The Richards Constitution of 1946 – Features, Merits & Demerits

Arthur Frederick Richards. Richards constitution of 1946
Arthur Frederick Richards

The Richards constitution of 1946 is another link in the chains of colonial or pre-independence constitutions of Nigeria. Following Hugh Clifford’s tenure as the governor of Nigeria, three more governors held the post (Graeme Thompson, Donald Cameron and Bernard Bourdillon) before the enactment of the next constitution which was the 1946 Richards constitution.

 

Governor Bernard Bourdilloun took office in 1935. In 1939, while in office, he turned the Northern and Southern protectorates into provinces and then divided the Southern province into Eastern and Western provinces while the Northern province was left untouched.

At the time Governor Bourdilloun left office in 1943, he had almost completed the new constitution he was drafting where he recommended regionalism. He had made a lot of improvement on the previous constitution before handing over to his successor.

Later on, Arthur Richards took office and enacted his constitution which is credited for bringing regionalism into Nigeria. The Richards constitution of 1946 replaced the Clifford Constitution of 1922 which was highly criticized for bringing sectionalism into the Nigerian government.

The Richards constitution of 1946 was specifically drafted to promote the unity of Nigeria and give more room for greater participation of Nigerians in the administration of their country.

Features of the Richards Constitution of 1946

  1. Bi-cameral legislature: The Richards constitution granted the Northern region a bi-cameral legislature – Regional Assembly and the Regional House of Chiefs.
  2. The constitution retained the elective principle but with limited franchise.
  3. The Richards constitution of 1946 brought regionalism to Nigeria – Eastern, Western and Northern regions.
  4. Dual Membership: Members of the central legislative council were at the same time members of the regional councils.
  5. The Nigerian Legislative council was made up of 44 members – 16 official and 28 unofficial members.
  6. Creation of Regional House of Assembly.
  7. Each region received grants from the revenue of the country in the form of bulk.
  8. Limited powers were given to the regional House of Assemblies.

Merits or Advantages of the Richards Constitution of 1946

  1. It brought about regionalism which served as a bedrock for federalism in Nigeria
  2. Unlike the Clifford constitution of 1922, the people were consulted (though not really) in the drafting of Richards constitution.
  3. The constitution paved way for constitutional development in Nigeria.
  4. The constitution promoted unity in Nigeria as it brought the North and South together in the central legislative council.
  5. The constitution geared up nationalism among Nigerians.

Demerits or Disadvantages of the Richards Constitution

  1. The constitution did not allow the full participation of nationalist leaders in the administration of the country.
  2. Nigerians were not fully consulted before the operation of the constitution. Therefore it was regarded as autocratic.
  3. The governor exercised veto power – The governor was not bound to accept the recommendations of the legislative council. The council only served as an advisory body.
  4. The Richards constitution introduced regionalism in Nigeria which brewed regional rivalry because each region represented one or more ethnic groups. The Northern region represented the Hausa/Fulani people, the Eastern region represented the Igbo people, the Western Region represented the Yoruba people and the Mid-Western Region represented Benin and Delta people. This gave birth to ethnic and tribal contradictions in Nigerian politics.
  5. The constitution represented colonial interests.
  6. The constitution was partial on the ground that it created the House of Chief in the north and none in the south.
  7. Franchise was limited to people from the upper class.

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References:

  1. A Textbook Of West African History: E. Ola Abiola- May 1974
  2. Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo. (2018). Constitutional Development in Nigeria. https://highlifextra.com/tag/constitutional-development-in-nigeria/
  3. C. C. Dibie; Essential Government for Senior Secondary Schools; 3rd edition; Lagos; Tonad Publishers; 2008