Government as an institution of the state may be defined as a machinery established by the state to organise the state, manage its affairs and administer its functions and duties. It is also seen as a machinery through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed and realised.

The need for government came up as a result of people living together, interacting and working together as well as forming different associations. This living and working together may bring about conflicts, disagreements, crises of different dimensions etc. The result would be that the rich will exert force to oppress the poor. The fundamental function of any state, therefore, is to come up with a dynamic policy, to control people by the administration of justice so that the weak are protected from the strong and the poor from the wealthy. Therefore, the need to have a body capable of regulating their daily activities arises.

If there is no such agency, anarchy could reign in the society. There is the need for people to elect and establish among themselves an agency (Government) with political power and authority to direct all activities in a state. Government as an institution of the state has three organs or structures and the functions of each of them are stipulated accordingly in the constitution. For example,

  • The Executive is concerned with policy formulation and implementation.
  • The Legislature is equally involved in law making and
  • The Judiciary concentrates mainly in the interpretation of the law.



Government is referred to as an art of governing because it is a body vested with the supreme power of the affairs of a state. A government is vested with the power of maintaining peace and security by putting in place machinery for that purpose.

  1. Government makes laws and enforces them on the people of that country. It makes policies and implements them. Equally, it interprets laws and punishes the offenders. Most of the policies, and actions taken are meant for the general well-being of the society.
  2. Government should be able to carry the people along in most of the activities embarked upon. The efficiency of government in the process of administration is based on the principle of separation of powers, where the organs of government – the executive, the legislature and the Judiciary have their powers distinctly separated both in functions and in personnel. Each of the organs has its functions defined by the constitution.



Government as an academic field of study involves the study of political institutions in the state, ideas, values and doctrines about politics, the view of political thinkers on what constitutes the welfare of the people. It is a social science subject that is taught in schools and colleges as well as in higher institutions where it is popularly known as Political Science.

The study of government embraces International Relations, Public Administration, Local Government Administration, Comparative Politics, etc. Government as a science studies politics through the use of computers, research, statistics and analysis of data. Government also relates to other subjects or disciplines such as Economics, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Mathematics.

Branches of Government as an Academic Field of Study are as follows:

  • Public Administration deals with human management in government establishments or public affairs.
  • International Relations: This area deals with diplomacy and external relations with other countries.
  • Political Thought / Theories: It has to do with early political thinkers e.g Locke, Hobbes, and Machiavelli.
  • Political economy: It deals with fiscal and monetary policies of a country.
  • Comparative politics: It deals with comparative analysis of government of other countries.



The following are the attributes of government as an institution of the state:

  1. Law: It is a guide to the activities, beliefs and behaviour of the citizens. These are laws made by the government and entrenched in the constitution. The actions of those in government, their limitations, rights, duties and obligations of citizens are all outlined in the constitution.
  2. Political power: The political power which the government has is in consonance with the people’s will to obey laws and policies made by the state.
  3. Revenue: Government needs enough revenue for the enormous task facing it. Work-force: The civil service possesses adequate personnel for policy-making and implementation, interpretation and punishment of offenders.
  4. People’s legitimate support: A government should be able to earn for itself legitimate support from the people and this produces peace and stability in a system.
  5. Welfare services: Provision of some essential services, e.g. water, electricity, housing etc should be made to improve people’s well-being. This is essential for any responsible government.
  6. Periodic change: No government is permanent, especially, one that is based on people’s participation (elective government) hence the adoption of periodic elections. In some systems, it could be either five or four years to change a government.
  7. Protection: It is incumbent on the government to provide enough protection and security to the people.



The following are the major functions of modern government.

