Power is the capacity to affect another’s behaviour by the threat of sanction. The sanctions may be negative or positive. Thus, a political leader may have the ability to control the actions of others by promising those who support him wealth or honours, or he may threaten to deny such rewards to those who oppose him. However, sanctions are used if there is non-compliance.


Forms of Power

  1. Political power: The elected President or Prime Minister of a state possesses political power. It is the power derived from the people and the constitution.
  2. Economic power: An individual in possession of economic resources could use such to influence issues in a state. He can also command respect and has the ability of controlling people’s emotions, actions etc.
  3. Military power: The armed forces , army, navy and airforce control the instruments of violence in a country. These instruments can easily be manipulated to overthrow a civilian government and for the defence of the state against external aggression.
  4. Physical power: It is the application of force in compelling obedience. The outcome of this application could bring discomfort or even disastrous end.


The acquisition and exercise of Power

Sources of Political Power

  1. The constitution: The constitution specifies how powers should be acquired and how it should be exercised. Through elections, power held by the people is transferred to a body called government.
  2. Through coercion: Power may be acquired through the use of force, e.g. the military. Most developing countries in Africa, Latin America etc have experienced change of government through coup d’etat.
  3. Through charisma: Power can be acquired through intelligence or a person’s charisma.
  4. Through economic resources: This may include money and property. An individual can acquire political power and command the respect of other people.
  5. Through position of authority: Authority and power are complementary. So, position of authority confers power on the person exercising it.
  6. Through inheritance: This is based on heredity and it is mostly with the royal families. Powers are acquired, when the kingship or queenship is vacant.



Authority refers to the formal or legal right to make and enforce laws or policies which the citizens obey. Authority connotes the acceptance of the right to rule as conferred by the people, irrespective of the sanctions. The ruler may possess, for example, the right of legislators to make laws. In a democratic setting, the source of power and authority is still with the people.


Kinds of Authority Authority is of two kinds

  1. Institutional.
  2. Functional.


  1. Institutional Authority: This is a group of individuals who legitimately occupies Public Office with capacity to determine public goals and policies and direct the execution or otherwise of such goals and policies e.g School Principal, Authority of Head of State and government, Native authority, and Judicial authority.
  2. Functional Authority: This is the power which accrues to a group of people or an individual as a result of the position he holds in an organization. It is the power which is lawful and conforms with accepted social norms. It is a legitimate right to direct or command both human and other resources.


Sources of Political Authority

The following are the sources of political authority:

  • Traditional authority: This is derivable from customs and traditions of the people. Most of the traditional rulers in Nigeria, e.g. Obis, Obas, Emirs, Olus, and Ovies derive their powers from their customs and traditions which are mostly hereditary.
  • Legal authority: The source of this authority is mostly the constitution of a given country. For example, the president elected by the people has a legal authority.
  • Charismatic authority: This is the authority derived from the special and unique qualities of an individual which makes him to be accepted as a leader. For example, NELSON MANDELA.
  • Consent of the people: People may decide to invest a certain person with authority. This could be as a result of his philantropic work in the community.


Types of Authority

  • Traditional authority: This is found in simple traditional societies, where the chief or council of elders exercise authority based on customs and traditions of the people.
  • Charismatic authority: This is an authority derived from the belief in the exceptional ability of a leader which inspires allegiance among the followers.
  • Legal/Rational authority: This is derived from the constitution of a modern democratic state, exercised through the three organs of government.
  • Delegated authority: This authority is mostly given to someone to exercise functions and responsibility on specific areas.
  • Technical authority: It is based on the level of expertise the individual has acquired on the job. This kind of authority has to be respected, recognised and accepted in that particular area concerned.
  • Political authority: It is the authority conferred on persons holding political offices, e.g. the president and legislators. Policies made and executed are based on the provisions of the constitution.
  • Positional authority: The position an individual holds determines this.
  • Coercive authority: It is the authority based on the use of force. The fear of the consequence for not accepting or obeying such authority is always there, e.g. military dictatorship.


De-Jure and De-Facto Authority

Distinction could be made between de-facto and de-jure authority. This distinction is not drawn between two different meanings of authority but two sources of authority or ways of acquiring authority.


De-Jure Authority

This connotes the existence of rulers by reference to which an official acquires the authority to act in some ways.

De-jure authority can be defined as the right to issue instructions and to have them obeyed.

The concept of de-jure authority often comes to the fore in cases where there is controversy about the actions of a person ie where such a person has acted in excess of his authority. Thus, when an official exceeds the limits of such rules in performing an act, such act would be regarded in legal parlance as “Ultra Vires”.

Another way of acquiring de-jure authority is by commission.

According to Thomas Hobbes, a person acts with de-jure authority if he acts on behalf of others who have commissioned him to do so. Such actions when performed have validity.


De-Facto Authority

This is a situation where one person acknowledges another as being entitled to command him.

De-facto authority pre-supposes that one is in such a position as to be able to get others do or believe what one tells them.

With de-facto authority however, it is possible for one to recognize that one ought to comply with authority and yet comply only reluctantly or in fact refuse to comply (i.e. If one is prepared to face the consequences of disobedience or one is conscientiously opposed to the way in which a person has acquired authority).


Difference between Power and Authority

  1. Power is the capacity to affect another’s behaviour by the use of threat of some form of sanction while Authority is formal or legal right to make and enforce laws or policies.
  2. Authority is based on acceptance and mostly legitimate and Power could be legitimate or illegitimate, e.g. the military in power.
  3. It has been observed that authority can be delegated with legitimized responsibility but power cannot be delegated.
  4. Again, since authority is legitimized, punishments that go with it is not as serious as that of power.