Civil Society is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organisations and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society. Civil society is also known as non-governmental organisations. (NGO),

It provides a way of describing the social action that occurs within the context of voluntary associations or intermediary bodies.

The London School of Economics Centre for Civil Society define civil society as an arena of un-coerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values. In theory, its institutional forms are distinct from those of the state and family, though in practice, the boundaries between states, civil society and family are often complex, not cleared (blurred) and negotiated.

Civil society commonly embraces, a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms, varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power. Civil societies are often populated by organisations such as registered charities, development non-governmental organisations, community groups, women’s organisations, professional associations, trade unions, and self-help groups.



Civil society also means the entire range of organised groups and institutions that are independent of the state, voluntary and at least to some extent self-generating and self-reliant.

 

Functions and the Need for Civil Society

  1. Civil society assists in building and strengthening democracy.
  2. To limit and control the power of the state, particularly when a country is emerging from decades of dictatorship. Thus, it finds ways to check, monitor and restrain the power of political leaders and state officials.
  3. To expose the corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance reforms. Even where anti-corruption laws and bodies exist, they cannot function effectively without the active support and participation of civil society.
  4. To promote political participation. They do this by educating people about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens and encouraging them to listen to election campaigns and vote in elections.
  5. Help to develop other values of democratic life such as: tolerance, moderation, compromise and respect for opposing points of view. Without this deeper culture of accommodation, democracy cannot be stable. These values cannot simply be taught, they must also be experienced through practice.
  6. Civil Society also can help to develop programmes for democratic civic education in the schools as well. After dictatorship, comprehensive reforms are needed to revise the curricular, rewrite the textbooks, and retrain teachers in order to educate young people about the crimes of the past and teach them the principles and values of democracy. This is too important a task to leave only to officials in the education ministry.
  7. Civil Society is an arena for the expression of diverse interests, and one role for civil society organizations is to lobby for needs and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionist, and so on. They can also establish a dialogue with relevant governments’ ministries and agencies to lobby for their interest and concerns.
  8. Civil society can provide new forms of interest and solidarity that cut across old forms of tribal, linguistic, religious and other identity ties. This makes civic life richer, more complex, and more tolerant.
  9. Civil society can provide a training ground for future political leaders by helping to identify and train new types of leaders who have dealt with important public issues and can be recruited to run for political office at all levels.
  10. Civil society can help to inform the public about important public issues. They can provide forums for debating public policies and disseminating information about issues before parliament that affect the interests of different groups or of society at large.
  11. Civil society can play an important role in medicating and helping to resolve conflict. In Nigeria, NGOs have developed formal programmes and training of trainers to relieve political and ethnic conflict and teach groups to solve their disputes through bargaining and accommodation.
  12. They monitor the conduct of elections and ensure that the voting and vote counting is entirely free, fair, peaceful and transparent.

 

Finally, it is important to say that civil society makes the state at all levels accountable, responsive, inclusive, effective and hence more legitimate.

 

Principles of Civil Society

It has been suggested by scholars that there are three principles of civil society.

  • Participatory engagement.
  • Constitutional authority.
  • Moral responsibility.

 

a) Participatory engagements indicates that members of the society;

  1. enjoys access to, and governance of resources used for the common good,
  2. are free to be involved in civic action and social change,
  3. are free to participate in group of affiliation that provide a sense of belonging on a community level.

 

b) Constitutional authority protects the rights and privileges of citizens in a civil society. Under the rule of law, citizens and social groups are constitutionally legitimized and empowered to hold economic and political actors accountable for their work as community servants and trustees.

 

c) Within this social context, all community members have moral responsibilities to use their civil liberties in ways that do not violate the human rights of others. The practice of equity, justice and reciprocity produces social order and stability.

