Distinction between the state, nation and government

 Distinction between the state, nation and government

Concept of the state

State is defined as a community of persons more or less numerous, permanently occupying a definite portion of territory, independent of external control, and possessing an organized government to which the great body of inhabitants render habitual obedience.

People are the inhabitants of the state. It is the entire body of those citizens of the state who are vested with political power for political purposes. There is no specific number of people required in order that a state be considered as one. However, it is important that the number must be numerous enough to be self-sufficient and to defend themselves and small enough to be administered. To date, the smallest state in terms of population is Vatican City with 826 citizens, who are mostly clerics and some Swiss guards. On the other hand, China is the largest state with 1.3 billion population. The Philippines is also fast growing state with 97,976,603 population.

A state may increase or decrease its territory by the acquisition of further territory through either (a) discovery and occupation; or (b) conquest; or (c) accretion; or (d) prescription; or (e) cession through gift, exchange, or purchase. It may decrease through its loss. The increase or decrease does not affect the personality of the state. What is important is there still exists a portion of its territory as an abode for its people.

Government is the institution or aggregate of institutions by which an independent society makes and carries out those rules of action which are necessary to enable men to live in a social state, or which are imposed upon the people forming that society by those who possess the power or authority of prescribing them. (Bernas, 2007). Simply, it refers to the agency through which the will of the state is formulated, expressed and implemented.
There is no particular form prescribed to the State, provided only that the government is able to represent the State in its dealings with other states. The mandate of the government is to always protect the welfare of the people.
Sovereignty is referred to as the supreme, absolute and uncontrollable power by which any state is governed. It has two manifestations: a) internal, which is the power of the State to rule within its territory; and b) external, which is the freedom of the State to carry out its activities without subjection to or control by other States. This is often called as independence.

Characteristics of the state

  • Federated states differ from sovereign states in that they have transferred a portion of their sovereign powers to a federal government.
  • Under the rule of law, no one person can rule and even top government officials are bound by the law.
  • The “nation” refers to a large geographical area and the people living there who perceive themselves as having a common identity.
  • The nation state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit.


Purpose of the state

The state according to Marxists is an organ of “one class against another, because there is no such state as a classless state or supra-one.”  All states are class state. It bears a “class character,” and is never a state of the “whole people.” The state exists for and on behalf of the dominant class. The state becomes the supreme coercive power for the protection and promotion of the interest of those who own its instruments of production.

The origin of the state is linked to the division of society into classes. This division leads to the existence of class struggles and contradictions for the control of the state. Thus, the state can be seen as a “conglomerate of the collectivity made of the various interacting classes in the social formation.”

It is a “committee for managing the common affairs” of the dominant class. The state is therefore a “relation, or a condensate of relation of power between struggling class.” In this case, the state is an institution for the running of societal activities through its instruments, such as government, bureaucracy, judiciary, legislature, police, army, etc.

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All the same, the state is a fragment of society that set itself above society. That does not mean in any way that the state does not act on behalf of the dominant class, which it does, but it only shows that the state does not for most part act at its command. This is not only because the ruling class is not monolithic, as people may want to believe, but also because the class itself has different interests and tendencies existing within itself, that it may not be easy to use the state as its instrument.

The state, therefore, has a relative form of autonomy, which makes it, “stands apart from them in relative autonomy and thus its ability to accommodate the differing interests of the disparate classes.” This position allows the state to preserve the common rather than the factional interests of the ruling class. Hence, to its appearance of representing national concerns and unity than the factional interests of the dominant class alone. In a situation like this, the state is seen as acting against the short-term interests of the dominant class, but in fact, in reality in the end, it is protecting the long-term interests of the class in general. For example, in capitalist societies, the long-term interest of the state is the promotion of capitalist accumulation, and this is what it has been doing.

However, the autonomy of the state does not suggest that it is independent par-excellence or a “state for itself,” but on the contrary, its relative autonomy allows its space to play its class role in a flexible manner. This makes it possible to decide how best to serve the existing social order. This explains the reason why the capitalist states are relatively autonomous from the dominant and the dominated classes.

Distinction between the state, nation and government

  1. The State is more or less permanent and continues from time immemorial. But the government is temporary. It changes frequently. A government may come and go, but the State continues for ever. Death of a ruler or the overthrow of a government in general elections does not mean the change of the State. If the Ajanta Government replaces the Congress Government, it involves no fundamental changes in the structure of the State of India.
  2. The State is generally composed of all citizens but all of them are not members of the government. The government consists of only a few selected citizens. The organ of the government consists of only a few selected citizens. The organs of the government are executive, legislature and judiciary. The few selected persons will run these three organs of the government. Thus, the State is a much broader organization than the government. Membership of the State is compulsory but not that of the government.
  3. The State possesses sovereignty. Its authority is absolute and unlimited. Its power cannot be taken away by any other institution. Government possesses no sovereignty, no original authority, but only derivative powers delegated by the State through its constitution. Powers of government are delegated and limited.
  4. The State is an abstract concept whereas government is a concrete one. Nobody sees the State and the State never acts. The government is a physical manifestation and it acts for the State. It consists of a definite group of persons who can be seen and known. It is a tangible organization which can be seen and questioned.
  5. All States are identical in character and nature. Whether big or small, the characteristics of the State do not undergo changes. But governments are of different types and they may vary form the State to the. State various political scientists have given different classifications of government. Aristotle had classified government into monarchy, aristocracy and democracy Marriot has classified government into parliamentary or presidential and unitary or federal. Thus, there is no uniform pattern of government. But the State is a universal institution having one single form with its four essential characteristics.
  6. Lastly the citizens possess rights to go against, government and not against the State. The State only acts through the government and the government may commit mistakes and not the State. Thus, the citizens have only rights to go against the government. Moreover, the State consists of a citizen, the citizens go against the State, it will mean to go against themselves. This is an impossible proposition. The State is therefore, and indestructible union of citizens having the chief characteristic of permanence and continuity. Government is only a part of the State.
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Controversy in the theory of the origin of Nigerian state

