Three Branches of Government: Their Structures, Features & Functions

Structures and Organs of Government

What is Government? It refers to those machineries through which the will of the State is formulated, expressed, and implemented. There are 3 basic organs of government, they are: the executive, the legislature, and the hudiciary.

Need for Government

Humanity will find it extremely difficult to exist and go about their normal business without organization backed up by rules. A society without rules will be in a state of what Thomas Hobbes called "state of nature". This is because, according to Hobbes, man is by nature selfish, moved to action not by reason but by appetites, desires, and passions. Without rules, it will mean the absence of law and justice.

Apart from the above justification for government, it is argued that men fear social isolation and the responsibilities of independence. This is why men must form groups in order to escape from the tensions and demands of individual freedom and autonomy.

Government is therefore a power and a device above society that exists to provide and protect individual rights and property. The government, as stated earlier in Chapter 1, is an agent of the state. Individuals are agents of government. It could therefore be the body of those individuals who make and enforce laws in a given group or society.

It must be noted above all that the word government is a mental construction aimed at describing the organization of human beings under certain rules voluntarily created. These rules bind them together and help them work collectively to achieve unity in the organization.

The government has organs such as the legislature, executive, and judiciary. These organs could also mean the government. These organs of the civil service could also mean government.

The 3 Organs of Government

In every democratic political system, there are three organs of government. These organs are the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.

1. The Legislature

The primary duty of the legislature is to make laws for the country. The legislature in Nigeria is also called the parliament. It is made up of the President, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. In Britain, the legislature is also called the parliament. It is also made up of the Queen, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

Functions of the Legislature

  • Law-making: The primary function of the legislature is to make laws for the country.
  • Amendment of the Constitution: The legislature amends the constitution in every country. Whether such a constitution is rigid or flexible, it is still the function of the legislature to effect the necessary amendment.
  • Control of the Executive: The legislature controls all the executive actions. It also creates government departments and ministries and supervises the activities of government departments. The executive action can come under questioning in parliament. This is done during question time. Question time is a forum to air grievances about the executive.
  • Control of Finance and Public Expenditure: The legislature approves annual budgets. The money being spent by the government is public money. The legislature, being the representatives of the people, has to approve any money raised or spent by the government or the executive.
  • Expression of Grievances: The forum created by the legislature enables the people's representatives to air their political grievances and other matters of public interest. It enables honorable members to debate and criticize policies made by the government. The problems of the citizens, the electorate, are brought for government consideration, too.
  • Training Ground: The legislature provides a training ground for the practice of politics. Although today in Nigeria, there is a center for democratic studies that helps to train elected members of the legislature, In the legislature, there are practical political activities.
  • Final Court of Appeal: In Britain, the House of Lords (which is equivalent to the Senate in Nigeria) is the final court of appeal.
  • Control of Other Arms of Government: The legislature controls other organs of government. This control is exercised through the removal of judges. It can also impeach the head of state. This is especially the case in a presidential system of government. In a cabinet or parliamentary system of government, the executive could be removed by the legislature through a vote of no confidence. In that case, the entire executive team will resign.

Apart from this form of control, the legislature exercises supervision and control over government agencies, such as public corporations. It also approves appointments to top and important government posts. It can probe the activities of government departments and institutions. Finally, through the legislature, the electorate participates in the running of the government.

2. The Executive

The executive could be described as that branch of government responsible for planning, initiating, and executing the laws of the state. It could also be seen (especially in the Nigerian context) as the person or group of persons charged with the responsibility of inspiring and guiding, which could lead the nation into a period of socio-political and economic transformation.

Types of Executive

There are two types of executives. One is found in the parliamentary or cabinet system of government. The other is found in the presidential system of government. In the parliamentary cabinet system, the executive is made up of the prime minister and his ministers.

In the presidential system, the executive is made up of the president and his ministers. Broadly speaking, the executive is made up of all those officials that carry out the will of the state. These include policemen, clerks, typists, and messengers, whether in parliamentary or presidential systems of government.

Single Executive

The single executive could be likened to the type obtainable in the presidential system of government. In this type of executive, final control of executive powers rests with one individual. This was the case with Shagari's regime in Nigeria's Second Republic. It is also the same with the President of the United States of America.

The president of a single executive system has ministers who are named by him. He has political power over the ministers. These ministers are also dependent on him. They act as his advisers and agents. They are not colleagues.

Advantages of a Single Executive

One major advantage of the single executive system is that government decisions are fast. There is singleness of purpose and unity of action. In crisis situations, when quick decisions and unity of control are required, a single executive becomes a major advantage.

Disadvantages of a Single Executive

  • A single executive can create room for dictatorship.
  • The wisdom of one single executive can hardly be complete.
  • The single executive can easily encroach on the rights of the individual.

Plural Executive

In a plural executive, there is a federal council in charge of the government and administration of the state. The president is the chairman of the council; the other members are his colleagues. They are not his agents or advisers, as found in the single executive system. Any act by the executive is regarded as the act of the council as one body and not that of the president.

Advantages of the Plural Executive

  • It is made up of men of integrity and abundant experience. The collective experience of five wise men is better than the wisdom of one man.
  • The executive finds it difficult to encroach on the rights of citizens.
  • The system prevents one man from turning himself into a dictator.

Disadvantages of the Plural Executive System

  • Plural executive impairs unity
  • In periods of emergency, quick decisions might be difficult to take.

