I consider the question trite. I got arguing with some one, the other day, on the issue of sovereignity and its locus. His argument was that it’s locus, therefore, its ownership is with the government, who exercises it as well. He argued that an internal challenge , by any person, or group, is a challenge to its sovereignity. It will seem that he is ignorant of the raison d’etre of the the state, as contained in classical writings.
However, I told him that he was both right and wrong, and that it’s true locus, depended on the person’s focus.
The state is conceived as a sovereign polity, while a government exists, not on its own,but to serve the sovereign state, or polity, or the people, whichever is chosen.
Governments come and go, but the state remains, it is permanent. If sovereignity belongs to the government, why is it that governments, in democratic climes, come and go ? Does it also mean that sovereignity comes and goes ? This is not so, for the simple reason that sovereignity belongs to the people, who make up the polity, or the country.
A polity is a politically organised structure, or unit, and it is recognised as a country or a state. The state has ultimate power, and it owes no allegiance to any body or organisation, or another country. Such a state or country is described as a sovereign.
A government is described as a body with the power to make and/or, enforce laws, to control a country, a land area, a people, or an organisation.
It is a group of people, who hold a monopoly on the LEGITIMATE use of force in a given territory.
A PEOPLE make up the state. We do not think of a state as one without a people. Therefore, when referring to the state , we are referring to the people. It follows, therefore, that when talking a sovereign state, one is referring to power; ultimate power, and we say such power belongs to the people in the polity. The government as a tiny minority of people, are chosen, by the people, to represent it, in a government of the people, therefore, the government is by the people.
This would seem to rhyme with the definition given by a one time President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, when defining democracy, said, ” it is government of the people, by the people, for the people”. This describes democracy, and we would be safe to suggest that it can be used for government under a democratic dispensation. Therefore, in democratic dispensation, unlike in authoritarian, autocratic dictatorships, ultimate power, or sovereignity, lays with the people. This is classical. A government, merely, exercises it, on behalf of, and the clear consent, of the people.
This is similar to our argument, in earlier write-ups on party leadership, and the question as to whether, it belongs to the political party, of state and national Chief Executives. We hinged our assertations on the premise that Political Chief Executives, are in an agency relationship with their Principal- the political parties, where the Chief Executives were merely Agents of the principal and representing the Principal in government. In that discussion, most politicians were regarding the Chief Executives as “party leaders, as if there is a position like that in the hierarchy of officials of the party.This kind of thinking shows how the agency relationship had been swapped, with the agent( Chief executive), now playing the role if the Principal(the party).
Flowing from the above example, it would now( in the present discussion), seem that, the locus of sovereignity is in the state, while the government exercises it on behalf of the state, or the people. Therefore, sovereignity does not lay with the government, in terms of its ownership, but government( in a representative or agency capacity, exercises sovereignity, not on its own behalf, but on behalf of the State( the people), and thus is a mere agent of the state, or the people. This representativeness of government is obvious as it will be too unwieldy, if all of the people attempt to exercise its sovereignity. Choosing a few people to represent the people in government is only periodic and sovereignity does not cease mainly because the people that make up a government have been changed by the people, using the power of their votes. Because, they are able to do this, some scholars argue that sovereignity belongs to the people.
But here, we would like to maintain a view, that the loci is not as simple as that. While agreeing to the position posited above, we would like to add, there is a two-fold incidence of sovereignity, with one remaining dormant and is only activated during elections, but at any time, the government of the day exercises it in representative capacity.
We would therefore, say that, in view of the above, the people or the state has the political ownership of sovereignity, while the government has the legal aspect of it.
We will therefore, see that, underlaying the concept of sovereignity are the elected representatives of the people, who form the government. Such representatives are therefore, accountable to the people who voted them in.The accountability ought to be total and complete.
Writers have said that the idea of the “state of nature”, according to Thomas Hobbes, was enunciated by him to describe a situation, in ancient times , where there were no states and governments, and a situation where man had, “…… no arts;no letters; no socuety; and worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor,or nasty, brutish and short….. ” (Thompson, 1982).
Therefore, to escape from the above scenario, people select a few people to form a government, which is charged with the responsibility of making laws, executing them, and interpreting those laws.
That explains why sovereign power, resides with the people ( political power), while the government is given the LEGAL POWER, to exercise such power, on behalf if the people, while the government remains accountable to the people. It is on the basis of This, people obey a government. If it sharks in its responsibilities ( as it may seem presently, an unfortunately), people were not bound to obey it. This is not an invention of this writer, but it exists in classical writings on governments.
Joshua Ephraim writes from Abuja