The formation of the Nigerian Federation has elicited divergent views from scholars, but our main focus in academic work is to reject the Rikerian thesis, which rejects the presence of socio-economic conditions in the calculation to arrive at a federal political framework for the country. Therefore, our central argument is that the federal solution in Nigeria wasnecessitated by the desire to achieve ‘unity in diversity’ and this was made possible bythe presence of certain socio-economic forces. Put differently, the paper brings to thefore the gaps in Riker’s theory of origin of federations in general and that of Nigeria inparticular. Hence, an attempt is made to shed more light on thosecircumstances that culminated in the Nigerian Federation, with a view to proving that thesocio-economic theory of federal formation best explains the birth of the Federation.

The remaining part of the paper is divided into three main sections. The first examinesRiker’s political theory of federal formations in general, while the second, which focuseson the origin of the Nigerian Federation hinges upon those social, economic and politicalforces that paved the way for a federal system of government in Nigeria, and the third,which concludes the paper, highlights the flaws in the Rikerian theory of federal origin.


Problems of Nigerian state

Corruption has taken many forms and infiltrates all political institutions and economic sectors.

The ruling government is not performing its functions as promised, and officials are too busy enriching their pockets to govern effectively. In 2012, Transparency International deemed Nigeria one of the most corrupt nations in the world, ranking as 139th most corrupt out of the 176 countries measured. That same year, a Gallup poll found that 94% of Nigerians thought corruption was widespread in their government. The spoils of political corruption—billions of US dollars—are stashed in foreign bank accounts. The Abacha administration in the 1990s notoriously looted upwards of $3 billion. Since then, government institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and President Goodluck Jonathan have vowed to eradicate corruption. Even so, as recently as 2013, the Central Bank of Nigeria reported the 76% of the country’s crude oil revenue intended for the Bank was unaccounted for.

Election-rigging is not unheard of in Nigeria. The citizens of Nigeria are tired of coming out to cast their votes on election day only to feel their votes haven’t been counted. A Foreign Affairs investigation of the 2007 elections counted around 700 election-related violent acts in the year leading up to the elections, including two assassinations. International observers in 2007 reported rampant theft of ballot boxes, and while in 2011 the situation improved, ballot-rigging was still rampant. During elections, Nigerians and international watchdog groups tell stories of thugs hired by candidates to hijack the ballot boxes and intimidate voters. Many of these thugs are disaffected and unemployed youth.

Corruption doesn’t only exist in government, but is pervasive in society. For example, what happens in some companies with a male CEOs when a woman applies for a job? Unless they already know them, some of the CEOs demands special and sexual favors from young women seeking employment and at times do not hire them in the end. Those at the top adopt an attitude of “if I do no not already know you, I’m not going to hire you,” and exploit their power—this is just one illustration. Those who do not have connections to top officials or executives remain jobless, even if they’re university graduates with top marks. Gender and education will be discussed later, but this is a concrete example of how systemic corruption perpetuates a host of problems in Nigeria.

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Political theorists are usually concerned with “what constitutes the end of the State”, which is the basis of moral philosophy. The foregoing theoretical extrapolations in this study revealed that the emergence and chief end of the State is to ensure “good life” for a generality of members of the society. Unfortunately, the State, in concrete terms, is often seen, in most cases and in most post-colonial African societies (such as Niigeria), as an instrument in the hands of a privileged few who perpetually dominate, exploit and subjugate the dominated majority of the citizenry. The State, thus, serves the interests of a particular vested class structure rather than the generality of the masses.

Summary and Conclusion

While acknowledging the difficulties in getting to the root cause of the problem problems of Nigerian State, the government must at least address the issues related to Jonathan’s decision to contest the 2011 presidential elections against the power rotation principle designed by his political party, the PDP, and his speculated 2015 presidential ambition. Irrespective of the constitutional provisions on individual political rights and aspirations, solemn attention needs be paid to professor Ekeh’s postulate that, “The historical condition in which the Nigerian state emerged has precluded its integration into a composite society” (1989:8). Any efforts at effecting enduring stability in Nigeria, therefore, must recognize her complex plurality, respect the sensitivity of the component parts, and refrain from acts of political impunity.



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