Functions of Government

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Major Functions of Modern Government

Functions of Government
Functions of Government

Definition of Government

Government, as the most important institution of the state, coordinates the other state institutions such as political parties and electoral commissions. The government performs this coordinating functions to maintain law and order in the state.

A government can perform this role because it controls institutions like the military, the police, the courts and the prison. Government is therefore an institution which has the monopoly of the means of violence and which, at the same time, attempts, though sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep a monopoly of the use of the force.

Government is always keeping an eye on the other state institutions and the functions of these institutions.

What distinguish a government from any other organizations or group in society therefore is it’s power to legitimately make laws and enforce them.

An organization like the Boy’s Scout, for example, may make it’s own rules and punish members who break these rules, but it cannot arrest, detain or jail it’s members. It is only government that can do these things because of its coercive powers.

Another aspect of government’s coordinating function is that government determines who should participate in other institutions. For example, the government decides who is a citizen, soldier, policeman, civil servant or legislator. The Babangida Military Regime (1985 – 1993), for example, banned what is called ‘old-breed’ politicians from participating in it’s transition to civil rule programme. Although the old politicians we’re ostensibly banned because of their alleged sordid role in the collapse of the First and Second Republic, it would appear, however, that the Babangida Regime which was not too keen on relinquishing power might have considered the more experienced and tested politicians more difficult to deal with than the largely inexperienced and young politicians. Not surprising, the regime had a field day in the conduct of the transitional elections. It changed the rules of the game several times, banned and unbanned politicians at will, changed the leadership of the electoral commission when it suited it and ultimately annulled the June 13, 1993 elections with little or no resistance from the largely untested and weak politicians.

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Government may therefore be defined as a set of political institutions whose function is to regulate the affairs of the people in a state. The three major institutions of government are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislature makes the law, the executive enforces the law and the judiciary interprets the law and punishes offenders.

Characteristics and Functions of Good Governance

The functions and Powers of a government are usually defined by the constitution of the state. The basic functions of government are as follows.

  • Maintenance of Law And Order
    Perhaps, the most important functions of government is the maintenance of public order. The police and other law enforcement agencies are used by government to maintain law and order. In maintaining public order, the police may, for example, grant permit for a peaceful demonstration and deny permit to any group, which wants to assemble for illegal purposes. Under the Public Order Act (Cap 382) of 1990, for example, the police can prohibit meetings, rallies and processing in public places in Nigeria. The police, for example, relied on this Act to prevent the opposition parties from demostrating in Abuja against the conduct of 2003 elections. The Federal High Court, Abuja, However, declared the Act as unconstitutional in July 2005. The general insecurity in the country with rampart cases of armed robbery, kidnapping, sectarian conflicts and bombing obviously calls to question the capacity of government to maintain law and order in the country.
  • Making And Enforcing Laws
    It is the duty of government to make and enforce laws. Laws are made by the legislature or any other body established for that purpose. The executive enforces the law. The civil service assists the executive in performing this function.
  • Protection of Citizens
    A primary function of government is the protection or life and property. The government has to protect the citizens from internal and external attack. The military is usually used to defend the country against external aggression.
  • Promotion of Economic Activities
    Government promotes economic activities so that it’s citizens can be gainfully employed. Government may do this in two ways. First, it may intervene directly in the economy by establishing industries and business ventures that may provide jobs for the people. Second, it may provide an enabling environment for local and foreign investment through improvement in electricity water, power and energy supply, transportation, communication and security.
  • Provision of Social Amenities
    It is the duty of government to provide basic social amenities like potable water, electricity, roads, schools, hospitals, sanitation and affordable houses. The provisions of these facilities not only enhances the living standards of the people but also promotes socio-economic development in the country. Rural/urban migration in Nigeria, for example, may be reduced if these basic amenities are provided for rural dwellers.
  • Fostering Friendly Relations With Other Countries
    There is no modern state that can stand on its own as countries depend on one another for one thing or the other. It is expedient, for example, that Nigeria should maintain friendly relations with, say, Britain not only because millions of Nigeria reside in that country. She also has to maintain friendly relations with other countries where Nigeria has interests. Before the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 70), Nigeria maintained fraternal relations with mainly Western countries, but the failure of some of these countries to support the country’s war efforts altered Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives and drove the country, into the warm embrace of War saw act countries like the former USSR, Poland, Czechosalovakia, Romania etc which actively assisted the federal side during the war.
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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs handles relations with other countries and international organizations on behalf of the government. High Commissioners are appointed to represent the interest of the country in other Commonwealth countries. On the other hand, Ambassadors are posted to non-Commonwealth countries to protect the country’s interests.


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