  1. Law-making: Government is responsible for making laws in a country. Laws are made to ensure peace and order in the society. The legislature is the organ of government responsible for law-making.
  2. Provision of social amenities: Amenities like electricity, potable water, health centre etc are provided by the government. These are necessities for human existence.
  3. Maintenance of law and order: The maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of government. This function is usually performed by government agencies like the police.
  4. Defence of the country: Government is responsible for defending the country against external aggression. It is the duty of the armed forces of a country to maintain the territorial integrity of the state.
  5. Protection of lives and property: Government is also responsible for protection of lives and property. For example, any person can seek the police protection if there is the need for it.
  6. Provision of employment: Job is also provided for the citizens. This goes a long way in improving the welfare of the people.
  7. Formulation and implementation of policies: Formulation and implementation of policies are carried out to ensure the well-being of the people. The executive arm of government performs this function.
  8. Promotion of economic activities: The promotion of economic activities is done through the provision of infrastructure, e.g. roads, railways, airports etc and by encouraging local and foreign investors.
  9. External affairs function: Government maintains good relations with other countries. The Head of State and the Ministry of External Affairs perform this function in Nigeria. Diplomats who represent their countries in other countries further this noble role.
  10. Administration of justice: The judiciary is responsible for the administration of justice. It settles disputes between individuals and between individuals and the government.



  1. Types of system: The study of government helps in knowing the types and different systems of government operating in the world.
  2. To widen people’s knowledge: The study of government helps to widen people’s knowledge about administration and other institutions involved in governance.
  3. Political education: Government educates the people of a country on the political life or affairs of the country.
  4. Opportunity for leadership: The opportunity is provided for people through the study of government to become future political leaders.
  5. Conflict resolution: Through government, an opportunity is provided for people to know how conflicts originate and are resolved.
  6. Government provides the opportunity to know: Government provides the opportunity for people to know their rights, duties and obligations as citizens.
  7. Mistakes of past leaders: The study of government helps to prevent mistakes off some past political leaders from being repeated.
  8. Promotion of the spirit of nationalism and patriotism: These are inculcated into the lives of the people.
  9. Decision-making: The study of government equally opens the eyes of the people for the need to take part in political decision-making of a country.



Definition: A state may be defined as a politically organised body of people inhabiting a defined geographical entity with an organized legitimate government. The state in this respect is entirely free from external control. The power of a state is also guaranteed with coercive power to secure obedience from the citizens. A state is different from empires, kingdoms, chieftains etc. Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic, U.S.A ., Canada etc are good examples of states.


Features of State

A State possesses the following features or characteristics:

  1. Permanence: The state remains permanent feature. Governments can change many times but a state remains permanent.
  2. A defined territory: A state has a defined territory with a limit to its size. It must have clearly defined boundaries, separating it from others. Things like waters, mountains. forest, air space etc make up the state.
  3. Government: Though government is not a permanent feature of a state but it remains a significant feature because it is a machinery set up by the state to pilot the affairs of the people making up that state. The sustenance and prestige of a state are maintained by the government.
  4. Sovereignty: The supreme power to make decisions and enforce same on the people is with the state. The sovereignty off a state is not negotiable and must be free from external interference and control.
  5. Population: This is an important attribute of a state. For a state to be called a state. there must be a given number of people making up the entity. However, with time, such number is bound to increase.
  6. Recognition: A state must be recognised both internally and externally.


Relationship between the State and the Government

The state and government are inseparable in the scheme of things. The state is a politically organised body of people occupying a defined geographical area with an organised legitimate or constitutional government. Government on the other hand is a feature of a state. It is a machinery set up by the state to organize and realize the set objectives and goals of the state.

No state exists without a government, otherwise anarchy would reign. The people making up the state has a government to administer the area and this involves the three organs of government in place. These organs of government have distinct functions to perform in the affairs of the state. The state is therefore a corporate entity while government is an institution set up by the state. Government can change as many times as possible but the state remains a permanent feature. Again, the sovereignty of the state is rested with the government and the government exercises it in trust for the state.


