Urhobo Historical Society

Federalism, the Constitution
and Resource Control

By Itse Sagay

Text of speech delivered by Professor Sagay (SAN), former Head of Law Department of University of Benin, at the fourth sensitisation programme organised by the Ibori Vanguard at the Lagoon Restaurant, Lagos.

IN the beginning, there was no Nigeria. There were Ijaws, Igbos, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Nupes, Kanuris, Ogonis, Gwaris, Katafs, Jukars, Edos, Ibibios, Efiks, Idomas, Tivs, Junkuns, Biroms, Agnas, Ogojas and so on. There were Kingdoms like, Oyo, Lagos, Calabar, Brass, Itsekiri, Benin, Tiv, Borno, Sokoto Caliphate (with loose control over Kano, Ilorin, Zaria etc) Bonny, Opobo, etc. Prior to the British conquest of the different nations making up the present day Nigeria, these Nations were independent nation states - and communities independent of each other and of Britain.

Prelude to the Creation of Nigeria

The bulk of what is now Nigeria became British Territory between 1885 and 1914, although some autonomous communities were not conquered and incorporated in the protectorate until the early twenties. Between the 15th and 19th Centuries, European relationship with West African States were trade/commercial, with little or no political undertones. The Europeans depended on the coastal rulers not only for securing trade, but also for the safety of their lives and property. Thus European traders went out of their way to ensure they were in the good books of Native rulers.

It should be noted that the main commodity during this period were human beings. This was the era of slave trade. It was in a bid to protect the lives, properties and trade of British traders that the British Prime Minister, Palmerston appointed John Beecroft as British Consul in Nigeria in 1849. This was the beginning of piecemeal British colonisation of the independent nations of what later became Nigeria.

This was followed by:

* Gunboat diplomacy for the enforcement of one-sided agreements for the protection of interests of British traders and

* The signing of the notorious 'protection treaties' which led directly to colonialism

A typical 'protection treaty' would contain the following clauses:

* "The British majesty hereby undertakes to extend to them (Protected Peoples) and to territory under their authority and jurisdiction her gracious favour and protection."

* 'Protected' people were prohibited from entering into any correspondence, agreement or treaty with any foreign power or nation except with the knowledge and sanction of Britain.

* Britain had exclusive jurisdiction, civil and criminal over British and British protected subjects in the protected territory and authority was exercised by the British Consul.

* Any disputes between the 'native' chiefs themselves or between them and British or foreign traders had to be submitted to the British Consul.

* Native chiefs were bound to act on the advice of the British officers in matters relating to the administration of justice, the development of the resources of the country, the interests of commerce or in any matter in relation to peace, order and good government and the general progress of civilisation.

* Meanwhile, the European colonists organised the Berlin Conference, 1885. A conference in which Africa was carved into spheres of influence amongst the powers. The aim was primarily to eliminate friction amongst them in their commercial and colonising activities in Africa. The Nations in the territory now called Nigeria were parceled off to Britain at the Conference. Based on the protection treaties and the Berlin Conference, the British in 1885 proclaimed the establishment of a protectorate of the Oil Rivers, which later became the Niger Delta Protectorate.

As various quarrels and disputes arose between British traders or British officials on the one hand, and the Rulers of the States of the Niger Delta on the other hand, the latter territories were invaded, conquered and colonised, individually.

* Jaja's kidnapping -1886

* 1894 - Nana War - The fall of the Itsekiri (Benin River and Warri) Kingdom

* 1894-1914 - Push and control of Urhobo and Isoko country; Efunrun (1896), Orokpo (1901), Etua 1904; Ezeonum (1905), Iyede (1908); Owe, Oleh, Ozoro (1910)

* Igbo and Ibibio lands were taken over without war between 1890 and 1905 and only Okrika (1895) Aboh (1896), Aro 1901-2, Ezza (1905), gave the British any resistance.

* Lagos fell in 1861; Ijebu, 1892; Egba, 1914;

Much of the North was under the Sokoto Caliphate in the 19th Century, with the exception of Borno and Middle Belt.

* The Royal Niger Company operated in the North until 1899 when their charter was abrogated and a protectorate of Northern Nigerian was proclaimed in 1900 to forestall German and French occupation of those territories.

* The British now engaged in the progressive conquest of the Northern states.

* Lord Frederick Lugard was made High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria in 1899 and British conquest followed thereafter, in the following order;

* Bida -1901, Adamawa - 1901, Bauchi and Gombe - 1902, Zaria - 1902, Kano - 1902, Sokoto - 1903.

* The fall of Sokoto meant the effective end of the independence of the states of the present North-Western Nigeria.

* 1903 -1906 was a period of British consolidation in the present North. In fact the protectorate of Northern Nigeria had been proclaimed before the Northern states were conquered. The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was proclaimed in 1900.

* In 1906 the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was amalgamated with the Colony of Lagos. And in 1914 - the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, was merged with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

The Pre-Independence Constitutions

Governor as the sole Executive and Legislature

During the period 1900 to 1906, the Governor of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, exercised full executive powers and was also the legislature. This applied to the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria from 1900 to 1914. The Governor in each case made laws by proclamation. Such proclamation was, however, subject to approval by the British Government. In 1900 the Southern Protectorate and the Colony of Lagos were amalgamated under the title "The Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria." In the same year, a Legislative Council was created for the protectorate. At this sage, the Legislative Councils were, however, constituted by officials of government.

In 1914, the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, were amalgamated, and ruled by one Governor-General, Lord Lugard. The Legislative Council of the Colony was restricted to making laws for the Colony alone, whilst the Governor-General made laws for the whole country.

The 1922 Constitution - The Clifford Constitution

In 1922 a new Constitution revoking the 1914 Constitution was promulgated under Governor Clifford. Under this Constitution, a Nigerian Legislative Council was constituted, but its jurisdiction was limited to the Southern Provinces, i.e. the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The Governor continued to be the legislative authority for the Northern half of the country. Also an executive council was established for the whole country.

The 1946 (Richard) Constitution

In 1946, Governor Arthur Richards promulgated a new Constitution which came into effect on 1st January, 1946. Prior to this Nigeria had been divided into three Regions in 1939, the Northern, Western and Eastern Regions. The following features of the 1946 Constitution are worth noting: