Pressure Groups are simply an organized group that seeks to influence government policies. Pressure groups are not political parties and they do not seek political office. However, they play important roles in the society. They act as a link between the people and the government. They are channels of communications and for the transmission of ideas from the people to the government and vice versa. Through the pressure groups, the government is able to gauge public reaction to their policies.
Secondly, pressure groups try to influence the government so that the government may act in line with the ideas of the group. They also educate and organise their members on the issues affecting them so that this can be made known to the government.
Methods of Pressure Groups
Pressure groups adopt a number of techniques to influence government decisions on politics. They are;
#1 – Informal Contact
Informal contact or personal friendship may be used by a pressure group to achieve its objective. Members of a pressure group who are close to or have personal relationship with top government officials may be engaged to influence these public office holders. For example, the spouse of a governor or minister may be contacted to influence the direction of government policy in favour of a group.
Pessure groups seek to influence the election of candidates who may be empathetic to their cause. They support candidates for election and make generous financial contributions to parties.
#3 – Writing Letters and Petitions
Pressure group may direct its members to bombard a particular legislator or government official with letters, petitions, telephone calls and e-mails on a particular subject that is of interest to the group. If a public official, for example, receives one million letters in his mail in support of a problem, he would likely be swayed to that side. But noise, they say, accompanies political weakness.
#4 – Public Campaigns
Pressure groups sometimes embark on extensive publicity campaigns, advertising and public relations activities on radio, television and newspapers to press their point of view. For example, the 2001 Electoral Act of Nigeria was repealed, in the main, because of the massive campaigns by various civil society groups against the Act. The objective of public campaigns is to sway public opinion for or against a particular public policy.
#5 – Public Education
Pressure groups educate the general public about particular government policies through conferences, posters, advertisements, etc.
#6 – Public and Peaceful Demonstration
Pressure groups sometimes organize public and peaceful demonstration for or against a particular government policy. For example, leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and some civil society groups organized a number of peaceful marches in some selected Nigerian cities in September 2005 in protest against increase in the prices of petroleum products. In Lagos, for example, the protesters walked from Ojuelega to the Lagos StateSecretariat at Alausa, Ikeja (a distance of about 20 kilometers) to deliver a protest letter to the then Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubufor onward transmission to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Lobbying is another weapon, which pressure groups use to good effect, They can lobbylegislators or government officials connected with a policy so that they will support the demand of the pressure group. Lobbying is perhaps the most important technique being used by pressure groups in liberal democracies.
Lobbying may be done in the open. For instance, the group may draft bills, find sponsors for the bills, testify before legislative committees and talk to members of the legislature individually to have the bills passed by parliament. Simultaneously, it circulates propaganda materials to create favourable climate of opinion for the proposals. Members of the group may also meet their senators and representatives. This is the traditional meaning of lobbying. Today, it is becoming increas ingly associated with secret activities such as providing financial support for legislators’ travels and medical treatment abroad.
#8 – Boycott
Sometimes pressure groups direct their members to boycott work or the activities or products of a particular institution or company. Some consumers’ rights protection groups in the telecommunication industry in Nigeria sometimes organize massive boycotts of the services of the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) companies (MTN, Airtel, Glo and M-Tel) to secure lower tariffs and to improve performance. As a result, the service providers have, on occasions, reduced their tariffs and interconnectivity charges and have become more consumer friendly.
#9 – Direct Action.
Pressure groups may embark on direct action where more subtle protests such as letter writing, lobbying and informal contacts have failed to yield positive results. Direct action may take several forms depending on the type of pressure group. French farmers, for example, have a well-established reputation for blocking roads with farm produce and caterpillars to support their demands against the government.
Trade unions in particular, sometimes use strike to good effect. Strike refers to the refusal by a group of employees to carry out their assigned work in order to bring pressure on their employers to change some aspects of their working conditions. It is usually the weapon of last resort. In its mildest form, a strike may take the form of a sit-down strike, wildcat strike or picketing. In extreme cases, a strike may involve the whole workforce for days, weeks or even months and it may be violent.
#11 – Riots and Mass Assaults
Pressure groups may embark on riots and mass assaults. The French students and trade unionists played a major role in the political disturbances of May 1968 which led to the collapse of the government of President Charles de Gaulle.
#12 – Violence
In extreme cases, a pressure group may resort to the use of violence when it perceives that it cannot achieve its objectives through peaceful means. The violence may be in the form of arson or destruction of property. The use of violence is usually borne out of a group’s impatience with the system. But violence is illegitimate and violence leads to violence.
#13 – Underground Activities
Pressure groups sometimes engage in underground activities when they can no longer realize their objectives through legitimate means or when government has declared the group illegal. Underground group activities may be in the form of publishing newspapers and other propanganda materials to counter the government’s position.
In some extreme cases, the pressure group may organised guerrilla operation, kidnapping, hostage-taking and political assassination. Because these activities are carried out clandestinely, it is usually difficult to identify the particular group involved. The ItalianRed Brigade and the Basque Separatist Movement in Spain are typical examples of such guerrillagroups.