Presidential system of government is defined as one in which the head of state of a country is also the head of government. It is a system in which all executive powers are vested in one person with the title of the executive president.
The constitution of a presidential system of government is supreme and has succeeded in depositing the offices of the head of state and government in the executive president. For example, in Nigeria’s Second Republic of 1979/ 83, President Shehu Shagari was both the Head of State and Government of Nigeria, exercising executive powers within the system.
He was also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and the police force. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that ushered in the Third Republic also gave the same powers to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The whole country is the president’s constituency and he is popularly elected by the electorate. To assist is a vice president to whom he can delegate some of his duties. The principle of separation of powers among the three organs of government; executive, legislature and judiciary, is strictly adhered to in this system. The United States of America is a good example of a country wholly committed to presidential system.
Functions and Powers of the President as head of state
- Assent: He has the power to sign a bill into law. He can however, refuse signing a bill, if it has some anomalies, until they are corrected or nomalised by the two Houses.
- Visitors: He receives visitors from other parts of the world.
- International conferences: He represents the country at international conferences, e.g. U.N.O and A.U.
- Ceremonial functions: He also represents the country at some events like fund raising, taking salute at parade grounds, independence day celebrations etc.
The functions of the President as head of government
- Head of state and government: The Executive President is both Head of state and government.
- Departments of government: He controls the civil service, agencies and departments of government.
- Advisers: He appoints some special advisers e.g. adviser on budgetary matters, political adviser and adviser on information.
- Joint meeting of the National Assembly: The president addresses the joint meeting of the National Assembly over national issues e.g. the budget.
- Armed forces: He is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the police.
- State of emergency: He proclaims state of emergency in a country if there is a breakdown of law and order, war, invasion etc.
- Policy – making: He initiates the formulation of policies in the country.
- Preparation of annual budget: He prepares the annual budget while the National Assembly deliberates and approves it.
- Foreign policy objectives: The president formulates foreign policy objectives and sees to its proper implementation.
- Maintenance of law and order: The president sees to the maintenance of law and order in the society.
- Prerogative of mercy: The president has the constitutional or legal right to forgive or pardon those that have in one way or the other offended the state. The Second Republic (1979/83) president of Nigeria. Alhaji Shehu Shagari pardoned Ojukwu the leader of the Biafran side that fought to secede from Nigeria.
- Appointment of the chief justice: He appoints the Chief Justice of the federation as the Accounting Officer of the judiciary.
- Revenue allocation: He initiates moves on allocation or the sharing of revenues among the different tiers of government.
Characteristics of Presidential System of Government
- Head of state and government: The executive president serves as both the head of state and that of government in the system.
- Ceremonial and executive functions: The president performs both ceremonial and executive functions.
- Popularly elected: The executive president is popularly elected by the electorate. The whole country is his constituency.
- Appointment of cabinet members: He has the constitutional power to appoint any member of his cabinet from within and outside his own party.
- Fixed term of office: The president is elected for a fixed term of office. For example Nigeria’s Second Republic of 1979 to 1983, the president stayed in office for four years, and for a maximum of two terms (eight years). The 1999 Constitution also provides for four years with a maximum of two terms.
- Individual responsibility: Ministers are individually responsible to the president who appointed them. He therefore has direct control over them.
- Dismissal: The president can also dismiss members of his cabinet or even reshuffle the entire cabinet.
- Separation of powers: The three organs of government executive, legislature and judiciary have separate functions.
- Impeachment: The president or the governors of states can be removed by the parliament through the process called impeachment if found guilty of gross misconduct.
- Opposition: The system does not accommodate opposition. Infact, it is not legalised in the system.
- Ministers not part of the legislature: Ministers in this system can only be in the cabinet and cannot form part of the legislature.
- Bicameral legislature: The parliament is bi-cameral, i.e. the Senate and the House of representatives. It cannot be dissolved but can only stay for a fixed term.
- Supremacy of the constitution: The constitution in this system is supreme and as such, must be obeyed and respected by all authorities and persons.
