As we search for peace and security in the country through the on-going National Conference, one of the most interesting of all the conferences held under the rule of the British Colony that is still very relevant in today’s Nigeria, was the General Conference held in Ibadan in 1950. Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914 and when the 1914 Constitution was promulgated, it was a one-man show and so were the other three after. The Lugardian, Clifford, Cameron and Richards constitutional arrangements were imposed without the direct involvement of the indigenous peoples or their representatives.

This was because the era was the heydays of British imperial rule, which came to an end with the conclusion of the Second World War. Despite pretences to the contrary, British rule was already in its terminal stage in Nigeria from at least in 1945, benchmarked by the successful labour strike of that year and the conclusion of the Second World War, which had reduced Britain to a second-fiddle world power behind the United States and the emergent Soviet Union. It can now be appreciated why opposition to the Richards Constitution, even before its formal inauguration in 1946 was irresistible, paving the way for the Macpherson Constitution, the making of which was preceded by unprecedented consultations from the village to the regional level.

Akinpelu Obisesan and Adeola Odutola

Although the Richards Constitution was expected to last for nine years, opposition to it, especially from the political leaders, was so strong that a new constitution, the Macpherson Constitution, was promulgated in 1951.

The Arthur Richards Constitution was severely criticised by the Nationalists because it was imposed on Nigeria without any prior consultation. This made nationalists of the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) under Herbert Macaulay and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe tour important towns, educating the people on the political issues at hand and collecting donations to send a protest delegation to London. This gave as partly the reason for the short lived the Richard Constitution and equally made Macpherson to allow three years from 1848 to 1951 for public opinions and consultations. Interestingly, consultations were made at the level of towns, native authorities, divisions provinces and regions.

Unlike its predecessors, there was significant participation of Nigerians in its making, from the village level up to the lbadan General Conference of 1950. The Ibadan Conference was a watershed because it was the outcome of the consultations that shaped the 1951 Constitution.It was the first time in Nigerian history that such thorough conversations took place among Nigerians and that standard has never been matched.

Sir John Macpherson, who became Governor in 1948, initiated a unique grassroots constitutional consultative process based on a template prepared by him. He assumed office and took over from Richards in April 1948, barely 15 months after the introduction of the Richards Constitution. He immediately responded to the charge of lack of consultation during the making of the previous constitutions and embarked on a four-month country-wide tour of Nigeria, ending in August of that year. He then convened a meeting of a Legislative Council in the same month. He asked Nigerians to choose between confederation and federation, with some measure of autonomy or federation on the basis of the existing regions. The consultations culminated in the All Nigeria General Conference in Ibadan in 1950.


In this conference, Nigerian representatives agreed unanimously to practice a system of government that should allow each of the three regions (East, West and North) as enshrined in the Macpherson Constitution ,to develop according to its pace. Perhaps, the best illustration of this was the Macpherson Constitution that was preceded by extensive consultations. There were village-level meetings, district meetings, provincial meetings and regional conferences. The last stage was the National Conference held in Ibadan in 1950.

He briefed the Legislative Council members on the outcome of his tour of the country and suggested that the Council should consider seriously the review of the Constitution at a date earlier than anticipated. He also suggested that if the Council accepted his view in that regard, the review should start from the grassroots and to the highest level.

The Council accepted the suggestion by the governor and appointed a select committee of the Council, comprising all the 25 Nigerian members of the Council, to work out modalities and submit its recommendations to the Council at its meeting scheduled to take place in Ibadan early in 1949.

The select committee recommended that Nigerians, at all levels should be involved in the constitutional review with consultations from village level to district and divisional levels from among whom delegates would be selected to participate in a provincial conference in each provincial headquarters. The conference would agree on the type of constitution it wanted Nigeria to have and would also select its representatives to participate at the regional conferences in Kaduna, Enugu, Ibadan and Lagos.

The select committee also recommended that, regional conferences, would elect delegates to participate at the General Conference as well as nominate members to represent them on the drafting committee which would “prepare a statement, setting out draft recommendations for constitutional changes based on the issues of the region, colony and Lagos conferences and submit the statement for consideration of the General Conference”.

