Comparative Analysis of the Nigerian and American Presidencies

by Sam Kargbo
nigeria america

Like America, Nigeria is a federation. America has 50 states with Washington DC serving as the federation’s capital. Nigeria has 36 states with Abuja functioning as the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. Unlike the American federation that was formed by independent states, since 1914 when the Southern and Northern British Protectorates were merged by Britain, the then colonial master, the Federation of Nigeria has been one of de-aggregation. The unitary nature of the country was restructured first into regions, and then, after 1966, into several states, distributing governance authority to them. Like America, the Nigerian Constitution creates a national government – called the Federal Government, with countrywide enumerated powers and regional components – called states, with state-specific powers. Though the national government and the states have distinctive and enumerated powers and responsibilities, there are areas of collaboration between them. Like America, Nigeria is a republic. Unlike a monarchy or oligarchy, a republic refers to a system of government in which the people hold the sovereign power and elect representatives who exercise that power. Like America, the executive powers are enumerated in the constitution and vested in an elected President who is Head of State (with formal authority), head of Government (real authority) and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Also, like America, the Nigerian presidency is composed of the President and those to whom the President’s powers are delegated. These include the Vice President, Ministers, the Attorney General of the Federation, Special Advisers, the Public service and Executive bodies, and extra-ministerial departments of the Government of the Federation, howsoever designated. Ministers are called Secretaries in the USA.

Since both countries have a President who is not only the head of the political system but also of the national life, the attempt here is to make a comparative analysis of the American and Nigerian presidencies.

The election of the President is straightforward in Nigeria and is covered by sections 132- 136 of the Nigerian Constitution; it is cumbersome in the USA. The Nigerian President is elected with the Vice President on a single electoral ticket directly by popular votes of the electorate for a four-year term. On the other hand, the American President and Vice President are indirectly elected for a four-year term by the people through the Electoral College described in Article II section 1 and modified in the XII Amendment.

In recent history, Democratic candidates like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College to Republican candidates.

Although the American President is generally regarded as the world’s most powerful political figure, the Nigerian President is on paper more powerful than the American President.

Article II Section 1 of the American Constitution provides that the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. In a similar vein, Section 5 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution provides that Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation –

a. shall be vested in the President and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the Federation; and

b. shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to make laws.

Whereas the powers, qualifications, election, tenure, composition and benefits of the American presidency are neatly defined in Article II of the American Constitution, in Nigeria, however, the powers of the President are elaborately expressed and defined in various sections including sections 5,29,30,32,39(2), 56(1),57(3),64,81,130,147,148,151,154,157,162(2),164,170,171,175,213,215,216,218,231,235,238,250,254B,256,261,266,288,292,297,301,302 and 305 of the 1999 Constitution. As already noted, like America, the Nigerian President is the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The qualification for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is defined in Section 131 of the Constitution. He must be a citizen of Nigeria by birth; must have attained the age of forty years; must be educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent; must be a member of a political party, and must be sponsored by that political party. In the case of America, the President must be a natural born citizen who is at least 35 years old, and must have resided within the United States of America for no fewer than 14 years before the election.

In America, Article II Section 1 provides that in Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Like the case of America, presidential powers will devolve on the Vice President where the office of the President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any reason in accordance with section 143 of the Constitution. (See Section 146 of the Constitution.)

By virtue of Section 5 (1)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the executive powers of the President extend to the execution and maintenance of the Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to make laws. Similarly, the American President is obligated by Article II Section 1 to take the following OATH or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Nigerian President also takes the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office prescribed in the Seventh Schedule to the Nigerian 1999 Constitution which is more of an oath of allegiance and fidelity to Nigeria and not so much of an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

Like the American President, the Nigerian President has administrative, legislative, rule-making, diplomatic, emergency, pardoning, military and miscellaneous powers.

In the introductory part of this discussion, I stated that just as it is in America, the powers of the Nigerian President are derived from, and limited by, the Constitution. The Americans are neater and less verbose in their enumeration of the powers of their President. The powers of the American President are confined and defined by one article – Article II – of the Constitution. On the other hand, the powers of the Nigerian President are enumerated in over 40 sections of the constitution.

Like the American President, the administrative powers of the Nigerian President include the power to constitute his cabinet subject to the confirmation of the Senate, compose his personal staff and special advisers, appoint and remove from office highly placed administrative, executive and judicial officers as well as the heads of the Armed Forces, paramilitary and the police. The Nigerian President also has the power to appoint Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Diplomats.

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Although the executive powers are vested in him, the Nigerian President also exercises some legislative functions that include: the power to make the annual budgets of the federation, power to assent and veto Bills, and the power to summon the first session of the National Assembly. Like the American President, the Nigerian President has the power to make executive orders through which he or she directs Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government to act in a certain way in the execution and maintenance of the Constitution and laws made by the National Assembly. The President also has powers to make or approve rules regulating the procedure to be followed by Federal Executive Bodies or the Federal Civil Service.

As Commander-in-Chief, the Nigerian President controls the Armed Forces and has the authority to determine their operational use. The powers of the Commander-in-Chief include the power to appoint the heads of all the branches of the Armed Forces and the delegation to any member of them his power relating to the operational use of the Armed Forces. The exercise of the powers of the Commander-in-Chief may be regulated by an Act of the National Assembly. The Nigerian President has the power to declare a state of emergency.

Like the American President, the executive powers of the Nigerian President extend to power over the foreign or external affairs of the Country. The President has the power to make treaties which must be domesticated by the National Assembly for them to be enforceable in the country. The President also receives ambassadors and diplomats from foreign nations and international organizations.

The Nigerian President also has the power to: deprive a person – other than a person who is a Nigerian by birth or by registration – of his citizenship; cause a declaration renouncing Nigerian citizenship to be registered and, thereby, ratify the cessation of the person’s citizenship; give full residential rights to foreigners; postpone the holding of election when not practicable to hold elections; authorise a person to own, establish, or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station; assign responsibilities to the Vice President and /or the ministers and special advisers or members of personal staff. The powers of the President also extend to the management of the finances of the country by authorising expenditure in default of the passing of the Appropriation Bill in any financial year.

The Nigerian President is also the chief policy maker as well as also the chief internal security officer of the country. The health of the nation’s economy is dependent on his/her policies.

Unlike the American President who is limited by the rule of law and strong judicial institutions, the Nigerian President is, to a large extent, a lord unto himself – though on paper, he is limited by the system of checks and balances. The National Assembly is responsible for making laws that define and regulate the exercise of his executive powers and the oversight of executive bodies and organs. For its part, the judiciary is empowered to check the exercise of presidential authority through the awesome power of judicial review, which includes the authority to declare presidential acts unconstitutional.

It is, however, difficult to assess how the National Assembly and the Judiciary have been able to serve as checks on Presidential power. Historically, Presidents and executive authorities have been known to ignore judicial orders without consequences. Without consequences for disobeying court orders, it is difficult to tell whether or not the President is under the law like any other Nigerian. The National Assembly has also not been able to stand as a buffer between the executive and the poor masses. Rather, the face-off between the Presidency and the National Assembly has been more about power tussle and sharing of the national resources than about limiting or confining the President to his constitutional boundaries.

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