Meaning and Functions of the Arms of government: Just as humans can not do anything without the various parts of the body, the government cannot perform its functions without its arms. In every country with a sovereign government, these arms are essential for the effectiveness of the government. However, in some situations, the powers given to the Arms of the government can be fused depending on the system of government practiced by the people. For example, Separation of powers provides that the Arms of government should be separated so as to ensure effectiveness.
That notwithstanding, this article tries to comprehensively explain the various arms of government and their functions. In this article, we will be making examples using both the law of the United States and the constitution of Nigeria to point out the powers given to the Arms.
I therefore encourage you to read to the end as I take you through the meaning and functions of the various arms of government.
Meaning of the Arms of government
The Legislature: The legislature means the power legislate or make laws. It is the body or organ of government that has been given the responsibility of making laws in a nation. The legislative power of the government in Nigeria is vested in the National Assembly.
It is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The National Assembly makes laws for the whole country.
Its laws are binding to all individuals and organizations in the country. It is important to also note that laws made by the National Assembly are superior to the laws made by the State governments. Apart from making laws, the National Assembly debates and deliberates on other important matters affecting the country and takes appreciate decision on them. There are two leaders in the National Assembly namely – the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representative.
The members of the National Assembly (i.e The Senate and the House of Representatives are the direct Representatives of the people.
The Executive: The executive means the power to execute or carry out laws. It is the branch of government which executes or carries out laws of the government at every level. In Nigeria, Powers of the executive are vested in the hands of the president and governors of state. The president/governor has other people who work with him in discharging his executive duties.
These people includes; the vice president, ministers and the civil service. They carry out laws made by the legislative branch called the National Assembly or Hose of Assembly, as the case may be. They also enforce the terms of the Constitution. Among other things, the president/governor makes important appointments too.
He appoints the Ministers, Heads of Statutory corporation, Judges of the High Court, the president and Justice of the federal Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice of the Federation and Justices of the Federal Supreme Court and other top positions in the Federation. He also determines the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the government.
The Judiciary: Judicial Powers means the power to interpret laws and pass judgement according to the law. The judicial powers of the Government is vested in the courts. This arm of government is given the responsibility of interpreting the Constitution, and laws made by the legislative arm of government.
They determine how the law affect individuals, corporations and the government itself. They also try suspect and if found guilty may sentence them to fines, improvement, or death depending on the nature of the offence or crime committed.
The judiciary also determine the civil Rights and obligation of individuals within the laws. In Nigeria, the people handling judicial powers are the Chief Justice of the Federation (who is the head of the Judiciary), president of the Court of Appeal, Justice of the Court of Appeal, Chief Judge, Judges of the High Court etc.
Also read: characteristics of the judiciary in a nation
But it does not end there! Aside from the basic functions I just explained above, the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary has many more functions they perform that are given to them by the constitution. In this article, I will explain the functions of the three arms of government using the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
The video above contains a comprehensive explanation of the arms of government and their functions. You can watch it for more information
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Functions of the Three Arms of Government
Below are the powers and functions of the 3 organs of government:
Functions of the legislature:
The 1999 constitution of Nigeria provides that the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is vested in the National Assembly; which consist of the Senate and House of Representatives. The National assembly is constitutionally given the function to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation; or any matter contained in:
- Exclusive legislative list
- Current legislative list, and;
- Any other matter with respect to which the National Assembly is empowered to make law in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
If a law enacted by the House of Assembly of a state is inconsistent with any law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail and that other law made by a State House of Assembly shall to the extent of its inconsistency be void. This is in accordance with the doctrine of covering the field.
The legislative powers of any state in Nigeria is vested in the House of Assembly of that state. The House of Assembly of a state has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the state; or any part thereof with respect to:
- Any matter in the concurrent legislative List
- Any matter in the Residual Legislative List; and
- And other matters with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
The exercise of legislative powers by the National Assembly; or House of Assembly of a state shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the court of law and Tribunal established by law.
In performing their law making function, the constitution provides that the National Assembly or House of Assembly of a state shall not enact any law that oust or purports to oust the jurisdiction of a court of law or of a tribunal established by law.
Furthermore, the National Assembly or House of Assembly shall not with respect to any criminal offence whatsoever, have power to make any law which shall have retrospective effect, that is, retroactive effect.
Other functions of the legislature
1. Deliberative Functions: As the law making arm of the government the legislature has the function to deliberate on any matter or law before it comes into effect in the country. Take for instance, before a bill is passed into law in Nigeria, the legislature must deliberate on the effects of that bill very thoroughly.
This function is very important because when matters are not properly deliberated on before they come into effect, the citizens will suffer more.
2. Control over the executive: Another important function of the executive is the control of the executive. This is done through checks and balances.
