Any discussion of the state and government is incomplete without a clarification of the meaning of the term ‘society’. Sociologically, a society consist of all the people who share a distinct and continuing way of life and think of themselves as one united people. It is a group of people with common interest.
As such, the society maybe a small rural community or a big city, a state or an entire nation. It may even be a literary and debating society or a business association specifically established to seek and protect the interest of its members. The determining factor is that the members of a society share the same culture and think of themselves as united by a common interests.
Compared with the state, the civil society is larger, internally more complex but incomplete in the sense that certain decisions have to be taken for it. Although the exact nature of the society is still difficult to establish, it has certain characteristics, which distinguish it from the state.
Characteristics of the Society
The society has the following characteristics:
A society is deliberately created to achieve a common objective. For example, a church choir (a type of society) is deliberately formed to ensure the success of church service and to sing in the praise of God. Similarly, a government of the state is deliberately created to hold the people in checks so that the liberty of the people is not taken for a ride.
The civil society gives political authority to a group of people (state and institutions) to regulate the affairs of the people.
Although the civil society and the state may appear to be two different organisations, the civil society organisations shaped by their relations to the state which may be passive (e.g. when the state operate within the law made by it) or active (e.g. when it makes a law which affect both the public service and private companies). The anti-corruption law in Nigeria, for example, affects but state officials and private citizens.
The decisions of the state are held to be authoritative over all members of society
The state act as a vehicle for formulating policies for the whole society.
The citizens owe their allegiance to the state and not to the society.
The state has a monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a society.
The society is believed to exist at the national level. Thus , the Nigerian society includes ethnic groups, religious bodies, business organisations, cultural organisations, labour unions, professional associations, students’ unions and political organisations seen as interest aggregation for the purpose of gaining access to the state apparatus. This society organisations are otherwise known as non-state actors
The central problem, however, is the extent to which the wider society as represented by the state or government should control or influence these smaller units or organisations.
Since the society is a deliberate or artificial creation, all parts of the society have a part to play or are equally important in the affairs of the State.
The image above shows the relationship between the society, state, government and other institutions.
The state itself comprises several institutions but the government is the largest of these institutions.
Thus, the relationship between the society and these institutions may be summarised as follows: the society is greater than the state and the state is greater than the government: the other institutions are under the control and influence of the government.
But the government possesses immense power resources to the extent that it can easily dominate and control the non-state actors. For example, the Abacha regime once banned the National Democratic Coalition Party (NADECO)and removed the leadership of the NLC,NUPENG and PENGASSAN, and jailed politicians, journalists and other pro-democracy groups in a major crackdown on the opposition.