Arms of Government: Functions of the Three Arms of Government

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:

  1. The legislature
  2. Judiciary and
  3. 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. Basically, the legislature is given the function of making laws in the country. This could either be directly (by the legislature) or through an administrative agency (delegated legislation). You may want to see the rationale for delegated legislation HERE.

functions of the arms of government

functions of the arms of government

The executive is the arm of government which is responsible for executing laws or any government policy. In a federal system, the executive play a very important role. In fact, it is seems like the executive has more power than any other arm of government because officers in the executive arm of government are more closer to the people.

Lastly, the judiciary is the last and most essential arm of government. The judiciary interprets the law. In most countries, the judiciary is seen as the “last hope of the common man” because it has the power to settle dispute between citizens and even between a government authority and a citizen. This is why the judiciary is unusually granted independence both financially and otherwise. The judiciary also has the power to declare any law made by the legislature null and void for any reason. Indeed, this are of government play a very crucial role in a federal and democratic state.

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.

So, if you are a student and you do not know what the organs of government are, this is the best article to learn that online. Today, i will explain the constitutional Powers of the various arms or organs of the government and their respective functions. Here we go!

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 three organs of government:

Functions of the legislature

Organs of government and functions bscholarly.com

Organs of government and functions bscholarly.com

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

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.

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 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.

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Functions of the executive arm of government

powers of the organs of the government

powers of the organs of the government

In Nigeria, executive powers of the country are vested in the President who, subject to the provision of the constitution and any law made by the National Assembly, may exercise such power either directly himself or through the Vice President, Ministers of the Government of the Federation; and other officers in the public service of the Federation.

According to 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

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.

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.

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.

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Functions of the Judicial arm of government

powers of the organs of the government

powers of the organs of the 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:

  1. All inherent power and sanctions of a court of law
  2. 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.

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Conclusion

So far I have comprehensive discussed the three organs of the government and their various functions. I must point out again that the division of political powers and functions is one of the important features of federalism. As the arms of government are forced to work independently, it helps to ensure that government powers are not abused by the leaders. Thus, there will be accountability and efficiency in governance.

Hope this article was helpful? If you still have any question or contribution concerning the functions of the three arms of government kindly send them to me via the comment section. I will be glad to put you through.

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