- Checks and balances: This is very effective among the three organs of government.
- Judicial review: The supreme court has the power to review some activities of the executive and legislature and to declare some unconstitutional actions null and void.
- Rule of law: Rule of law is in operation in this system.
Advantages of the Presidential System of Government
- Best materials are giving political appointments: The president has a free hand when appointing his ministers and other political appointees. Ministers could be chosen from outside his party and as such best materials are appointed.
- Checks and balances: Checks and balances are very effective among the three organs of government.
- Individual responsibility of ministers: A minister could be held responsible for poor performance and can be dismissed by the president. His dismissal will not affect other ministers because responsibilities are not collective as obtained in the cabinet system of government.
- Popularly elected: The president is popularly elected and as such the party does not have control over him but can only advise. He is only responsible to the electorate.
- Separation of powers: Powers are distinctly separated and this enhances effective performance of each of the organs.
- Activities of the ministers: The president can effectively check the activities of the ministers because they are individually responsible to him.
- Enough time: Ministers have enough time to attend to their duties. This is because, they only belong to the executive.
- It is democratic: All institution that make for democratic government are embedded in this system. For instance, electoral institutions, independence of the judiciary etc are always there.
- Supremacy of the constitution: No individual can manipulate the constitution to suit his selfish desire. Only the parliament has the sole right of amending the constitution.
- Fixed term of office: The President has a fixed term to stay in the office and there is no way he can transform himself into a life-president.
- Weaknesses or failures are easily identified: This is because powers are distinctly separated in this system, unlike the parliamentary system where powers are fused. Any organ that does not perforn can easily be identified.
- No conflict situation: In parliamentary system, powers of the head of state are different from that of the head of government. But in presidential system, both offices are fused and exercised by the executive president. Therefore, the possibility of conflict in the exercise of functions will not arise.
Disadvantages of Presidential System of Government
- Delay in the execution of programme: Separation of powers can cause delay in the execution of some government programmes. For example, the legislature can delay the approval of the budget or names of those nominated for ministerial, ambassadorial posts etc.
- Impeachment process may be difficult: The difficulty in the process of impeachment could make a president to stay and abuse his office and yet complete his term.
- Problems may arise between the executive and the legislature: This can result when the ruling party is not maintaining the majority in the legislature.
- Vetoing of bills: The president can misuse or even abuse the powers given to him to veto bills.
- No security of tenure for ministers: Ministers can be removed from office any time by the president. There is no security of tenure for them.
- Lobbying: This is a common feature in the system, especially in the parliament and can lead to corrupt practices.
- Costly to operate: There are too many duplications of functions both in the executive and the legislature. For example, there are many ministers and law makers in both the houses and this makes the system costly to operate.
Checks on the powers of the Executive President
- Judicial review: The power of the supreme court to declare unconstitutional or illegal some of the actions or activities of the president is a check on his powers.
- Impeachment: The president can be impeached or removed from office by the parliament if he is found to violate the provisions of the constitution.
- Approval of appointments: The parliament has the power to approve or reject names submitted to it by the president for appointment as ministers, ambassadors etc.
- Passage of bills: If the ruling party is not constituting a majority in the parliament, the passage of president’s bill will be difficult.
- Supremacy of the constitution: The constitution defines the powers of the president and his tenure. This is a check on his powers.
Checks on the powers of the executive in a presidential system of government
The various forms of check on the executive are:
a) Legislative forms
- Annual budget: The National Assembly must approve the annual budget proposed by the executive.
- Passage of bills: If the ruling party is not constituting a majority in the parliament, the passage of the president’s bill will be difficult.
- Power of impeachment: The president can be impeached or removed from office by the parliament, if found guilty of violating the provisions of the constitution.
- Ratification of treaties: All treaties the president entered into with other countries must be ratified by the parliament.
- Approval of major appointments: The parliament has the power to approve or reject names submitted to it by the president for political appointments such as ministers, ambassadors, political advisers etc.
