The system of Government in the FRN is modelled after the American presidential system with three arms of government, namely, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. This is known as ‘Separation of powers’. The legislature makes the law, the executive implements the law, while the judiciary interprets the law.


Section 4 (1) of the Constitution provides that the legislative powers of the country shall be vested in the National Assembly. By virtue of sub section (2), the National Assembly has powers to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation, to the exclusion of the state House of Assembly. It follows law making procedures as specified in sections 58 and 59 of the 1999 Constitution. It is bicameral and is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The powers of the National Assembly to legislate refer to:

  • Any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative list, to the exclusion of the State House of Assembly.
  • Any matter in the concurrent legislature list set out in the 1st column of Part II of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution to the extent prescribed in the 2nd Column opposite; and
  • Any other matter with respect to which the National Assembly is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

Each state has its own law making organ known as the House of Assembly. State House of Assemblies have powers to legislate on any matter in the concurrent legislative list and any other matter with respect to which it is empowered to make laws in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

By virtue of S.4 (5), where there is inconsistency between the laws made by the State House of Assembly and the National Assembly, the latter prevails and the former, to the extent of the inconsistency becomes void.

It pertinent to note that scientific and technological research, this includes health research, falls within items on the concurrent list. Consequently, both the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly may make laws governing research ethics in Nigeria.


The executive power of the Federation is vested in the President by virtue of section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution. Such powers can be administered directly or through the Vice President or Ministers or officers of the government. In the states the executive power of a state is vested in the Governor and may through the Deputy Governor or Commissioners or other public officers.


By virtue of section 6(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the following courts are established in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Court, High Court, Abuja, High Court of a State, the Sharia Court of Appeal of the FCT, Abuja, a Sharia Court of Appeal of a state, the Customary Court of Appeal of the FCT, Abuja and the Customary Court of Appeal.

The courts established by the Constitution are the only superior courts of record in Nigeria. The Constitution empowers the National Assembly and the House of Assembly to establish courts with subordinate jurisdiction to the High Court. These courts are invariably inferior courts of record notwithstanding the status of the officer presiding in the courts.

Statutory Institutions

Apart from the arms of government set up by the Constitution, there are institutions/ governmental bodies which are creation of statutes. These institutions such as the National Health Research Committee, and National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, are allowed to make rules, regulations, directives and bylaws pursuant to their enabling Acts and consequently are binding. These institutions are also empowered to institute various committees as necessary in carrying out their duties. Procedures devised for these committees have binding effects on all parties concerned.

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