From 23 May to 26 June 1957, there was a constitutional conference in London arranged mainly to correct the deficiencies of Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 and which took the following decisions:
1. Establishment of full regional self-government for the east and west in 1957 and for the North in 1959.
2. That the office of the prime minister of Nigeria should be established.
3. The federal legislature would comprise two houses, the senate and house of representatives.
4. Southern Cameroons would become a region, with its own premier.
5. That a house of chiefs should also be established in the Eastern Region in addition to the house of assembly, in uniform with the other two regions with bicamcral legislatures.
6. That the house of representatives would have 320 members distributed according to the population of each area in the country.
7. That the police should remain under federal control.
8. That a commission of inquiry should be set up to consider the complaints of the minorities in each region.
9. That while adult male suffrage would be used in the North, universal adult suffrage should be used in the East, West, Lagos and Southern Cameroons to elect members of the federal and regional legislatures.
10. That the leader of the party who commanded a majority in the regional legislature be appointed premier.
Implementation of the decisions of the constitutional conference of 1957
From the above conference, the full were implemented:
1. Southern Cameroons became a separate region with its own premier.
2. Except the governor-general, all the ex-officio British officials stopped being members of the executive council.
3. Western and Eastern Regions began self-government on 8 August 1957.
4. On 2 September 1957, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was appointed Nigeria’s first prime minister, by the governor-general because his was the majority party in the house of representatives.
In 1958, there was another constitutional conference held, no longer in London but in Lagos. The conference discussed the report of the two special commissions set up in 1957, that is the fiscal allocation committee and that on the fears of the minorities. This conference set 1st February 1960 as the date for Nigeria’s independence.
A nationwide general election was held to the federal house of representatives in February 1959. No party won an overall majority, and so the NPC and NCNC agreed to form a coalition government, while the AG became the opposition party.
Features of the Independence Constitution include
1. The constitution introduced a parliamentary system of government.
2. It established two legislative houses at both the federal and regional levels.
3. It retained the federal structure with the regions having residual powers.
4. The governor-general was made the ceremonial head of state.
5. The federal prime minister and regional premiers had executive powers conferred on them.
6. Qualifications for Nigerian citizenship were defined.
7. Provisions were included in the constitution for the creation of more regions or states and boundary adjustments of existing ones.
8. Federal legislatures were empowered to make laws to address times of war or other emergencies.
9. It included fundamental human rights in line with decisions at the 1958 constitutional conference.
10. A governor could remove the premier if the latter lost the confidence of the house.
11. There was to be a judicial service commission to advise on the appointment of the supreme court and high court judges.
12. Decisions on finance and general monetary affairs were in the provenance of the senate.
13. Amendments to some important clauses of the constitution required a two thirds majority vote in both houses of the federal legislature, and of at least two regions.
Merits of the Independence Constitution
1. Nigeria became politically independent through the application of the constitution, and Nigerians effectively took control of the executive and legislative arms of government.
3. Nigeria also became independent from British economic exploitation and started expanding her trade by establishing trade relations with other nations.
4. Political stability was ensured by retaining and safeguarding existing regions and their boundaries. Provisions for boundary adjustments and creation of new regions / states were very strict.
5. Many employment opportunities were created for Nigerians in the civil service, to replace British nationals.
Demerits of the Independence Constitution
1. Many issues remained unresolved, especially the criteria for the division of revenue between the centre and the regions.
2. The legislative powers of the Nigerian state were in an Act of the British parliament and not that of the Nigerian parliament till Nigeria became a republic in 1963.
3. The Queen of England remained the constitutional ceremonial head of state of Nigeria.
4. Nigeria’s highest court of appeal was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, above Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
5. Senators were not elected but appointed by regional governments.
6. The issue of the creation of more regions was made cumbersome, which brought some problems before the creation of the Mid-Western Region.