You will see, as we continue, that when the executive wants to perform most of its functions, the consent of the legislature must be given. The reason why it is so, is to ensure that the executive does not go ahead to act in such a way that the rights of citizens are affected.
3. Oversight Functions: Oversight function is one of the functions of the legislature that everyone must know. It is provided for in Sections 82-89 and 120-128 of the constitution of Nigeria. This function of the legislature is to supervise and check the activities of the executive arm of government so as to avoid dictatorship in government.
If you need more explanation on this function, i enjoin you to read Sections 82-89 and 120-128 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.
Functions of the executive arm of government
As explained earlier, the executive powers of the government are vested in the President. Accordingto the constitution of Nigeria, the function of the executive extends to:
- The execution or implementation of the provisions of the constitution
- The maintenance and defence of the constitution and
- Execution of all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has for time being power to make laws.
The law also provides that the executive powers of the state shall be vested in the Governor of that state, and the powers may subject to the provisions of any law made by the House of Assembly, be exercised either directly by him or through the Deputy-Governor, commissioners of the Government of that state; and otherwise officers in the public service of the state.
The power of the Governor shall power to:
- The execution or implementation of the provisions of the constitution
- The execution and defence of the constitution; and
- Execution of all matters with respect to which the House of Assembly of a state has for the time being power to make laws.
However, the powers vested In a State shall not be exercised so as to:
- Impade or prejudice the exercise of the executive powers of the Federation
- Endanger any asset or investment of the Government of the Federation in that state; or
- Endanger the continuance of a Federal Government in Nigeria.
More so, in performing its executive function, the president shall not declare a state of war between Nigeria and any other country, except with the approval of resolution of the legislature. This is as privided in the constitution of Nigeria.
Accordingly, except with the prior approval of the Sanate, no member of the Armed Force of the Federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria.
A critical analysis of the functions of the executive arm of government will show that almost all the functions of the executive must be done with approval by the legislature. This is how the principle of checks and balances comes into play.
Other functions of the executive:
1. Appointment-making: Aside from executing laws and policies made by the legislature, the executive organ of government also has the power to appoint ministers for the different sectors of the country. In Nigeria, persons who are appointed by the executive (that is, the president or governor) must be approved by the legislature first.
2. Treaty-making: Apparently, the executive arm of government is also responsible for making Treaties that concerns the country. In signing international treaties into a domestic law, the executive play a very important role.
3. Defences, War and Peace: The executive arm of government is also given the function to defend the country in time of war. This is done by equipping all the security agencies in the country. The law also makes it discretionary for the executive to declare war or a state of emergency in any state in the country. However, this is subject to the approval of the senate.
Functions of the Judicial arm of government
1. Interpretation of Laws: While it’s the function of the legislature to make law, the executive to implement law, the judiciary is responsible for the interpretation of Law.
The judiciary exercises this function through the court. For instance, where there is any doubt with regards to the meaning of any part of the constitution, statute, or any law in force, the judiciary through the various methods of statutory interpretation interprets such law, and the intent of the legislature while making such law.
In the case of Obafemi Awolowo v Federal minister of internal affairs, the court was faced with interpreting Section 21(5)(c) of the constitution of the federation which provides that an accused person is entitled to defend himself in person or by a legal representative of his own choice. The court in interpreting this provision of the law held that it means that where a person chooses a legal representative outside Nigeria, such person must be one who could enter Nigeria as of right.
Settlement of disputes: The judiciary through the court settles disputes which arise between individuals, government, and communities. These disputes are usually brought by way of originating processes before the court, and it is therefore the function of the court to give a fair hearing to both parties and settle such dispute in line with the provision of the law.
2. Punishment of Lawbreakers: The judiciary seeks to uphold the common doctrine of peace, order and good governance. Hence, where a person is in breach of peace, order or any law in the land, and such a person is tried before the court and found guilty as charged, it is the duty of the court to punish such person in line with the penalty prescribed by the law for such offence committed.
3. Judicial review: Judicial review is the power of the courts to examine the actions of the legislature, executive, and other governmental authorities, and determine whether such action is constitutional. Where such action is unconstitutional or doesn’t comply with law, the court shall declare it null and void.
For example, in the case of Attorney general Ondo state v Attorney general federation& 35 ors, the Supreme court declared Section 26(3) and section 35 of the independent corrupt practices and other related offences act 2010 unconstitutional, null and void.
4. Custodian of fundamental human rights: The judiciary functions as the custodian of the fundamental rights of every citizen, as it seeks to ensure that every citizen enjoy his or her right and where there is a breach thereof, such citizen can seek redress in court and punishment will be meted to the offender.
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In conclusion, we have comprehensive discussed the three organs of the government and their various functions. Hope this article was helpful? If you still have any question or contribution concerning the functions of the 3 arms of government kindly send them to me via the comment section. I will be glad to put you through.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ChMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.