Separation Of Powers: Meaning, Origin, Advantages And Disadvantages

Table Of Contents

1. Meaning Of Separation Of Powers
2. Origin Of Separation Of Powers
3. Advantages Of Separation Of Powers
4. Disadvantages Of Separation Of Powers
5. Separation Of Powers In A Cabinet System Of Government
6. Separation Of Powers In A Presidential System Of Government

Meaning Of Separation Of Powers

Separation of powers is a constitutional arrangement in which the major functions of government are assigned to separate organs of government. The concept states that whatever the amount of political powers that exists in a given state, such powers should not be vested in the hands of one single individual or groups of persons. This is to say that three divisions of organs of government namely: legislature, executive and judiciary must be separated, that is the personnel, function and control are separated.


The doctrine was proposed by Locke and developed by Baron de Montesque.

Advantages Of Separation Of Powers

1. Security Of Liberty: The main objective of the theory is to ensure the liberty of the citizens. This is because it is assumed the principle safeguards the fundamental rights of citizens.

2. Efficient Administration: Separation of powers is a form of division of labour. It therefore helps to bring about efficiency and orderliness in the administration of the state.

3. Prevention Of Tyranny: It is believed that “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The doctrine prevents tyranny and recklessness on the part of those who exercise the power and executes the programmes of the government. It therefore makes for smooth running of government since each organ of the government has some checks and balances.

Disadvantages: Extreme separation of power inhibits smooth administration.

Separation Of Powers In A Cabinet System Of Government

There is indeed no separation of powers in a cabinet system of government. Indeed the three organs of government that is the legislature, executive and the judiciary are fused in terms of personnel. We can safely say that what exists is fusion of powers because of the following reasons:

1. Fusion Of Personnel: Members of the executive are also members of the legislature. This was the case in the first Republic in Nigeria. In Britain the Lord Chancellor is a member of cabinet and part of judiciary.

2. The Executive depends on the support of legislature to carry out its programme. This is because the policies of the executive must be approved by the legislature.

3. The executive guides and determine the business done in the legislature. The executive may recommend the dissolution of legislature.

4. The judiciary is independent of the other two organs in functions to some extent but in Britain the House of Lords is the final court of appeal and in West Africa the Attorney-General is a member of the executive and the legislature. Also Senior judicial officers are appointed by the executive and parliament can remove judges.

Separation Of Powers In A Presidential System Of Government

The presidential system of government appears to meet some of the requirements of separation of powers. A good example is the American system. The reasons are:

1. The legislature is directly elected by the people. The president and his ministers do not sit in the legislature and cannot determine and guide the business in the legislature.

2. The legislature has a fixed term of the office and the executive represented by the president cannot dissolve the legislature.

3. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president with the consent or approval of the senate.

4. The judiciary is independent since judges cannot be removed before their term of office expires unless because of abuse of office.

5. The legislature checks the president through:

1. Impeachment of the president.
2. With-holding appropriations for the executive (budget)
3. With-holding the appointment of new judges.
4. Refusing to approve presidential nominees for public office.

6. The president checks the legislature:

1. The president can veto the acts of the legislature.
2. The president appoints new judges.

7. The judiciary balances these checks by:

1. Being the final arbiter of disputes between the central government and the states.
2. Declaring any law made by the legislature or action of the president as unconstitutional.

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