- Declaration of war and state of emergency: This organ also has to approve of this before actions are taken.
- Veto powers: There is legislative check on the veto powers of the president.
b) Judicial form
- Power of judicial review: The power of the supreme court to declare unconstitutional or illegal some of the actions or activities of the president is a check on his powers.
- The use of Habeas corpus act: This act is against unlawful and indiscriminate arrest and detention of citizens by the law enforcement agents. Any person detained unlawfully, therefore, can sue the police and claim damages. The courts can enforce this.
c) Constitutional forms
- Term of office: The president’s stay in office is fixed. In Nigeria’s third Republic for example, he stays for four years as stipulated by the constitution.
- The executive must act: The president must act within the limits and provisions of the constitution.
d) Public opinion (internal and external)
- The use of mass media: The opinions of the people about the government are expressed through the mass media. Such opinions could be negative or positive, Any responsible government must act according to the opinions of the people Also, as members of international organisations, the executive must be ready to abide by the opinions expressed as well as rules governing these bodies etc. These are checks on the executive.
- The use of pressure groups: The ability of pressure groups to influence government’s decisions politically, economically, socially etc is a check on the powers of the executive.
e) International form
- International treaties or agreement: Most of these treaties entered into with other countries are a check on the executive, for example, treaty on military co-operation with another country. He must always honour the agreement.
- Sanctions: Imposition of sanction on a country by the United Nations Organisation (UNO) is a check on the executive. Sanctions could take the form of economic, military, sports, etc.
Functions of National Assembly or Parliament in Nigeria’s 4th Republic Presidential System of Government (1999 to date)
The 1999 4th Republic Constitution established a bicameral legislature House of Representatives and the Senate jointly called the National Assembly. The senate is composed of 109 members while the House of Representatives has 360 members. Their tenure of office was fixed for four years.
House of Representatives has the power to elect its speaker and deputy speaker; the senate also has the power to elect its president and deputy president.
The following were the functions:
- Legislation: The major function of the Assembly was law-making for the country.
- Power of investigation: It conducted investigations to ascertain how money allocated to government’s departments were spent.
- Amendment of the constitution: They proposed and had the sole power of amending the constitution.
- Financial control: It controlled the raising and spending of money (budget).
- Approval of appointments: Appointments proposed by the Executive were approved by the Assembly. For example, appointment of ministers, ambassadors.
- National issues: The National Assembly especially the senate exercised influence on national issues.
- Declaration of state of emergency: Approval for the declaration of a state of emergency or war in the country.
- Impeachment: It had the power to impeach or remove the president from office, if found to have committed a serious offence against the state.
- Creation of new states: They worked with the executive in matters of creating new states in the country.
- Revenue allocation: This body took part in deciding the acceptable revenue formula to be used in allocating revenue to the different tiers of government (central, states and local governments).
FACTORS THAT LED TO THE INCREASING POPULARITY OF THE PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT IN WEST AFRICA
- Colonial Legacy: The parliamentary system, a colonial legacy from Britain on her former West African colonies could not guarantee desired political stability after independence.
- Traditional African Political System: The presidential system resembles the traditional African political system, as separating the offices of Heads of State and government is not only meaningless in Africa but also difficult to achieve.
- Quick Decision-making: The process of decision-making is quick and orderly because of the absence of opposition.
- Collective Responsibility: It eliminates the parliamentary collective responsibility, a requirement of all cabinets resigning because of one man’s mistake.
- Nation-building: Looking at the mode of his election and his powers, the president is capable of instituting a strong executive that can promote a faster rate in the process of nation-building.
- Division of Ceremonial and executive functions: The friction and bickering that characterises the parliamentary system as a result of the division of ceremonial and executive functions is removed.
- Responsibility for Certain function: It is easier to identify who has responsibility for certain function and who’s to blame for lapses or inaction.
- Novel System: The need to adopt a novel system led to the Presidential system of government.