Parliamentary Executive

This is the type of system in which the executive is chosen by the parliament. An example of such a country is Great Britain. The executive continues to be in office so long as it enjoys the confidence of the parliament.

Advantages of Parliamentary Executive

  • It ensures unity and cooperation between the executive and legislature. This makes for efficient administration. In the administrative process, members of the executive team acquire a lot of experience. This experience helps make laws passed by the legislature more realistic than they would have been.
  • The executive brings the ministry into contact with the opposition. In this way, it contributes to the efficiency of the administration.
  • It makes an administration less despotic and more responsive to public opinion. If the executive loses the confidence of the parliament, this could lead to their resignation. As such, the executive tries to avoid exercising arbitrary powers.
  • It provides fertile ground for the initiative and training of the executives.

Disadvantages of the Parliamentary Executive

  • Uncertainty of Tenure: The parliamentary executive could be removed from office at any time through a vote of no confidence. This is especially the case when the dominant party is not well organized.
  • Lack of Full Attention to Primary Duties: Because of their involvement in parliamentary work, ministers are likely to be distracted from their executive duties. This was the case with France under the Third Republic.
  • Ministers are only chosen by the members of the dominant party in parliament. This creates room to appoint people who are not the best qualified and whose only qualification is that they are members of the ruling party.
  • Where the executive and the parliament disagree over a major policy, this could lead to the dissolution of the House of Representatives or the House of Commons, as in Britain, or the resignation of the executive. This kind of situation does not augur well for political stability.

Functions of the Chief Executive

The president, as a chief executive, is often described as a man with many hats. In the presidential system of government as we have in Nigeria, the president is elected independent of the legislature. The president, as the chief executive, performs the following functions:

Head of State

In Nigeria's political system, the president acts as the spokesman for the Nigerian people and government. He performs ceremonial activities such as cutting tape and ribbons and receiving foreign heads of state visiting the country. He issues accreditation letters to ambassadors posted to this country and entertains the diplomatic corps. He also represents his country at important international conferences.

Head of Government and Administration

The head of government could be a president, prime minister, or chancellor. Here we are concerned with the president as the head of government. Here, it is the function of the chief executive to implement legislative decisions and enforce court orders. The president supervises and coordinates the activities of all the federal ministries.

Party Leader

In Nigeria's Second and Third Republics, the president was the leader of his party. He participates in raising campaign funds. He helps in campaigning for his party candidates at local, state, and national offices. He participates in all important activities of his party, including the formation of party legislative programs.

Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces

The president is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. He has the right to deploy the Armed Forces unilaterally when the country's national security is threatened. President Kennedy of the United States acted in this capacity when he imposed a naval blockade to prevent the former Soviet Union from deploying missile silos in Cuba—the Cuban missile crisis.

Chief Policymaker and Diplomat

In some cases, the president can enter into executive negotiations with foreign nations without the approval of the parliament. For example, President Nixon went to the People's Republic of China to negotiate with Chou En-Lai without the approval of Congress. When De Gualle decided to open trade relations with Mainland China, he did so unilaterally without consulting the legislature.

The president appoints all federal judges and legal officers. He also appoints ministers and diplomatic officers, the upper strata of management personnel in the federal departments, agencies, offices, bureaus, and divisions. The power to make major appointments is one of the strongest instruments in the hands of the president. With this instrument, he can even more effectively control his party members. This is because he is in a position to give or not to give.

Chief Lawmaker

The president has considerable law-making powers. This law-making power is manifested at times in creating new offices or even ministries. He can also declare a state of emergency in a troubled territory.

In early June 1991, the president of Algeria declared a state of siege in the country, dismissed the government, and postponed the general election. Sometimes the rulings of the legislature could create rooms for the president to maneuver. Such a room creates discretionary powers to dispense. He could suggest to the legislature during the budget speech programs and laws that he feels need urgent enactment and which he may consider to be in the best interest of the administration.

For example, in the U.S., during Kennedy's administration, he asked the Congress for civil rights legislation and tax reductions. President Nixon asked for national welfare programs and federal revenue sharing with states. It is always difficult to refuse a request by the president if he is popular with the people. The president, armed with veto power, can dangle it with the view of making the legislature frame a law to his liking. This threat of using vetoes often works.

3. Judiciary

This is the organ of government charged with the duty of law interpretation. To add, there is no better test of the excellence of a government than the efficiency of its judicial system. In a state where the citizens have confidence in the judiciary, there is a feeling of security. The role of the judiciary touches so much on the life and welfare of the citizen. Therefore, it requires that men of proven honesty and integrity be appointed as judges.

In some countries, the judiciary is appointed by the executive. Examples of such countries are Britain, the United States of America, Canada, France, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, and India. In countries such as the former U.S.S.R. and Switzerland, the members of the judiciary are elected by the legislature. In some Swiss cantons and American states, the members of the judiciary are elected by the people.

Functions of the Judiciary

  • Protection of the constitution: The judiciary upholds or protects the constitution of a country. To achieve this, it strikes down laws that violate the terms of the constitution.
  • Interpretation of the constitution: The judiciary interprets the Constitution. The legislature can call on the judiciary to give an opinion on a proposed law's constitutionality. If a law violates the constitution of the land, the judiciary can declare it null and void.
  • Law interpretation: The judiciary interprets the law made by the legislature. The final word on what a law is comes from the court.

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