The Legislature And National Transformation In Nigeria (1)


By  Babafemi Ojudu

Let me start by expressing my profound gratitude for the invitation to rub minds with you. I am proud to be here, and this opportunity fills me with nostalgia about my sojourn here nearly three decades ago. I feel so much at home in this institution, and I am proud and eternally grateful to providence that I passed through this great citadel of learning, renamed after the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a man of unparalleled intellect, and a colossus amongst men. Great Ife!

This university has a great and enviable tradition. It was started by perhaps the most forward-looking, progressive and cerebral political elite in modern Africa. Ife was conceived as a university that will be at the vanguard of the transformation of a region that was wedded to all the ideals of socio-economic and political transformation. As Chief Awolowo was given to re-stating, “man is the measure of all things.” Therefore, human development was the foundational and fundamental force that defined the era which led to the founding of this great university. The political elite who collaborated with the intellectual elite of our region of Nigeria to start this university were persuaded that human imagination knew no limit; therefore, they sought to create a centre of universal intellectual activity that will actualize a progressive vision of human possibilities, thus exemplifying the motto of the Action Group, “Freedom for all, life more abundant.”

In this sense, the very foundation of this university is based on the belief in the possibilities of socio-economic and political transformation; a transformation that is based solidly on human intellect and its limitless potential. When it was founded, this university was in itself a radical idea. Ife was a radical idea in that, even though other universities founded in Africa in the same decade, that is, in the 1960s, were all based on the recognition of the role of the intellect in Africa’s development, Ife’s founders believed in something even greater than that. Ife’s founders were persuaded that if human intellect was given the greatest opportunity to develop in Africa, starting from this region of Nigeria, Africa could rise to a place in the sun and be at par with the most accomplished nation in the modern world. It should be no surprise therefore that within a decade of its founding, Ife had become the very manifestation of radical thought as well as radical action. Indeed, this is the university that stood so much at the centre of the relationship between the town and gown that many could justifiably speak about what was called the “Ife Phenomenon.” No less could be said about a university that once boasted of the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka, the first African Nobel Laureate in Literature. Great Ife!

As a centre of the intellectual revolt that once defined this country, and attempted to redefine it along progressive line, Ife is the best place to come to discuss the subject of national transformation. Especially as it concerns one of the most critical democratic institutions in Nigeria, the legislature.

What is the role of the legislature in national transformation? How is that role to be understood in the context of the ongoing aspirations for a review of the 1999 Constitution? What are the challenges posed by, and facing, the current National Assembly in the context of the unimpeachable quest of our people for a new Nigeria? I will attempt to confront these questions from my vantage position as a Senator of the Federal Republic and also based on my long years of engagement with the possibilities of national transformation as a public affairs journalist.


Legislative history in modern Nigeria started after the annexation of Lagos in 1861 by the British colonialists. They set up a Legislative Council in the colony of Lagos to “assist and advise” the Governor. The Legislative Council was not a representative council, nor did it have law-making powers. The governor was not even bound to accept its advice. Perhaps this may remind you of the recent controversy in which the president’s spokesperson stated that the resolution of the National Assembly was a mere “advice” which the president could ignore. If that attitude of the presidency reminds you of the colonial governor, perhaps that would suggest to you the challenges that we face almost one and half centuries after the first legislative house was established in Nigeria. But then, I digress.

I want to give a brief outline of the history of legislature in Nigeria so as to provide a background for understanding the role, if any, of the legislature in national transformation. Despite the great limitations of the first Legislative Council in Lagos, which consisted of the Governor, six officials, and four unofficial nominated members, two who were Africans – it is an important departure point for the modern history of legislatures in Nigeria. It was the first step in the recognition of the important role of the machinery of law-making, even by colonial impostors. This first step also preceded by half a century, the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates to form a united Nigeria.

When Sir Frederick Lugard (later Lord Lugard) took over as the first Governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria in 1914, he felt that the Legislative Council in Lagos was too small and too unrepresentative to “legislate” for the whole of the country. He then set up what was called the Nigerian Council which had 36 members. Of these 36 members, only six were Nigerians, and those six included two Emirs from the north, the Alaafin of Oyo, and one person each from Lagos, Calabar and Benin-Warri area. By this time, Nigeria moved from only two African representatives on the legislative body to six. However, the fundamental logic of this council did not change from the earlier one. What we had still was limited representation without (legislative) powers. The council remained not only advisory, but was reminded by the law (Order) setting it up that, “No resolution passed by the council shall have any legislative or executive authority, and the Governor shall not be required to give effect to any such resolution unless he thinks fit and is authorised to do so.”