 

Qualities/Characteristics of Civil Society

  1. They may establish ties to political parties and the state, but they must retain their independence, and they do not seek political power for themselves.
  2. The members share social rights of access to the commonwealth of resources produced, used, and exchanged through natural and social economies in a community and through a society.
  3. Voluntariness: This is the willingness to help and to use one’s free time in a productive manner for the society’s good.
  4. The citizens organize activities and services for themselves and other people out of their own hopes and premises. Fundamentally, civil society has no requirements from the outside, as is the case with the private sector. The actors of civil society decide for themselves what kind of activities they engage in, although the financiers have begun to participate in the defining process more in the last few years.
  5. In civil society, people are at the same time, actors and objects of the action.
  6. The spontaneity and activeness of citizens stem first and foremost from the willingness to participate and act. People are motivated by an interest in some subject matter. The desire to learn and also to help others encourages many people to be active and participate in the activities of civil society.
  7. In civil society, activities are services provided for members and customers in a non-profit making ethos(charitable nature). It is on this basis that the actors of civil society receive public financial support.
  8. Autonomy: Civil societies receive their funding as general grants which left room for their own deliberation and decision-making power.
  9. Civil society is based on an individual’s freedom of choice. Force or sanctions do not characterize civil society.
  10. Lay-persons and professionals, voluntariness and paid work co-exist in civil society.
  11. Civil society is able to adjust to the hopes, needs and desires of people as well as the changes of the surrounding environment. The lack of official duties and responsibilities eases adjustment and makes room for reactions.
  12. Civil society operates in a communal context. The activity can take place in status – based, operational or mental communities.
  13. Most of the activities of civil society take place locally and at grassroots. Locality characterizes civil society, not only its activities but its essence too.
  14. Civil society represents a living world where communality and mutual understanding is built with language and communication.

 

Pressure Groups and Public Opinion

Pressure groups are associations or organizations that promote specific, social and moral causes by employing agents or lobbyists to influence legislations. They also influence public officials; endorsing candidates to stand for election into the legislature or by conducting cause systematic education, propaganda or campaign to fight a general cause.

 

Types of Pressure Groups

  1. Professional or Occupational Pressure Groups: These associations seek to promote the interest of their occupations and professions e.g. Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), ICAN etc.
  2. Religious Pressure Group: These are formed to promote the interest of the religion they belong to e.g. Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nigeria League of Imam etc.
  3. Economic Pressure Groups: These are essentially united by particular self interest like wage hours and working conditions e.g. Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, Market Women Association etc.
  4. Promotional Groups: These groups seek to promote some cause which may not bring direct benefit to the member e.g. the abolition of slave trade movement in the 19th century.

 

Activities of Pressure Groups

  1. They hold public rallies, protests and demonstrate to express their grievances.
  2. They lobby the legislatures to influence government programmes and policies.
  3. They publish articles and editorials in the newspapers and magazine to fight against unpopular government programmes.
  4. They call for mass protest, strike and other civil activities to demand for their needs from the government.
  5. They render selfless service for their members e.g. lawyers at times appear for pressure group in courts without charging any amount of money.

 

Features of Pressure Groups

  1. Pressure group members are not politicians. Though of recent, most of their members as citizens of the state are participating in politics.
  2. They are civil in the agitation of their rights.
  3. At times, they lobby the legislatures to get what they want.
  4. They screen the people who want to join them etc.

 

Functions of Pressure Group

  1. They act as watch-dog over public policy and administration between elections; a period when the voters may be completely powerless. They can champion the interest of minority groups and help to check injustice and unconstitutional measures taken by the government.
  2. They can act as an important link between the government and the people.
  3. The groups can help to check misrule and maladministration.
  4. They help to educate their members on their political rights.
  5. They may offer useful suggestions and piece of advice to the government in the various government committee which usually include members of pressure groups.
  6. They educate the people through their campaigns, advertisement and discussions.

 

Examples of Pressure Groups

  1. Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT)
  2. Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ)
  3. Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC)
  4. Nigerian Medical Association (NMA)
  5. Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) etc.

 

Differences between Pressure groups and Political Parties

  1. Pressure groups are associations of persons or groups of persons having similar interest and frequent interaction among themselves but political party is a body of men and women united for promoting by their joint endeavours.
  2. Political parties’ main desire is to win elections while pressure groups have a more limited aim which is to influence government decision in their favour.
  3. A pressure group unlike a political party is a social group but its structure, function and association are quite different from that of the political party.
  4. Membership of political parties are larger than that of pressure groups.

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