State and Nation

A state exists where a territory, a people, a government and sovereignty exist. It may lack the feeling of nationality or oneness among the people and yet remain a state. A nation could be seen as a body of people who feel themselves to be naturally linked together, share common ties, believe that they can live happily together, and are not satisfied when they are disunited and cannot tolerate subjection to people who do not share these ties. Similarly, this people share the same language, culture and have the feeling of nationality.

However, over time, there has been the tendency to equate statehood with nationhood and to associate nation with a united people organised in a state. The state may accommodate people of different historical background, language, culture, religious beliefs and people of

homogenous identity. Acton, in his writing, maintained that the combination of different nations in one state is as necessary a condition of civilised life as the combination of individuals to form society.


State and Society

Meaning of Society:

Society is referred to as the association of human beings. This suggests the whole complex of relations of man to his fellows. In addition to this, it is the complicated network of groups and the institutions expressing human association.

There may be many different groups in the society like the church, family and the trade unions which do influence social life but do not owe their origin or whatever to the state.

The state is a way of regulating human conduct, it orders us not to commit murder, not to steal and there is punishment for their violation.


The Difference between the State and Society

  1. Society is a wider term than the state. It suggests many social relationships which cannot be expressed through the state, e.g. education, religion, agricultural and industrial activities, domestic institutions etc. The state is only concerned with those social relationships that express themselves through government.
  2. The term, ‘society’ applies to all human communities whether organized or unorganized, but organization for law is essential to a state.
  3. State is not identical with society. The state provides the framework of the social order, holds society together, binds individuals to certain uniform rules or behaviour which are essential for a harmonious and orderly social life.



Political Obligation

Authority gives rulers the right to command while political obligation deals with why people obey government. We shall look at the several theories of obligation and see reasons why people obey government.

  1. The theory of coercion: The assumption is there that men obey government because they recognize their incapacity in relation to government. This incapacity is in relation to power or coercive force. In other words, men obey force because they are compelled to do so.
  2. Prudential obligation: Men obey government because they value their individual freedom and conveniences more than the sufferings and pains which are attendant in disobedience. According to Thomas Hobbes, men are aware of the consequences of disobedience and for the most part, men would try to avoid the force of the law and the punishments which are inherent in law. Again, let us look at the premise upon which Hobbesian absolutism was based. To have an orderly and stable society in which everyone keeps the law as well as perform their duties, there must be an absolute power capable of imposing its will on all the citizens. The citizens must recognize the superiority of this power as well as the readiness of the power to invoke superiority and to punish offenders.
  3. The liberal theory of obligation: Assumes that men obey government because they are in the habit of obedience. Political obligation therefore is seen as a by-product of the socialization process in any society. This is to say that men are born into societies where there are existing rules and structures of authority and are socialized by various methods into the habits and usages of their societies. Socialization process imposes on the citizen the tendency or the habit of obedience.
  4. The social contract theory: According to this theory, the political obligation derives from relationship between the ruler and the ruled. This relationship is created by a contract which defines explicitly the rights and obligations of each party. Locke maintained that the society is a product of a social contract i.e of an agreement between individuals to come together to avoid a chaos which is part of the characteristics of the state of nature. Social contract confers on a person or a group of persons the authority to manage the affairs of society on behalf of all. The contract also defines the rights and the obligations of all.
  5. The theory of the common good: It assumes that rulers or states pursue certain moral ends which are in the interest of all. The state is treated as a necessary means of fulfilling some of our general moral obligation, for the state with its system of enforceable laws helps to harness our acknowledged moral obligation for purposes of promoting social justice and the common good.
  6. The theory of the general will: This is the theory favoured by philosophers of totalitarianism and paternalism such as Plato and Hegel. This theory is expressing that societies have a general will of purpose which they pursue and that this general purpose is in the interest of all. It is for this reason that the individual is enjoined to act in such ways as to enhance the opportunity for attaining the general will, since governments or rulers are often the instrument for attaining the general will.

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