or Assemblies
- It integrated the North and the South administratively for the first time since the 1914 amalgamation, thereby encouraging national unity.
- It prepared the way for a federal constitution in the Nigerian political system.
- The constitution provided for a bicameral legislature in the North, thereby institutionalising bicameralism and recognising traditional ruler-ship in Nigeria.
- The constitution increased the representation of Nigerians in the legislative council.
- lt expanded the Nigerian legislative council, and for the first time made Nigerian unofficial members the majority in the legislative council.
- The constitution divided the country into three regions: North, West and East each with its own house of assembly.
Demerits of Richards Constitution
- Europeans still dominated the legislative council especially the executive council which was the powerful organ.
- The Constitution was made with no consultation with or involvement of Nigerians during the drafting.
- The constitution of the legislative council was not democratic. Nominees dominated the council; there were even more nominated than elected Nigerians.
- The constitution granted the governor excessive powers to nominate members, preside over both the legislative and executive councils and to override their decisions when he chose.
- Voting right was still dependent upon level of income.
- Only residents of Lagos and Calabar could vote; thus the large majority of Nigerians were disenfranchised.
- The constitution divided the country into three regions based largely on ethnic consideration. This regionalism and ethnicity resulted in disunity and distrust in Nigerian politics of today.
- Regional councils were largely with no functions, since they had no power to make laws.