Have you ever wondered how the organs of government perform their functions? Do you know what the functions of the arms of government are? Don’t worry if you do not have an answer to any of those questions. In this article, i will carefully examine the functions of the three arms of government with legal backups.
One of the features of federalism is separation of powers. This theory was propounded by Montesquieu in his book “spirit of the law“. Separation of powers postulates that political powers should to be shared between the arms of the government. The reason is to avoid dictatorship and to bring about an accountable and effective government in every country practicing federalism. These arms of government include:
- The legislature
- Judiciary and
- Executive arm of government.
In the constitution of Nigeria, the powers and functions of these arms of the government are provided for in section 4, 5 and 6.
Meaning of 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.
Meaning of 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.
Meaning of 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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
The judicial power of a state is vested in the court established for a state by the constitution and by such laws that the National Assembly or House of Assembly of the State may pass. This means that the legislature (i.e the National Assembly or House of Assembly) is responsible for creating court for various states in the country.
The courts established by the constitution of Nigeria are as follows:
- Supreme Court
- Court of Appeal
- The Federal High Court
- High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
- Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
- Customary court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja
In addition, the National Assembly is empowered by the constitution to establish any other court with jurisdiction subordinate to High Court. The courts establish by the constitution of a state are:
- The High Court of state
- The Sharia Court of Appeal of a state; and
- Customary court of Appeal of a state
The functions of the above courts include:
- All inherent power and sanctions of a court of law
- All matters between persons, government and authorities for the determination of any question as the civil right and obligations of the parties. However, except as otherwise provided by the constitution, any issue or question as to any act or omission by any authority, person, law, or whether a judicial decision is in conformity with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive principles of state politics set out in chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.
Above are the fundamental functions of the judiciary in the federation.
- Rationale behind delegated legislation
- Read the case of Smith v Selwyn: Facts, Issues and decision of the court
- See the problems of federalism in Nigeria
- Characteristic and features a good constitution
- Disadvantages and problems of delegated legislation
So far, 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.