The recommendations of the select committee were approved by the full Legislative Council at its meeting held in Ibadan in March, 1949. In accordance with the directives of the Central Legislative Council, meetings and consultations were held throughout 1949 at:

(a) village

(b) district

(c) divisional

(d) and provincial levels before the

(e) regional and finally,

(f) the National Conference.

The reports of each region from village to the regional level were then submitted to the legislative Council. These reports and recommendations were published in October 1949 and reviewed by a drafting committee of the Legislative Council with delegates elected from the regions.

Delegates drawn from the regions were as follow: Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Wali of Borno, Mallam Muhammadu and Sardauna of Sokoto, Mallam Ahmadu from the Northern Region. Rev. I. O. Ransome-Kuti, S. O. Awokoya and Dr. A. S. Agbaje represented Western Region while A. Akon, C. D. Onyeama and E. N. Egbuna were Eastern Region representatives. Lagos was represented by Bode Thomas and the Colony was represented by Oladipo Amos.

T. Adeola Odutola

The committee met in October and November 1948, and submitted recommendations, some of which are listed below, to the General Conference which met between 9th and 28th January, 1950.

The Drafting Committee recommended a ‘federal’ system of government for Nigeria in which there should be three regions, namely, northern, eastern and western regions. It recommended that regional legislatures should no longer be purely advisory, but should have legislative powers within the boundaries of their regions on such subjects as local government, agriculture and fishing, town and country planning, education, public health, forestry, veterinary services, land, welfare, local industries, etc.‘ As a means of preserving central authority on conflicting powers between the Central Legislature and the Regional Legislatures, the Drafting Committee recommended that the Central Legislature should have the power to review, refer back or even reject regional legislation if the Central Legislature considered that such regional legislation interfered with the general interests of Nigeria as a whole.‘ It also recommended a Central Legislature to be called ‘House of Representatives’ and Central Executive to be named ‘The Council of State‘. The former should consist of seventy-four unofficial members composed of thirty from the northern region and twenty-two each from the eastern and western regions. This was intended as a compromise between the 50% claim for representation to the central Legislature by the northern regional conference, and the equal representation claim by the eastern and western regional conferences. It recommended also that the ‘Council of State,‘ with the governor as president, six official members, and twelve unofficial members drawn from the House of Representatives, should formulate policies and direct executive action. It further recommended that these elect un-official members of the ‘Council of State’ should become ministers each responsible for one or more subjects and not departments.’

The Drafting Committee also recommended that the interrogational boundaries between the provinces of (a) Ilorin and Oyo and Ondo; (b) Kabba and Ondo and Benin; Benin and Onitsha, should be examined by a commission of enquiry which would make recommendations to the governor after examination of all relevant factors including in particular wishes of the areas concerned. Similarly, the committee felt that the question of future financial policy was not either for it, or for the Ibadan General Conference, to decide. It therefore, recommended that an expert and independent enquiries should be undertaken in consultation with all concerned, to submit proposals to the governor-in-council for division of revenue over five years between the three regions and the central Nigerian service, in order to achieve in that time a progressively more equitable division of revenue as between the three separate regions and the centre’!

It went on to recommend that the proposals of the independent commission should be considered by a special committee of 15 members under the chairmanship of the financial secretary to be selected by the General Conference. This committee was to submit its conclusions and recommendations to the governor and the secretary of state.

On the question of qualifications of candidates and system of election, the Drafting Committee recommended the setting up of an electoral commission in each region to make recommendations which would he regarded as part of the recommendations of the General Conference to follow. These commissions were each to be composed of not more than eight Nigerians nominated by the members of the General Conference from among their own members, together with one official.

It should be emphasized, however, that members of the Drafting Committee had disagreements on the various constitutional issues submitted above. But the committee was mainly concerned with examining the regional resolutions and formulating a coordinated statement of recommendations from there.

Delegates were also elected by the regional, Lagos and colony conferences to participate at the General Conference. On 9 January 1950, a General Conference of representatives from all parts of Nigeria started meeting in Ibadan to map out the future system of government in Nigeria with the recommendations of the regional conferences as the working document.

