Arms of Government in Nigeria: Executive, Legislature & Judiciary

1. The Legislature

The legislature is the arm or organ of government that makes laws and acts as a check on the executive amongst other functions. It is a body of elected representatives of the people. Another name for the legislature is the parliament.

In Nigeria, it is called the National Assembly; it is made up of the senate and House of Representatives.

Types Of Legislature

  • Unicameral legislature
  • Bicameral legislature

Unicameral legislature refers to the type of legislature where there is only one house or body that makes laws for the country with members elected directly by the electorates. Countries like China, Sierra-Leone, Israel, Turkey, Denmark, New Zealand, Spain, Gambia, Kenya etc. have unicameral legislature.

Bicameral legislature is a type of legislature with two (2) chambers or houses, one is called the lower house and the other is called the upper house. In Nigeria, the lower house is called the House of Representatives and the upper house is called the senate.

Functions of The Legislature

Law Making: The primary function of the legislature is to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the nation.

Amendment of the Constitution: It is the duty of the legislature to amend the constitution whenever it is deemed necessary.

Approval of Executive Nominees: The senate which is the upper chamber of the national assembly has the executive powers of confirming presidential appointment in top offices such as Ministers, Ambassadors or Special Advisers, Chief Justice of the Federation, etc.

Control of Public Expenditure: The legislature control and approves the proposed financial expenditure of the executive arm.

Impeachment of the Chief Executives: In a presidential system of government, the president or vice president can be impeached by legislature for gross- misconduct in the performance of their functions. While in a parliamentary system, the prime minister and his cabinet can be removed through a vote of no confidence by parliamentary.

2. The Executive Arm of Government

In a general sense, the executive is that branch of government which gives effect to the will of state by carrying out or executing the law of the land. A chief executive is invested with the executive powers and assisted by subordinate departments or ministries responsible to him that carry out specific areas of law and policy.

We must recognize that in the modern states, those officials generally called “Executives” perform two distinct principal roles. The first is that of “chief of state”, acting as the nation’s official ceremonial head and spokesman for its whole people. The second is that of “Head of Government”, acting as the leader of the office holders who propose, direct and enforce the nation’s public policies. In a parliamentary system of government, each role is performed by a distinctly different official or groups of officials, whereas in the presidential system both are performed by the same official.

Growth of Executive Powers

In recent years, the powers and functions of the executives world-wide have continued to grow. This is true in the parliamentary as well as in presidential system. Thus, because of the enormous growth in the executive power, the American President has been described as “the great engine probably the most important of democracy and governmental institutions in the world. Also, Richard Crossman, a political scientist, claims that Britain no longer has cabinet government at all but is really under “prime ministerial government. He argues that the powers of the legislature have not only declined vis-a-vis the cabinet but also that the powers of the latter have sharply declined vis-a-vis the prime minister, who is no longer primus inter pares as thes theory would have it, but actually the boss.

The executive is the organ of government responsible for implementation, execution or enforcement of law, policies and directives made by the legislature. The executive arm in Nigeria is composed of the President, Ministers, Special Assistants and the Civil Service, likewise the state and local government levels.

Functions of the Executive

The main functions of the executive are trychotomously classified as fallows.

  • The administrative factions.
  • The legislative functions.
  • The judicial functions.

Administrative Functions

  • The executive maintains foreign relations and signs treaties with foreign countries.
  • The executive initiate, control and coordinate the administration of the state, i.e recruitment and discipline of the civil servants, creation of employment etc.
  • It appoints and removes cabinet members including chief Justice of the federation.
  • The executive prepares the budget of the country every financial year.
  • The executive formulate policies that guide the administration of the state.

Legislative Function

  • The executive initiates and submit bills to the legislature for consideration and passage into law
  • The chief executive gives assent to bills before they can become law
  • In a presidential system, the president can veto any bill brought before him for his assent, which he does not support.

Judicial Function

The executive through the powers granted to it by the constitution performs judicial function of pardoning people convicted of criminal offence. It may also reduce the sentence passed against a convict.

Reasons for the Growing Concentration of Powers in the Executive

  • The growth of disciplined party system. The chief executive is normally the party leader and exercises considerable influence over the legislature. Political parties spell out the basic policy lines a government will follow and assume a particular policy line by putting their people or trusted allies into cabinet and important administrative positions.
  • The growing number and complexity of governmental policies and problems.
  • National emergencies, real or imagined, that bring quick extensive increases in executive powers.
  • The nature of modern government is such that leadership, continuous, concentrated and coordinating, adequately informed and equipped, is virtually necessary.

3. The Judiciary

The judiciary is the third arm of government that is responsible for the interpretation and application of laws and citizens, the trial of cases involving individuals, organizations and the state. The judiciary acts as the watchdog of the law by making sure the laws made are obeyed and those who refuse to obey the laws are severely punished.

Functions of the Judiciary

  • The overall function of the judiciary is to interpret laws made by the legislature.
  • Settlement of disputes between citizens and citizens, and between citizens and the government
  • The judiciary interprets the constitution and protects it against violation. It can declare as null and void or unconstitutional any law passed by the legislature which does not conform to the constitution
  • Determination of election petition. This is done in order to ascertain the offenders.
  • Ensures that other organs do not exceed their powers and interfere in the work of one another.

The Doctrine of Separation of Power

The principle of separation of power was popularized by a French political thinker and Jurist Baron de Montesquieu in his book titled: “Espirit des Lois” which means the spirit of law published in 1748. Montesquieu said that political liberty can only be preserved if there is abuse of power.

Every man invested with power is liable to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as he will go. He argued that if the rights, liberty and freedom of the citizens are to be maintained and guaranteed, then the three organs or arms of government must be separated and entrusted to different people to administer. His concern arose from the experience that, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That there will be chaos, violence, dictatorship, tyranny and victimization if there is no separation of powers.

The Doctrine of Check and Balances

The theory of checks and balance states that there should be mutual checks on the activities and excesses of the various organs. The aim of this is to avoid a too powerful and domination of the other organs. In this regard, members of the legislature act as a check on the activities of the executives and judiciary. The judiciary also acts as a check so that the constitutional provisions are not violated by the executive or legislative organs of government. The executive and legislative organs both check the Judiciary to avoid abuse.

Checks and balances therefore represent the process whereby each organ of government acts as a check or watchdog on the other. This prevents government from becoming autocratic and helps to protect and promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by the citizens.

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