Definition, Characteristics and Types of Sovereignty

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Definition of Sovereignty

What is Sovereignty?
Sovereignty is derived from the Latin word “Superanus” which means supreme or paramount.

Sovereignty is the supreme authority and power of a state to make and enforce laws/policies within its area of jurisdiction. The state exercise its power and authority in any way it can [either De facto or De Jure (they will be explained below)] without any means of external interference or control. The French philosopher, Jean Bodin (1530-1590), propounded the idea of sovereignty his publication of “The Republic” in 1576.


The Strouds Judicial Dictionary defines sovereignty as, ‘A government which exercises de facto administrative control over a country and is not subordinate to any other government in that country or a foreign sovereign state.’ (The Arantzazu Mendi, 1939, A.C. 256)

Sovereignty exists in two aspects:

1. Internal Sovereignty– This is absolute power of a state to enforce law and compel obedience within its area of authority.
2. External Sovereignty– This is the power a state exercise to run its affairs without external control or interference. The state is subject to no other authority and remains independent.

Characteristics of Sovereignty

1. Permanence– This is the major attribute of sovereignty. Sovereignty should exist as long as a state remain independent. Sovereignty is a permanent feature of a state unlike the government.

2. Absoluteness– Sovereignty is supreme and absolute. It is not subject to any control or interference.

3. Independence– Sovereignty doesn’t allow external interference , therefore, a sovereign state is independent and free from external control.

4. Indivisibility– The sovereignty of a state is indivisible. It remains single and absolute.

5. Unity– “Unity is the spirit of Sovereignty”. A sovereign state should stay united.

6. Comprehensiveness– Every member of the state is subject to the sovereignty of the state. The power of a state is universally applicable.

Types of Sovereignty

1. Legal Sovereignty– This is the sovereignty vested on the law making body in a state. E.g. Parliament

2. Internal Sovereignty– This is the absolute power of a state to make and enforce law within its area of jurisdiction.

3. External Sovereignty– This refers to the power of the state to run its affairs without any form of foreign interference.

4. De jure Sovereignty– De jure sovereignty is having independent legal rule over one’s own country. The state have the right to control its military, finances, territory and people.

4. De Facto Sovereignty– This sovereignty make use of force in compelling obedience. However, such state might see itself as a sovereign state while other external nations might not. E.g. Military government.

5. Political Sovereignty– This sovereignty resides with the supreme body in a state. Political sovereignty lies with the electorates/ citizens.

However, there can be some limitations to the sovereignty of a state

1. Membership of international organizations

2. The military in government

3. The constitution

4. The electorate/ citizens

5. Public opinion

6. Dependency of a state

7. Pressure groups

8. Customs and Traditions

9. Type of government in practice

10. War

N.B- Sovereignty is best achieved in a unitary state



* C. C. Dibie; Essential Government for Senior Secondary Schools; Tonad Publishers; August 2008

* The Arantzazu Mendi, 1939, A.C. 256

* Stallybrass, William Teulon Swan (1918). “A society of states: Or, Sovereignty, independence, and equality in a league of nations”

Please, kindly drop a comment below if you find this helpful or you have a question.


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