Manifold Roles of the Presidency in Nigeria

  • What roles does the Nigerian Constitution assign the President?
  • The roles that the 1999 Constitution (hereinafter referred to as “the Constitution”) clearly assigns the president are those of the chief administrator of the nation and the commander in chief of its armed forces (See Section 130(2) of the Constitution). But court decisions, customs, laws, and other developments over the years have greatly expanded the president’s responsibilities and powers. Today, the president steps into seven basic roles in the discharge of the duties of his exalted office:

    • Chief executive
    • Commander in chief
    • Foreign policy director
    • Legislative leader
    • Party head
    • Popular leader, and
    • Chief of the state.

    The president is the “boss” for thousands of federal government workers under the executive branch of government. Section 147(1) of the Constitution provides that there shall be such offices of Ministers of the Federation as may be established by the president. As chief executive, the president has a plethora of duties some of which are:

    • To develop federal policies
    • To prepare the national budget
    • To appoint cabinet/ministers.
    • Making any appointments that the Constitution or legislation requires him, apart from those of being the Head of the National Executive.
    • Appointing Commissions of Inquiry
    • Receiving and recognizing foreign diplomatic and consular representatives
    • Appointing Ambassadors, Plenipotentiaries, and Diplomatic and Consular Representatives.
    • Pardoning or reprieving offenders and remitting any fines, penalties or forfeitures.
    • Conferring honours.

    The president uses a variety of powers to carry out administrative duties (Section 148(1) of the Constitution). The president may also issue executive orders (Section 5(1) of the Constitution). Executive orders are directions, proclamations, or other statements that have the force of laws. They require no action by the National Assembly, although they are subject to the Constitution and any laws made by the National Assembly). The Budget Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance, a part of the executive office, helps the president plan the federal budget. In this role, the president is also the chief guardian of the nation’s economy. He is concerned with such things as unemployment, high prices, taxes, business profits, and the general prosperity of the country. The president does not control the economy but he is expected to help run it smoothly. Presidents often use their budgets to shape key programmes. When there is a change in the look of the Nigerian currency, the President gets to see the first copies first (presumably, after the CBN Governor who forwards it to him) and he also gives approval for such currencies to be employed as legal tenders before it is then put into circulation. Apart from ministers, the president also nominates justices to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory and the Customary Court of Appeal (See generally Chapter VII of the Constitution). All such appointment requires the approval of the Senate (Section 147(2) of the Constitution).

    The president can appoint a number of personal aides and advisers and can fill hundreds of lower jobs in the executive branch without the approval of the Senate. The Constitution also allows the president to issue reprieves and pardons for crimes against the state (Section 175 of the Constitution). A reprieve delays the penalty for a crime. A pardon frees the offender from a sentence or apprehension of a sentence.

  • What are the president’s main duties as commander in chief?
  • The president’s main duties as commander in chief of the nation’s armed forces are to defend the country during wartime and keep it strong during peacetime. The chief executive appoints all the nation’s highest military officers and helps determine the size of the armed forces. The president shares some military power with the National Assembly (Sections 217 – 219 of the Constitution and Part VII of the Armed Forces Act, Cap. A20, LFN, 2004). Top appointments in the armed forces require the approval of the National Assembly. Major military expenses and plans to expand the armed forces also require the consent of the National Assembly. As the commander in chief, the president is empowered by Section 305(1) of the Constitution to declare a state of emergency in the Federation or any part thereof. However, the president must carry along the National Assembly by the provisions of Section 305(2) of the same Constitution and see generally Section 305. National Assembly generally allows the president to exercise broad powers during wartime. By virtue of being the Commander-in-Chief, the Nigerian president can wear the highest ranks in the Nigerian Armed Forces which no military officer has attained in the history of the country. These ranks, all of which correspond to a five-star General are the Field Marshal of the Nigerian Army.

  • How does the president play the role of a foreign policy director?
  • The president is the chief diplomat as well as the foreign policy director of the nation. The Constitution gives the president power to appoint ambassadors, make treaties and receive foreign diplomats. The president may refuse to recognise a newly formed foreign government. The president may also propose legislation on other international activities. Treaties and ambassadorial appointment require the approval of the Senate. The president may also make executive agreements with foreign leaders. The agreements resemble treaties and do not require the approval of the Senate. Some presidents have allowed their Ministers of Foreign Affairs to direct Nigerian foreign policy. Some presidents have helped settle disputes between foreign nations.

