Basic Principles of Government


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In today’s class, we will be talking about the basic principles of government. Enjoy the class!

Basic Principles of Government

Basic Principles of Government

Definition of rule of law

Rule of law is the law that states that the law is supreme over all the citizens and even those in governments, must be subject to and protected by the law.

Rule of law is the absolute supremacy of the law over everyone in a country. The law of the land supersedes all her citizens. It is the people cognizance of law and living below it.

Principles of the rule of law
  1. Equality before the law: This principle state that no one is above the law and the law has no respect for any person rather people should respect it. Occupation or position of authority does not make one different from another in the face of the law.
  2. Impartiality: This principle states that the law is not partial. The law applies the same level of punishment for offenders no matter the person’s status. No one is guilty of an offence unless such individual has been tried in the law court and pronounced guilty.
  3. Supremacy: This states that the law is supreme over anybody no matter who you are.
  4. Fundamental human right: This principle states that the citizens of the country should enjoy certain basic right and liberties under the law.
Limitations to the rule of law
  1. Ignorance: This did not allow most citizens of a country to know their right.
  2. Poverty: most citizens can not fight because their poor especially when they are infringed upon.
  3. Illiteracy: citizens who can not read or write will not know their right and they will be infringed upon.
  4. Head of state immunity
  5. Diplomatic immunity
Factors that ensure the operation of the rule of law
  1. Government powers are defined in the fundamental law
  2.  Government powers are effectively limited by the legislature
  3. Government powers are effectively limited by the judiciary
  4. Government powers are effectively limited by independent auditing and review
  5. Government officials are sanctioned for misconduct
  6. Government powers are subject to non-governmental checks
  7. The transition of power is subject to the law

Meaning of fundamental human rights

The fundamental right that humans have by the fact of being human and that is neither created nor can be abrogated by any government.

Human rights is simply the natural right and privileges enjoyed by citizens of any given state which are usually outlined in the constitution of the state. A state has to ensure that her citizens enjoy these rights.

These were the major reason why the United Nations Organization (UNO) urged are member states and all government of the entire world to incorporate the existence of human rights in their constitutions for easy and proper references.

Human Rights according to the 1999 constitution are outlined as follows:
  1. The right to life
  2. Freedom from slavery act
  3. Right to acquire and own movable and unmovable property
  4. Freedom of the press
  5. Right to a fair hearing
  6. Right to dignity of the human person
  7. Freedom of movement and freedom of expression
  8. Right to private and family life
  9. Freedom of unlawful detention and imprisonment
Classification of human rights
  1. Civic and political rights  (Known as first rights); they are as follows 
  • Right to vote
  • Right to seek redress
  • Right to freedom of personal liberty
  • Right to life
  • Right to petition
  • Freedom of joining and forming associations
  • Right to freedom of conscience
  1. Economic and social rights (known as second rights); they are as follows
  • Right to work
  • Right to fair compensation
  • Right to own property
  • Right to petition
  • Right to form and join trade unions
  • Right to free choice of employment
  1. Environmental rights (known as third rights); they are as follows
  • Freedom of movement
  • Right to social security
  • Right to private and family life
  • Freedom from slavery
  • Right to security and protection from inhuman treatment
Limitations to human rights

Human rights abuse refers to the infringement on the rights of an individual resulting in the individual not being able to enjoy his or her fundamental rights. These abuses may result from the following:

  1. A citizen is not likely to enjoy his rights when such rights are detrimental to other people’s rights.
  2. A citizen may be denied of his right to protect the security of the state.
  3. During the period of emergency, a citizen may be denied his/her rights. For instance, if a country is in a state of war, there may be restrictions which may invariably jeopardize the right of a citizen.
  4. A citizen may be denied his right if it is in the interest of defence for his nation.
  5. A citizen may be denied his right if it is in the interest of public order.
  6. A citizen may be denied his right to prevent trespassers.

Separation of power

Separation of power is a principle which enables each arm of government ‘to carry out its constitutional functions. It denotes the practice of dividing the powers of a government among different branches thereof.

Merits of separation of power
  1. Protection of liberty and rights:

The theory of separation of powers protection to the liberty and rights of the individual, and protects him from different of despotism and oppression.

  1. Increase in government’s efficiency:

As powers are distributed among the government departments, these departments gain deep knowledge of the matters they with and become more efficient.

  1. Limited government:

As powers are distributed among different depart these departments enjoy only limited powers. This prevents the rise of dictatorship.

  1. Prevents abuse of power:

Separation of powers accompanied by check and balance is an effective check against abuse of power and arrogance of power.

Demerits of separation of power

This theory, though adopted by most countries, has not escaped criticism. It has criticized not only as impossible but also as undesirable. According to Sabine, “Montes was guilty of oversimplification. He united his theory to a hasty and superficial analysis of the constitutional principles of liberty.” Finer said that it was futile to rigidly apply the theory of separation of powers to the modern condition.

