October 30, 2020
clifford constitution ghana

Features and Weaknesses of the Clifford Constitution in Ghana

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Below is another way WAEC examiners may present a WASSCE Government question about the features (and shortcomings or weaknesses) of the Clifford Constitution in Ghana.

What were the composition and functions of the executive and legislative councils of the British colonial administration in Ghana up to 1925?

Here are two reasons why WAEC will sometimes vary a WASSCE Government question about the features of the Clifford constitution of 1916 in Ghana.

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First, the 1916 Governor Clifford constitution happens to be the first significant constitutional reform since the introduction of colonial rule in the Gold Coast.

Therefore, the Gordon Guggisberg constitution of 1925 became the next major constitutional development especially in the wake of the proto-nationalist movement in the Gold Coast (Ghana).

That is why the question on the features and weaknesses of the Clifford constitution could come in this other way.

The second reason is that a direct question about the features of the Clifford constitution has become too predictable.

Too much repetition of questions that directly reflect what is in the textbook tends to promote rote learning. The examiners at the West African Examinations Council frown upon this.

They want questions that will challenge the minds of senior high school students. WAEC has a duty to make the examination promote creative and analytical thinking in students.   


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Without further ado, let’s get down to the business at hand.

What you will find in this post

I will begin to identify the features of the Clifford constitution in the Gold Coast (Ghana) with a simple, easy-to-remember summary of the features and weaknesses of the 1916 Clifford constitution. 

After this, I will give you a more elaborate answer to the question.

Below are the key points you need to know about the composition of the Legislative Council and the Executive Council under the Clifford constitution.

Remember that these features of the Clifford constitution would change only when Governor Guggisberg introduced a new constitution in the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1925.

Legislative Council – Composition

  1. Membership: 21 in all.
  2. Official members ( i.e. Colonial government officials nominated by the governor) = 11.
  3. Unofficial members = 9

  →Europeans = 3

       →Paramount chiefs =3

       → Educated Africans = 3

They were all nominated by the governor.

Governor (president)

Functions of the Legislative Council

1. Passage of laws

2. Discussion and approval of the budget

3. Deliberations on the people’s grievances

Executive Council – Composition

  1. Membership = 6 official members only.

→the Governor (president)

       →British officials =5 (Attorney General, Financial Secretary, Colonial Secretary, Director of Medical Services and Army Commander.)

Functions of the Executive Council

1. Advised the governor

2. Assisted the governor to formulate and implement policies

Let’s now have an outline of the weaknesses/shortcoming or demerits of the Clifford Constitution of 1916.


1. Limited representation of Africans in the legislative council

2. Membership was non-elective and therefore undemocratic.

3. There were no Africans in the executive council.

4. Members of the Legislative council were not accountable to the people, but to the Governor.

5. It excluded Ashanti and the Northern Territories.

6. The veto power the governor exercised effectively made him a constitutional dictator.

Expanded Points for the Essay

I want to show you how, in practical terms, your WASSCE Government essay must sound and look like. You can ignore the headings when you’re writing the essay.


Firstly, the Clifford constitution provided for the position of Governor who presided over both the Executive and Legislative Councils

Secondly, it provided for a Legislative Council of 21 members including the governor. There were 11 official and 9 unofficial members. The officials included all the members of the executive council. The breakdown of the 9 unofficial members was as follows:

Three Europeans representing commercial and business interests namely mining, banking and so on.

Three paramount chiefs and three educated Africans.

The constitution thus made provision for the representation of traditional rulers and the educated elite or the intelligentsia in the legislative council.

Finally, the 1916 constitution of Ghana (Gold Coast) provided for an Executive Council

The Executive Council consisted of six European officials including the Governor.

The other five officials were the Attorney General, the Financial Secretary, the Colonial Secretary, the Director of Medical Services and the Army Commander.


In this part of the essay, we shall take a closer look at the weaknesses of the Clifford Constitution in the Gold Coast (GHANA).

You may also meet a WASSCE Governemnt question like this:

What were the major criticisms of the 1916 Clifford Constitution in Ghana?

It is important to note that these shortcomings gave impetus to the activities of proto-nationalist groups like the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA).

Let’s continue with the essay.

One major weakness of the constitution was that it failed to provide for the elective principle.

In other words, no member of the Legislative Council was elected by Africans through the ballot box.

It therefore failed to meet the people’s clamour for democratic reforms at the time.

Also, there was no African representation in the Executive Council. This was also undemocratic since it was the body that formulated policy to govern Africans.

Thirdly, the legislative council was dominated by European officials. This meant that the colonial authorities could pass any law they wanted regardless of any opposition from the handful of African members.

Another shortcoming of the Clifford Constitution is that all official and unofficial members in the legislative council were nominated by the governor.

Clearly, this provision made them accountable to the governor rather than to the people.

The nationalists further criticized the constitution for making it possible for the governor to exercise veto power.

By this power, he could override the opinion of the entire legislative council. This clearly made the governor a dictator.

Above all, the constitution was discriminatory. Its cope of application was limited to the colony only. All other areas outside the colony such as Ashanti and the Northern Territories were administered through proclamation


The above weaknesses of the 1916 Clifford constitution in Ghana served as a key motivating factor for the rise in proto-nationalism.

The National Congress of British West Africa, a prominent protest movement, was, for example, a product of these constitutional developments at the time.

Thank you.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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