  • How does the president play the role of a legislative leader when he does not head either the lower or upper chamber of the National Assembly?
  • It will almost be incomprehensible for many people to see the president as a legislative leader, more so because of the often rancorous relationship between the executive and the legislature in Nigeria. However, the president greatly influences the developments of many laws passed by the National Assembly. Section 67(1) of the Constitution provides that the president may attend any joint meeting of the National Assembly, either to deliver an address on national affairs, including fiscal measures or to make such statement on the policy of government as he considers being of national importance. Clearly, the annual budget address and the Independence Day broadcast on the 1st of October fall within this perimeter. It is akin to America’s State of the Union Speech by the American president. The president also gives the National Assembly detailed plans for new legislation at other times during the year. Ministers and other presidential aides work to win legislative support for the president’s programmes. In some circumstances, the president may be involved in heated debates with the National Assembly over a key bill. In such instances, the president may speak to members of the National Assembly several times to win their votes. This activity involves shrewd politicking and the bill may fail in spite of the president’s influence. The Constitution allows the president to veto any bill passed by the National Assembly. However, if the House of Representatives and Senate re-pass the vetoed bill by a two-thirds majority, the bill will become law despite the president’s disapproval (See generally Section 58 of the Constitution). As a legislative leader, the president’s duties/powers are:

    • Assenting to and signing of Bills.
    • Referring a Bill back to the National Assembly (Legislative Arm of the Government) for the reconsideration of the bill’s constitutionality.
    • Summoning the National Assembly to an Extraordinary Sitting to conduct special business.
    • Calling a National Referendum in terms of an Act of the National Assembly.


  • How does the president play the role of a party head?
  • The president, as the highest ranking political office holder, is impliedly the de facto leader of the political party on whose platform he was elected into office, regardless of the existence of a party chairman. As leader of the party, the president helps to formulate the party’s stance on all important issues. Every president hopes that enough of his party members will be elected to the National Assembly to give his party a majority in the National Assembly. Such a strong political party representation makes it easier for the National Assembly to pass the president’s legislative programmes. However, history has also shown that the president may not always be able to control members of his political party in the National Assembly. Legislators owe their chief loyalty to their constituencies. Legislators may vote against a bill favoured by the president if their constituencies are opposed to the said bill. Presidents try to win the support of legislators in several ways. They often use patronage power, which is the authority to appoint to government jobs. For example, the president can reward a loyal legislator for the legislator’s support by approving the legislator’s choice for a federal judge. A president may also campaign for the re-election of a faithful party member or promise to approve a federal project that will benefit the loyal legislator’s constituency.

  • How does the president play the role of a popular leader?
  • The president is the alter ego of Nigerian people. It is in the president’s interest to seek a relationship with different ethnicities and nations that constitute the heterogeneous state called Nigeria. The people, in turn, rely on the president to serve the interests of the entire nation, placing such interest ahead of any state, ethnic group or citizen. In turn, the president depends on public support to help push his programmes through the National Assembly. The president often addresses the nation via the media in a bid to carry along the populace and portray a strong cum sensitive leadership. Only the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces and some others (Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation, State Governors, Deputy Governors and any other permitted by protocol) are allowed to mount and fly the Nigerian National Flag on their official vehicles.

  • How does the president play the role of chief of state?
  • The president, as the nation’s number one citizen, is expected to show pride in Nigerian achievements and traditions. He should be an example for the Nigerian people. In stepping into this role, the president attends historical celebrations and dedicates landmark buildings. The president may also invite distinguished Nigerians to the Presidential Villa, hosting them to dinners, as well as receiving foreign dignitaries. Examples of this role are:

    • Awarding national honours to deserving citizens
    • Raising national consciousness and patriotism

    It is tradition to bestow the nation’s highest honour (the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on an incumbent or former Presidents. The GCFR is the highest of the four grades of the Order of the Federal Republic (which is one of the two orders of merit of Nigeria). The second one is the Grand Commander of Order of the Niger(GCON). The other awards are:

    • Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR)
    • Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON)
    • Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)
    • Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON)
    • Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR), and
    • Member of the Order of the Niger (MON)

    Nigerian National Honours are a set of orders and decorations conferred upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria annually.They were instituted by the National Honors Act No. 5 of 1964, during the Nigerian First Republic, to honour Nigerians who have rendered notable and outstanding service to the nation.

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