The General Conference was composed of 25 unofficial members drawn from the earlier regional conferences as representatives of the three regions, 25 unofficial members from the Nigerian Legislative Council, three official members and the non-voting chairman, who was the attorney-general of Nigeria.

Gerald Howe

Emir of Katsina, Sir Usman Nagogo Yana

Alvan Ikoku

Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Adesoji Aderemi

Rev. Kuti

Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Akenzua II


The conference was composed of the following:

Chairman: Hon. Sir Gerald Howe K.C., Attorney General

Northern Members of Legislative of Council: The Emir of Gwandu-The honourable Yahaya, C.M.G. C.B.E, The Emir of Katsina-Alhaji the Hon.  Usman Nagogo C.B.E, The Atta of Igbirra –Alhaji the honourable Ibrahim, The  Emir of Abuja-The Honourable Sulemanu, The honourable Bello Kano, The honourable Iro Katsina, The honourable Yahaya Ilorin, The honourable Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, The honourable Aliya, Makaman Bida.

Additional Representative from Northern Region: Mallam Muhammadu, Wali of Bornu, Mallam Ahamadu, Sardauna of Sokoto, Mallam Muhammadu Ribadu, Shettima Kashim, Mallam Sani Dingyadi, Mallam  Ja’afaru, C.B.E., Emir of Zaria, Alhaji Shehu Ahmadu, Sarkin Shanu (Kano), Alhaji Abdulmaliki Igbirra, Turaki M. Ali.

Western Members of Legislative Council: The Ooni of Ife -The honourable Sir Adesoji Aderemi I, K.B.E., C.M.G, The Oba of Benin –The honourable Akenzua II, C.M.G, The honourable Akinpelu Obisesan, O.B.E., The honourable T.A. Odutola, O.B.E, The honourable Gaius Obaseki, The honourable A.Soetan.

Additional Representatives from The Western Regional Conference: Mr.A.E Prest, The Ven. Archdeacon L.A.Lennon, O.B.E., Rev. I.O. Ransome-Kuti, Mr. M.A. Ajasin, Mr. S.O.Awokoya, Mr. M.G. Ejaife.

Eastern Members of Legislative Council (Including Calabar): The honourable H. Buowari Brown, O.B.E., The honourable C.D.Onyema, The honourable A.Ikoku, O.B.E, The honourable Nyong Essien, Dr. the honourable F.A.Ibiam, O.B.E, The honourable E.E.E Anwan.

Additional Representatives from Eastern Regional Conferences: Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Mr. E.N.Egbuna, Dr. E.M.L. Endeley, Rev. O.Efiongs, O.B.E, MR. M.W.Ubani, Mr Eyo Ita.

Lagos Members of Legislative Council: Dr the honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe, The honourable Adeleke Adedoyin, Dr. the honourable I.Olorun-Nimbe.

Additional Representatives of Lagos Conference: Chief Bode Thomas, Chief Obanikoro, Mr. T.A Bankole.

Colony Member of Legislative Council: Rev and Honourable T.A.J.Ogunbiyi, O.B.E.

Additional Member of Colony Conference: Mr. C.D. Akran

Other Nominated Unofficial Members of Legislative Council: The honourable N. B. Edwards, The honourable P.J.Rogers, Major the honourable J.West, M.C.

Secretaries: Mr. A. A. Williams, O.B.E., Mr. S. Ade.Ojo, M.B.E

The conference was officially opened on Monday, 9th January, 1950, in the hall of The Western House Of Assembly at Ibadan, by Sir Gerald Howe, K.C., Attorney General, at 10 o’clock. In his opening speech, he read messages, which had been sent to members of the conference by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and by His Excellency, the governor. He also read apologies for their inability to attend:

The Oba of Benin.


Mr. Gaius Obaseki

The chairman suggested that the conference should first address itself to point of procedure and proposed that whilst these points were being discussed, members of the press and of the public should be asked to withdraw.

This proposal was approved unanimously, and the press and public left the conference room. Point of procedures was then considered as set out below:

  1. Times and frequency of session–After brief discussion it was agreed that there should be one session each day, and that this should last from 10a.m to 1.p.m
  2. Order of business–The chairman suggested that there were two lines of approach open to the conference:

(a) to hold a general debate on Part I of the drafting committee’s report and subsequently to consider the resolution in part II in committee, or

(b) to resolve itself in the first instance into committee on the resolutions, and to hold its general debate after the committee stage was over

It was agreed that course (b) should be adopted.

At the stage, Mr.Ubani raised an objection to the conference being held at Ibadan when the Select Committee of the Legislative Council had originally proposed that the conference should sit at a place which should not be Lagos or a regional headquarters. The chairman explained that at its session in November, 1949, the Legislative Council had decided on Ibadan owing to the difficulty of arranging conference and domestic accommodations at any other town.

  1. Limitation of speeches–After brief discussion, it was agreed that speeches in general debate SHOULD BE LIMITED TO thirty minutes for each speaker, subject to extension allowed by approval of the conference individual cases; and that in committee proceedings, speeches should be limited to ten minutes.
  2. Voting–The conference was invited to express its view as to whether voting should be held by show of hand or by secret ballot or in some other manner. Messr Ojike, Awokoya, Ubani, Nyong Essien, Adedoyin and Eyo Ita all spoke in favour secret ballot and were opposed by Mallam Abubakar and Messr Thomas, Onyeama, Ejaife, Bankole, Buowari Brown, Dingyadi and Odutola, who all spoke in favour of open voting. A compromise was proposed by Archdeacon Lennon to the effect that the method of voting be decided on separate occasion as it arose. The view of the conference was then taken on the three proposals and resolved as follows:

       Vote for                      Vote against

(a) On the Archdeacon Lennon’s proposal:                  12                                 31

(b) For secret ballot:                                                       16                                 40

(c) For show of hands                                                     37                                  9

It was there decided that voting should be done by the show of hands during the conference proceedings.

  1. Seconding of motions–It was agreed upon that by thirty-nine votes to three that in both committee and conference proceedings no motion or amendment made by any member should be further considered unless it was properly seconded.
  2. Admission of press and public–Discussion followed on whether the press and public should be allowed to all or any of the stages of the conference proceeding. Messrs Ojike, Egbuna, Bankole and Dingyadi spoke in favour of admission of all proccedings, and Messrs. Prest, Brown, Adedoyin, Nyong Essien and Ikoku were in favour of exclusion at the committee stage but admission to open conference. On a vote six members were in favour of admission of the press and public to open conference proceedings only and not to the committee stages
  3. Publication of Drafting Committee Report.–The chairman invited the conference to consider the publication of the report of Drafting Committtee. The view was put forward by Messrs Ubani, Prest and Egbuna that in view of the Conference’s decision not to admit the public or press to committee stages of the conference, it clearly followed that the report which were to consider at the committee’s stage must remain secret. The conference eventually agreed that the report must not be published until after the conference had completed its committee proceedings but to be published before it went on general debate.
  4. Translation–The chairman stated that as far as possible, translation into English, Hausa and other necessary languages would be arranged if desired
  5. Seating–Mr. Ojike raised an objection to the seating arrangement. This was the shape with membership grouped as follows:

Northern Region, Colony, Lagos, Western, Nominated members, Eastern Region.

Messrs Dingyadi, Adedoyin, Mallam Yahaya Ilorin and Messrs Thomas, Egbuna and Nyong Essien were in favour of retaining the seating arrangements and this was approved with one dissentingvoice.

  1. Conference recommendations- On the chairman asking if any other points of procedure should be discussed, Mr. Prest raised objection to the programming laid down by the Legislative Council at its session in March 1949, whereby the recommendations of the conference were to be debated by the Regional houses and by the Legislative Council. He pointed out that these institutions were themselves essential features of the very constitution, which had come under, review, and that it was therefore not proper that the conference’s recommendations should be submitted to debate by them.

He was supported by Mr. Ojike who also pointed out that members of the Legislative Council were actually in a majority at the conference itself. Mr. Bankole spoke in the same vein and voiced a suspicion that the conference’s recommendations were to be debated by the Legislative Council in order to give official members of that council an opportunity of criticizing the conference’s view.

