This film is held by the BFI (ID: 333672) and Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 638).


Government film about the opening of the Nigerian legislative council.

(Reels One and Three only viewed). The introduction provides a brief and uncritical review of progress made in Nigeria - Lagos converted from a malarial swamp, racial discrimination banished, new buildings, hospitals, railways, etc. However, much remains to be done, and Nigerians now realise that they can participate in future judgements and decisions. The film then follows the first day of the legislative council - investiture, oath of loyalty, goodwill messages, etc. The new council includes many tribal groups, and the aristocratic Northern emirs are praised for their gesture of goodwill in joining with common people in the national assembly. The legislature has an assured African majority, and represents a "real and admirable effort" to achieve a measure of self-government, whereby members can gain experience for the "great moment" when they assume complete leadership. The film ends with the Governor's address, which notes - without explaining - the absence of the elected members for Lagos, and criticises demands for immediate self-government which would produce only an inexperienced, "sham democracy". The opening of the legislature brings the steady development of the African one more peaceful step forward. Nigeria is an example to the world.



In reporting the first session of the Nigerian Legislative Council in March 1947, The Times stated that Governor Richards’ speech ‘aroused very favourable comment’ in Nigeria. However, the paper also noted – as Towards True Democracy does briefly – that three elected members from Lagos were absent. The paper explained that ‘they had previously announced that they would boycott the Council in [a] sign of protest against the present Constitution’ (The Times, 21 March 1947, 3).

The three who boycotted were Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Dr Abu Baskry Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe and Nnamdi Azikiwe, all members of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). Azikiwe (also known as Zik), the leader and a founding member, subsequently led a group of delegates from the NCNC to London in 1947 to voice their protests against the constitution to the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sklar, 2004, 61). In 1963 Azikiwe would become the first President of independent Nigeria.

The nationalist leaders objected to the constitution in part because they were not consulted before its introduction. They further argued that power ultimately remained with the British officials, as most of the chosen Africans were either Chiefs or nominees supported by the Governor. Such was the opposition to the Richards Constitution, that in 1948 the new Governor, Sir John Macpherson announced plans to revise the document. There followed in 1951 the short-lived Macpherson Constitution, which was itself replaced by the Lyttelton Constitution in 1954 (Brendon, 2007, 532-535).

In June 1947 Colonial Cinema reported the Colonial Film Unit’s widespread coverage of the Legislative Council, noting that ‘the results were of sufficient interest to warrant the film being used in news films, apart from our version’. The editorial added that ‘the importance of this event will have been recognised by any serious student of colonial affairs’, while the magazine subsequently described Towards True Democracy as ‘a most important film for all students of colonial affairs’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 26, 48). The film was shown at the University College, Ibadan on 17 June 1948, before a talk on the Richards Constitution given by the Regional Public Relations Officer (Colonial Cinema, September 1948, 59). George Pearson, Director-in-Chief of the Colonial Film Unit, also mentioned the film as one of ‘many worthwhile films’ produced by the unit in Africa in a speech at a conference on ‘The Film in Colonial Development’ at the British Film Institute in 1948 (Pearson, 1948, 22).

Rosaleen Smyth noted that Towards True Democracy was ‘made in conjunction with Western House of Assembly (1947), a record of the first session of the Assembly of the Nigerian Western Province’ and was followed by Municipal Elections, Lagos, 1950 which showed the election process. Smyth further noted that an intended film on the opening of the Gold Coast Legislative Council in 1946 did not proceed because the Governor declined a ‘request to film interiors of the opening ceremony, as he considered such a procedure undignified’ (Smyth, 1992, 168). 



Towards True Democracy emphasises the perceived developments introduced by the British in Nigeria. This is highlighted through the commentary, which contrasts modern Africa with a pre-colonial model – ‘Not very long ago instead of fine docks and harbours, good roads and bridges, there was a malaria ridden swamp’ – and also through the lengthy aerial shots of modern Lagos. British architecture and buildings are highlighted – ‘churches, hospitals, schools and offices. All fine buildings of which the people of Lagos are justly proud’ – while the voice-over reiterates the influence of the British here, stating, for example, that ‘It’s difficult to believe that there was a time when the only buildings that existed were huts of mud and sand. The African who buys his stamps at this post office is indeed a lucky man’. The ‘wonderful engineering achievement’ of Nigerian Railways represents a further ‘change from the days when the only method of travel was on foot’. 

The perceived developments stretch beyond the material and modern – ‘the ships, the motor cars, the buildings’ – as the film also highlights the role of the British in educating and ‘civilising’ the Africans. ‘Here too are people taught to be good citizens’, the commentary states, ‘and to lead a useful, intelligent life and to pass on their knowledge to their friends and countrymen so that everywhere in Nigeria there has been a change’.

This British education is presented as a move towards independence for Nigeria – ‘Africans are taught to be good doctors and nurses for themselves’ – and the establishment of the legislative council represents a further move towards self-government. The commentator notes that ‘Nigeria is taking a long stride in the direction of self-government with the establishment of this new constitution’, but this is presented as a gradual step (a ‘steady development’). The commentator explains, over the lengthy, uninterrupted film inside the council, that this is an opportunity ‘to learn and gain experience so that when the great moment comes to assume complete leadership they will be all the wiser’, while earlier, the commentator refers to the ‘great task … [of] … training Nigeria to take her place in the world as an independent power’.

The film, in acknowledging a move towards self-government, indirectly responds to the criticisms labelled at the British administration, but there are few direct references to this opposition. The commentator does briefly mention the elected members from Lagos ‘who do not see fit to appear’ and, states that the Governor was ‘aware of the claims of some Nigerians for immediate self-government’. However, the Governor contends that the Africans are ‘as yet inexperienced in positions of authority’ and to transfer power to ‘untried hands’ would produce a ‘sham democracy’.

For the most part then, the film presents a united Nigeria, positioned within the Empire. It highlights the role of Nigeria within the war – ‘Lagos has its war memorial too. For Nigeria has played its part in two world wars. Here, in peace as in war, African and European people work side by side towards a common goal’ – and later shows the Nigerian regiment ‘which played its part valiantly with the Allies during the war’. In highlighting the unity between Africans and Europeans, the film repeatedly emphasises that ‘racial discrimination is a thing of the past’. The hospitals are ‘open to anyone of whatever race’. It highlights the Africans represented within the council, noting that the clerk is ‘himself an African’ and quoting the Governor who states that the ‘Nigerian government was entirely opposed to racial discrimination in any form’. The film acknowledges the issue of racial discrimination, but, in discussing the Africans and Europeans, it does not consider the equally prominent divisions within a Nigerian society, divided by class and in particular by region. Instead Towards True Democracy seeks to highlight the ongoing role of the British within Nigeria, providing a mouthpiece for the Governor and ultimately a historical record of a short-lived, unpopular constitution.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Brendon, Piers, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781 – 1997 (London: Jonathan Cape, 2007).

Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 26, 48.

Colonial Cinema, September 1948, 59.

Pearson, George, ‘The Making of Films For Illiterates in Africa’, from The Film in Colonial Development: A Report of a Conference (BFI, 1948), 22- 27.

Sklar, Richard L., Nigerian Political Parties: Power in an Emergent African Nation (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 2004).

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The Post-War Career of the Colonial Film Unit in Africa: 1946-1955’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 12, No.2, 1992, 163- 177.

‘Nigeria Under the New Constitution’, The Times, 21 March 1947, 3. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
20 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1757 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Central Office of Information
Production company
Colonial Film Unit





Production Organisations