The theory of separation of powers has been attacked on the following grounds.

  1. Wrong reading of the British system:

By the time Montesquieu developed his theory of separation of powers, there had come into being the Cabinet system of governing” There was not in Britain then separation of powers. On the contrary, there was ‘concentration of responsibility.’ Having witnessed the British people enjoying liberty, Montesquieu wrongly concluded that in Britain there was a separation of powers. He misread British politics.

  1. Not fully possible:

This theory is not fully possible. The executive has some role in rule-making, and the legislature also performs some judicial functions. For example, impeachment which is judicial is done by the legislature.

  1. Administrative complications:

Separation of powers results in administrative complications. It becomes difficult to forge cooperation, coordination and harmony among the organs of government. The smooth working of modem governments demands not so much separation of powers as ‘co-ordination’ of powers.

  1. Confusion and deadlock:

Separation of powers leads to jealousy, suspicion and friction among the organs of government. While producing disharmony and confusion, it may paralyze the administration. As a result, the administration often fails to take quick decisions even at a time of crisis.

According to Finer, the theory of separation of powers throws “governments into alternating conditions of coma and convulsion.” Another scholar is of the view that “separation of powers means confusion of powers.”

  1. Inequality of powers:

This theory is based on the principle of equality of powers, but this principle is flawed. In the parliamentary system, the legislature which represents the people is most powerful while the executive is most powerful in the presidential system.

  1. Not the sole factor of liberty:

Separation of powers may contribute to liberty, but it is not the only factor of liberty. Liberty also depends a lot on the psyche of people, their outlook, their political awareness, customs and traditions, fundamental rights, rule of law, independence of the judiciary and economic equality.

  1. Balance disturbed:

The government, performing various important functions, has become increasingly powerful. Besides being the problem-solver and crisis-manager, it is also required to provide welfare to people. All this has made the executive very powerful and disturbed the balance among the three organs of government. Planning, security and welfare demand not so much separation of powers as their ‘fusion’.

  1. A misnomer:

This theory is a misnomer because what it means is a separation of function, not separation of powers.

How the separation of powers operates in a presidential system of government
  • The president or executive:

In a presidential system of government, the president is directly elected by the people in a general election. The constitution does not allow the president to appoint his ministers from parliament but rather from outside.  All executive powers are vested in the president and he performs both the ceremonial duties and the governmental functions.

  • The legislature:

The legislature is also elected directly by the people or in places where the second chamber operates, by use of other means. The members cannot ever become members of the executive. The constitution does not allow that. The legislature is responsible for the making of laws for the state.

  • The judiciary:

The members of the judiciary are appointed by the president but this is based on the recommendations of the Judicial Service Council of the state. The main function of the judiciary is to interpret the laws of the land and to settle disputes that arise between one person and the other or between the state and an individual.

How the separation of powers operates in the parliamentary system of government
  • Separation in an institution:

The three arms of government are separate in terms of the institution. The judiciary, as an institution, is different from the executive and the legislature. They may even be housed in different locations or buildings.

  • Separation in personnel:

The members of the executive are all members of the legislature. The head of the executive is the leader of the majority party in the legislature. Some of the members of the legislature are also members of the judiciary. For example, in Britain, the Lord Chancellor is a member of both the legislature and the executive although he is the head of the judiciary.

  • Executive as the initiator of bills:

In the parliamentary system, it is the cabinet that initiates bills before the bills are sent into the legislature. By the time the bills get to the parliament, they may have been well thought through and therefore there is not much to do before the bills are passed. Even if it becomes difficult, the executive has the majority in parliament so it can force the bill to go through.

  • Court of appeal:

In the past, the highest court of the land was the House of Lords. Though the House of Lords was the second chamber of the legislature, it was at the same time the Court of Appeal. This has since changed. Today, there is a Supreme Court separate from the House of Lords.

  • Collective responsibility:

The members of the executive, that is the cabinet, are as a bloc responsible to the legislature for every action they take in the performance of their duties. The only way a cabinet member can absolve him or herself of blame is when a decision is made in the cabinet is to resign. Once he or she does resign, he is bound by every decision that is made.

Check and balance

It’s a system that makes it possible for some people or parts of an organization to control the others so that no particular person or part has too much power or influence.

  1. All of the branches have equal power.
  2. It guarantees individual liberty
  3. It prevents leaders from becoming tyrants
  4. It makes government democratic and stable.
  1. It takes long for laws to be made official
  1. Explore four (4) principles of the rule of law.
  2. Why are there limitations to the rule of law?
  3. Outline the factors that ensure the operation of the rule of law in any West African Country.
  4. What is the meaning of fundamental human rights according to the 1999 constitution?
  5. Explain the principle of separation of power.


In our next class, we will be talking about Representative Government.  We hope you enjoyed the class.

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