At this stage, Mr. Onyeama raised the point that it was not within the conference’s term of reference to try and change the general programme of procedure which had been approved by the Legislative Council and which has so far been in operation.

Onyeama’s point was followed by Mr. Soetan whose view was that the members of the Legislative Council present at the conference would not go against decisions in which they had themselves taken part when the conference’s recommendations came before the council. He also said that it was in the fitness of things that the Legislative Council as such should have a voice in the constitution making. His point was supported by Mallam Sani Dingyadi, who argued that the regional houses and the Legislative Council were the official deliberative bodies under the existing constitution and should be given an opportunity of expressing their views.

Mr. Adedoyin held that the discussion was out of order and emphasized the essentially representative character of the non-official members of the Legislative Council. Another view was that of Mr. Thomas, who stated that when full and elaborate discussion on the constitution had been held all over the country, it was improper that the Legislative Council should be given the opportunity to criticize any view put forward

It was explained at this point by the chairman that it was not possible for anybody to change the recommendations which might emerge from the conference’s deliberations and that these recommendations were to be presented to His Excellency, the Governor and to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, although they might be accompanied by the views, separately expressed, of the regional houses and Legislative Council. He suggested that the discussion was bound to be fruitless, but he stated that he would allow it to continue if other members wished to have their views placed on record.

Mr. Awokoya then repeated the objection made by Mr. Prest and was immediately answered by Mallam Abubakar, who maintained that all members of the Legislative Council were Nigerians working for the interest of Nigeria as a whole and that there was no foundation whatsoever for any imputation that those members of the conference who happened to  be members of the Legislative Council would be sincere in the conference’s deliberations than their colleagues who were not members of the Legislative Council. Mr. Ejaife repeated the objection already made by Messr Prest and Awokoya, Mr.Buowari Brown emphasized the profitless nature of the discussion, and Dr Ibiam again stressed the objection to unwarranted imputations being made against members of the legislative council.

The chairman ruled the discussion closed, the conference adjourned at 12.30 p.m. to re-assemble at 10.am. on Tuesday, 10th January, to go into committee on the recommendations made by the Drafting Committee. For time and space constraint, it will not be possible to go into details what were discussed on each day. however, some of the major ressolutions and debates will be mentioned herein.

As part of the discussions and debates that followed in the remaining days, the conference made a strong case for the devolution of increased powers, or as it put it, increased autonomy, to each of the regions on the ground that the principle had been wholeheartedly accepted and, indeed welcomed, by the regional conferences.  It was pointed out that under the Constitution of 1945, which the conference was reviewing, the legislative functions of the regional legislatures were purely advisory and that the position was unsatisfactory; that the need for greater regional autonomy had become apparent; that in the realm of legislation, finance and initiation of policy, members of the regional legislatures had in practice shown themselves anxious and capable of assuming and exercising responsibilities far beyond the limits prescribed under the 1945 Constitution.

There was an atmosphere of distrust and inter-tribal jealousy among the regional delegates at the Ibadan General Conference. Their local feelings and tribal loyalties were reflected in their attitudes. The northern regional bloc was unwilling to yield any ground on its demand that grants from the central revenue be distributed on per capita basis to give equal opportunities to its own people. It also tenaciously clung to a demand that the northern region should, in the central legislature, be given parity of representation with the eastern and western regions combined. The emirs of Katsina and Zaria had demanded at the conference that unless the northern region was granted 50% of the seats in the proposed Central Legislature, they would “ask for separation from the rest of Nigeria on the arrangements existing before 1914”. It was also reluctant to agree to any form of ‘Cabinet’ responsibility either in the regional level or in the centre.

The north also maintained that there should be no changes in the existing regional boundaries. The western regional conference had earlier demanded that the people of Kwara and the Igbomina (who are of Yoruba extraction) in the Ilorin Province in the northern region, should be returned to the Western Region. To this extent, the western regional delegation at the conference agreed to accept the recommendation of the Drafting Committee that a boundary commissioner should be appointed to ascertain the wishes of the people of the area and to submit a report. But the northern delegation opposed the appointing or conduct of any such enquiry.

