Pressure group is defined as organised groups, which influence government decisions socially or economically, without necessarily entering into election activities for the control of government. In doing this, they influence the executive, legislature and other officials of government to achieve their immediate aims. However, some have argued that pressure groups are part of the political process and that they attempt to reinforce or change the direction of government policy, but do not wish, as it were, to be in government.
TYPES OF PRESSURE GROUPS
- Economic pressure groups: These are mostly manufacturers, associations like chamber of commerce, cocoa farmers union, cotton producers union, etc. They mount pressure on and at the same time influence the government whenever they have problems on issues affecting their members.
- Professional pressure groups: They are organised professional associations like the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ). They can go on strike to press home their demand for an improved better condition of their members.
- Educational pressure groups: This group has to do with lecturers in colleges and higher institutions of learning, students and the non – academic staff of these institutions. This group mount pressure on government for better conditions of service and for the qualitative funding of the education sector; they sometimes go on strikes to press home their demands.
- Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC): All the trade unions in Nigeria are under this body. It is the parent body that officially represent the interests of the workers with the government. There are state chapters of NLC.
- Promotional interest groups: This group is out to champion the cause for an improved condition of the people’s welfare. This action may not necessarily benefit the members, but the less privileged in the society. For example, the Nigerian Bar Association gives free legal services to the less privileged in the society.
- Social pressure groups: They are generally out to promote the general welfare of their members. Some of these groups are Boys Scout, Girls Guide, Rotary Club, Old Boys Association, etc.
- Religious pressure groups: This includes christians, moslems, traditionalists, etc. Most issues affecting them have been resolved through lobbying of the executive and the parliament.
FUNCTIONS/IMPORTANCE OF PRESSURE GROUPS
- Offer useful suggestions: They offer useful suggestions and advise governments at local, state and national levels.
- Promote economic stability: This is made possible through the chamber of commerce.
- Welfare services: Pressure groups promote certain general welfare services e.g. the Nigerian Bar Association which sometimes offers free legal services in courts.
- Acts as a link: They act as important link between the government and the people.
- Act as watchdogs: Pressure groups act as watch dogs over public policies and administration.
- Education: They help to educate their members on their political rights especially when these rights are infringed upon by government’s decision.
- Provide specialised information: Pressure groups provide specialised and expert information to the government.
- Promoting members’ interest: This is done through the protection of such interests.
- Provision of manpower bank: They provide manpower bank from which government can draw experts to serve in the government e.g. Judges can only be appointed from within the Bar Association.
- Act as a Check: Pressure groups act as a check against dictatorship.
- Bribery and Corruption: They help to prevent bribery and corruption in the political system through their activities.
- Useful Information: Pressure groups provide useful information in the process of law making.
- Policy Formation: They play vital role in assisting the government in policy formulation and implementation.
- Provision of Educational Programmes: Seminars, lectures, debates, etc.
- Research: They conduct research found useful for the administration of the state on technical issues.
- Serve as yardstick: Pressure group serve as yardstick for measuring the popularity of government policies.
- The underprivileged: They assist in championing the cause of the underprivileged in the country.
FACTORS THAT CAN AID EFFECTIVE OPERATION OF PRESSURE GROUPS
- Large size: The impact of the activities of pressure groups having large membership are usually felt more than those with small membership.
- Dedication and Unity: The existence of a high degree of dedication and unity among its members in pursuance of their goals and objectives.
- Adequate funds: There should be the availability of adequate funds with which to sponsor their programmes.
- Capability of the leadership: The more acceptable, pragmatic and charismatic the leaders are, the more effective the pressure group.
- Relevance of its aims: If there is popularity or relevance in its aims, objectives and demands, then its operations will be effective.
- Attitude of the government: Attitude of the government of the day towards the activities of pressure groups is very important. The more tolerant the government is, the more effective the operations of the pressure group.
- Good organisation / Strategy: With good organisation, the operation of pressure group can be very effective.
Weaknesses or Factors Working Against the Success of Pressure Groups
- Small size: The impact of the activities of pressure groups is often marred by their poor numerical strength.
- Lack of dedication among members: If members of the group are not dedicated, they may not achieve their set goals.
- Lack of adequate funds: To have an effective and achievable programme, they need enough funds.
