Types of Government | Unitary | Federal | Parliamentary & Presidential System

  • Unitary system of government
  • Federal system of government
  • Parliamentary system of government
  • Presidential system of government

There are four types of government which includes unitary system of government, federal system of government, cabinet or parliamentary system of government and the presidential system of government.


A unitary system of government is a government with only one level of governmental authority constitutionally recognized. The central authority constitutionally possesses and exercises all political power. Other powers and functions exercised by any other units within the state are mainly delegatory. In other words, in a unitary system of government, the central authority may delegate power and functions to some units which are set up to assist in the discharge of political functions. Such delegated powers may be withdrawn at the discretion of the national or central government.

In a unitary system of government the central authority imposes uniform laws and regulation on all part of the country and obtains undivided loyalty. A military government usually adopts an unwritten constitution which makes it possible for them to change any part of the constitution easily.


In a federal system of government there exist two or three levels of government, usually, there is a central or federal government constituting the first level of government and the government of the constituent units which could be called state, region, province, local government etc have constitutional right or power to exist.

Citizens in a federal system of government owe allegiance to both the federal government or central authority and the component units. The 1999 constitution of Nigeria made the local government the third tier of government.

In a federal system of government also there exist the exclusive, concurrent and residual lists. While the exclusive list contains functions to be performed only by the federal government such as international affairs, currency operation, the concurrent list contains functions that are performed by both the federal and state government. Such functions includes health, education etc.

On the other hand, the residual list contains functions that can be performed by the state government such as health, education, agriculture etc. federal system of government usually adopt written constitution which makes it difficult to alter any of its provisions. There are certain factors that are responsible for the existence of federal system of government.

Such factors includes the desire for the constituent units to federate, i.e. economic advantage, fear of insecurity and the need for increased defense capability etc.


In a cabinet system of government, the Prime Minister is the Head of Government and a few of his most senior and some influential and trusted colleagues of his political party form the cabinet. The head of government reserves the right to appoint a minister into the cabinet rank.

This means that a person can become a minister without being a member of the cabinet. In this case he is regarded as a minister without cabinet rank or non cabinet minister. The cabinet is usually appointed from political party with the majority in the legislature and is responsible to the majority.

In theory, a cabinet that loses the confidence and support of the majority is immediately thrown out or asked to resign by the majority. In practice, it is not so simple; the resignation of the cabinet means the resignation of the government and the resignation of the government in turn means the dissolution of the legislature and fresh elections.

This is a risk many legislators are not prepared to take because if election are held most legislators may not win their seat back. The cabinet members must agree on and strive to implement one common political party manifesto. The cabinet must come from the party with majority in the legislature in order to enable it implement it policies.

There is the existence of collective responsibility. In this case, every cabinet member must accept and endorse the actions and policies of the cabinet even if they do not appeal to him personally and even if he spoke against it during a cabinet meeting. Any member who feels strongly against certain decision and actions of cabinet and does not want to be identified with them must resign his membership of the cabinet.

Again, the cabinet stands and falls together. This is because since all cabinet members are a party to all cabinet decision and actions, all of them are equally responsible for their success or failure.

The president/monarch under this system of government is usually relegated to the background. He neither takes part in cabinet meeting nor assures responsibilities for its policies and programmes.

He waits patiently to be consulted on certain issues and on the discretion of the prime minister, he assent a bill into law.

Examples of countries that operate this system of government include Britain, Italy, Israel and India.


The presidential system of government implies a system of government where the president is dominant. In a presidential system of government, the president combines in his person the important role of head of government or the chief executive, ceremonial chief of state and the leader of his political party.

Usually, the president is elected for a specific term of office. In some countries a president is usually eligible for a re-election. In others, he is limited to one or two term while in other once elected he remains in office for life.

A president once elected has the freedom to appoint his cabinet or the members of his administration from any quarters. It is not usual for a president to appoint members of an opposing political party to his administration.

The members of the president cabinet are usually heads of the department/ministries. Each heads of department/ministries sees to the overall government policies and problems mainly in terms of its effect on his department/ministry.

The president and his cabinet are not members of the legislatures, however, the members of the cabinet may appear before the legislature if and when invited to do so on behalf of their respective ministries.

No bill passed by the legislature becomes law unless assent by the president. The legislature may constitutional impeach the president on cases of gross misconduct and abuse of office but cannot remove him otherwise. The principle of separation of power is clearly operational in a presidential system of government.

This principle gives room for checks and balances among three organs of government. The president can dismiss any of his ministers or ask any of his ministers to resign without consulting the legislatures. Lobbying is a notable phenomenon in a presidential system of government. An example of countries that operates presidential system of government includes Nigeria and United States of America.

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