Representatives from the east and west advocated the introduction of ministerial responsibility in the regions and at the centre, a step forward that the northern delegates did not feel prepared to take. On other issues, the cleavage between northern and southern members was even more acute. The northerners invoked the population principle to demand, and eventually to win, 50 percent representation in the proposed central legislature, while the southerners generally favoured equality of regional representation. Northern delegates argued for the distribution of central revenue to the regions on a per capita basis, while southerners generally preferred other principles of allocation, e.g., regional need or volume of trade, which were more beneficial to them. Furthermore, western delegates pressed for revision of the north—west boundary in order to unite the Yoruba of Ilorin and Kabba Provinces with the Yoruba majority of the western region. These conflicts impressed northern leaders with the necessity of forming a political organization to serve their interests in the field of constitutional and parliamentary manoeuvre. But the northern political parties did not stem solely or primarily from the constitution making process; they had deeper roots or a popular and spontaneous nature at this point.

These were some of the difficulties which confronted the Ibadan General Conference. It was evident that the north’s fear of an eventual ‘domination’ by the more educated south, underlaid many of the problems that faced the conference. But the conference did not feel they belonged to one ‘nation’ in the true sense of that word.

The conference, among other issues, took two far-reaching decisions on the nature of the Nigerian polity and the relative representation of the regions. It decided that Nigeria should be a federation and that the northern region should have half the representation of the total membership of the Central Legislature with the remaining half shared equally between the east and the west.

The select committee of the Legislative Council welcomed the proposals of the Ibadan General Conference, particularly the proposals covering regional autonomy, ministerial responsibility, and the creation of larger and more representative regional legislatures with increased powers.  The proposals were then submitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies for approval.

In his dispatch of July 15, 1950, to the Governor of Nigeria, the Secretary of State, after suggesting one important modification, generally approved the Ibadan General Conference constitutional proposals.

The modification which he proposed referred to the procedure of terminating the appointment of a minister in the event of a vote of no confidence in the latter. Whereas the Ibadan General Conference had proposed that a minster’s appointment should be terminated in the event of a vote of no confidence in him passed by a two-thirds majority of the legislature concerned, the Secretary of State made it clear that this provision should not apply to ex-officio members, who invariably were expatriates. It is difficult to understand why this should be exempted, since, not being responsible to the legislature, officials were supposed to be gradually kept out of the ‘cabinet’, He cautioned, however, that power should not be lightly exercised and suggested that the majority required to oust a minister should not be two-thirds of the members present and voting, but two-thirds of all the members of the legislature in question. This proposal, indeed, increased the majority needed to oust a minister and thus made it less likely for a minister to be frivolously removed.

The report of the conference was what gave birth to the 1951 Constitution. It was this constitution that really introduced fundamental changes into the imperial/native relationship and the relationship between the native Nigerian groups themselves.

The major provisions of the constitution were as follows: The establishment of a 145-member House of Representatives, 136 of them elected, to replace the Legislative Council; a bicameral legislature for both the north and west, one being the house of chiefs while the east retained the unicameral house of assembly; the establishment of a public service commission to advise the governor on the appointment and control of public officers; the competence of the regional legislatures to legislate on a range of prescribed subjects while the Central Legislature was empowered to legislate on all matters including those on the regional legislative lists. Substantially, therefore, the 1951 Constitution was more or less a half-way house between regionalisation and federation.

The new constitution represented a major advancement on the existing state of legislative competence of Nigerians by (i) introducing elected majorities in the Central Legislature and (ii) in the regional houses of assembly (iii) endowing the legislative houses with independent legislative powers in many areas of state activity (iv) and establishing a federal system for Nigeria for the first time.

However, the Macpherson Constitution precipitated several crises which hastened its collapse. The colonial secretary therefore, approved that the Nigerian Constitution be redrawn to provide greater autonomy and the removal of power of intervention by the centre in matters which could, without detriment to the other regions, be placed entirely within regional competence. The objection to some of the provisions of the 1951 Macpherson Constitution was what led to the 1953 London Conference and the Lyttleton Constitution which removed elements of unitarism and promoted regional autonomy. It laid the foundation of a federal constitution by creating equal and coordinate levels of government in the functions allocated by the constitution.

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