- Poor leadership: Leaders without vision and charisma may not be able to carry the members of a group along.
- Attitude of government: A government that is oppressive will not tolerate the demands or activities of pressure groups. For example, the military government.
- Poor organisation: A poorly organised pressure group will not only be ineffective but will also not achieve the set objectives.
- Inadequate political education: If leaders and members of a group are not properly educated about their rights, they cannot be effective.
TECHNIQUES EMPLOYED BY PRESSURE GROUPS TO ACHIEVE THEIR OBJECTIVES (MODE OF OPERATION)
- The mass media: Pressure groups influence government policy through the mass media like, Radio, T.V. Newspapers, Press conferences etc, in which they highlight their problems or make special appeal to the government. This is an effective strategy in mobilising public opinion.
- Strike / boycott: Pressure groups may embark on strike (refusal to work). Strike is always the last option after all reconciliation and strategies have failed. Students in higher institutions of learning can equally embark on boycott of lectures (refusal to attend lectures) for the same purpose.
- Lobbying: Pressure groups attempt to lobby influential officials of the state e.g. the legislature. Lobbying is an effective strategy in democratic societies.
- Dialogue: This is a formal discussion between representatives of government and pressure groups. If dialogue fails, then confrontation is inevitable.
- Ultimatum: Ultimatum comes up after different avenues for dialogue have been exhausted without result. It is a condition issued by pressure groups to either the government or employer and failure may attract unhealthy development.
- Association with international unions: They join international groups as a way of attracting international sympathy. For example, the Nigerian Labour Congress is a member of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU).
- Pressure mounted on the Executive: The group mount pressure on the executive, not to sign into law, bills that are seen as unhealthy. Such bills may not produce something good for them or for the public.
- Working alliance with political party: This is done in order to have its programmes become a major concern to the party, if election result is in their favour. Most pressure groups give support to the party in order to win the election indirectly.
- Demonstrations: Demonstration could be peaceful or violent. Pressure groups adopt these methods to mobilise support from members of the public.
- Consultation: Most of the policies made by government are done based on consultations with some pressure groups.
DANGERS POSED BY THE ACTIVITIES OF PRESSURE GROUPS
- Political instability: This can result especially where the activities of pressure groups lead to the fall of government in power.
- Social disorder: The activities of pressure groups may be accompanied by social disorder e.g. riot, violent demonstrations, etc.
- The majority may go unrepresented: Pressure groups may be taken to represent more general opinions or people which may not be so. Therefore, the majority of the general public may go unrepresented where they have interest.
- Misrepresentation: There could be misrepresentation of public opinion by a vocal few to the government.
- Misinformation of the general public: Pressure groups may disseminate wrong information through mass propaganda thereby misinforming the general public.
- Lobbying: Pressure groups may corrupt public officials by engaging in lobbying.
- Strike Action: It is two edged. The company suffers a down turn; also the legitimate support of the people. The country’s economy is affected by industrial actions.
- They are self-centred: Pressure groups are self-centred. They are mostly vocal about issues affecting their members only.
- Supporting a political party: The support given to a political party by pressure group may produce a government that does not.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN POLITICAL PARTIES AND PRESSURE GROUPS
- To contest election and control the government.
- Political party is organised to reach everybody in the society, not self- seeking.
- Political party tends to accommodate virtually different interests in the society in terms of membership.
- Political parties organise themselves into rallies, debates, lectures, seminar, etc, capable of projecting their ideologies in order to win more followership.
- Political parties express opinions on several issues e.g. education, health, agriculture and housing.
- Political parties pursue goals, interests that will improve the life-style of the people in the society
- Candidates from political parties are to contest elections with the aim of being in government and ruling the people.
- To influence government policies and pursue the interests of the members.
- Pressure groups are basically self- seeking and not organised to reach everybody in the society.
- Pressure groups do not accommodate different groups in the society.
- When they have successfully influenced the government, with their aims achieved, they cease to exist.
- Pressure groups are only concerned with matters affecting their members e.g. salaries, allowances and loans.
- Pressure groups pursue interests and goals that will improve the life-style of their members only
- Candidates contest election for the leadership of their groups or unions and not for the people.