It was hoped that the six Nigerians nominated to be members of the council would represent the interest of the masses of colonial Nigeria, but this was not the case because as Kalu Ezera reminds us, they rarely attended the council meetings. This is an important lesson here: It is possible to have representatives without being represented. Although, the ‘natives’, that is, Nigerians had representatives on the council, they were not represented.

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Again, you can compare what happened about a century ago with what is happening now. Some parts of the country today have representatives in the National Assembly who are actually not representing their people.

However, because collective wisdom resides in the people and the people always produce leaders with the vision to challenge a situation that we describe as: representatives without representation, the Lagos wing of the National Congress for British West Africa, a sub-regional body of African intellectuals based in the old Gold Coast, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, was determined to pursue “self-determination” for the people of Nigeria. The Congress sent a delegation in 1920 to London to demand for a Legislative Council for each of the British colonies in West Africa, including one half of members who would be elected Africans and the other half nominated. They made other demands which interesting enough, included the establishment of a West African University.

There are two points to note here. First, the African intellectuals and anti-colonial leaders as far back as the 1920s recognised that, for representation to be truly representative, it must be based on the consent of the represented. Therefore, they called for elections into the Legislative Council, rather than membership through selection. Two, they also recognised, among others, the synergy between the power of representation and the power of the intellect – which is why they also demanded the establishment of a university.

Although the British rejected the demands of the Congress and even dismissed them as “self-selected and self-appointed congregation of education African gentlemen” who were raising the “subject of popular election”, the move by this men impressed on the British the need for further reform of the legislative council in the colonies and transformation of the governance of these colonies to include the local people. Thus, the 1922 Constitution in Nigeria, otherwise called the Clifford Constitution, created a new Legislative Council consisting of 46 members. 27 of these were officials of the colonial government, while 19 were unofficial members. Of the 19 unofficial members, the Governor selected 15, while only four were elected. Lagos, as the capital city, elected three members, while Calabar, elected one. Even though this could be seen as a token concession, it was indeed at that time, a monumental victory. These four elected members of the Legislative Council were the first elected Africans in any legislature in British tropical Africa.

There is another important lesson here. Many people who are familiar with this history do not ask themselves, why were Lagos and Calabar the only two cities electing representatives in the whole of the huge colony? The reason is that they were the coastal cities “with large concentration of educated Africans who have been demanding direct representation in the Legislative Council of the country and other constitutional reforms.” What are the implications of this for the present times? Social transformation is achieved first by those who struggle for and are committed to it. Is there any surprise therefore that the most vociferous calls and struggle for national transformation is from the south of Nigeria?

However, even when they do not struggle for representation, the exclusion of any part of the country from modern forms of representation in decision-making will eventually haunt the rest of the union now or in the future. The exclusion of northern Nigeria from the legislature of Nigeria, despite the reasons for this, is one of the major challenges of political development and socio-economic and political transformation that we are still battling with today.

There were two important points that must be further noted about the new Legislative Council that came to life with the Clifford Constitution of 1922. First, the council could actually legislate on a few things, rather than merely providing advice to the Governor. It was charged with legislating for “peace, order and good government.” Second, the Legislative Council was subordinate to the Executive Council. This fact is important for understanding the transformation of the legislature in Nigeria and the nature of governance. Even though the principle of separation of power in the American presidential system was not operative in the British system in the metropolis, let alone in the British colonial system, the evolution of the legislature in Nigeria’s history can also help us in understanding the limitations, challenges and political underdevelopment of the legislature. Particularly in relation to the more developed and contiguous arms of

government, that is the executive and the judiciary. The colonial inheritance of the subordination of the legislature to the executive, made worse, of course, by military rule which combined both executive and legislative functions, has had important implications for the role of the legislature in national transformation. Against this background, it is clear that the executive arm of government in Nigeria is over-developed in a sense, in comparison with the legislative arm of government. What implications does this have for the role of the legislature in national transformation? I will return to this question later.

The Richard’s Constitution of 1946 attempted to overcome the limitations of the Clifford Constitution of 1922 by expanding the legislative authority of the Legislative Council to include the northern provinces. Thereafter, the Council started legislating for the whole country. Also, it established regional councils which not only included unofficial members who were not elected, but also included Nigerians who were supposed to represent local interests. Even though the new constitution allowed the council to withdraw its consent to any legislative proposal by the colonial governor, both the Legislative Council in Lagos and the regional councils still were not representative of the existing broad local interests across Nigeria. The regional councils, however, did not have legislative powers. They merely reviewed any proposed legislation by the central council in Lagos which had relevance to their region and advised the regional governor accordingly. One

of the major limitations of the Richard’s Constitution is that it didn’t expand the electoral base of the Legislative Council. The number of elected members remained four.

• Being text of a lecture delivered by Senator Babafemi Ojudu to the Political Science students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife on 8 November 2012.

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