The State – Definition, Features, Concept & Examples

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What is a “State”? – Definition, Features & Concept of the State

To many students of Government, the state is esoteric, or at best abstract. It is seen as something hanging in the air with no relevance to the needs and aspirations of the people.

The State

This is probably because the state suffers from two main methodological problems.

First, it is not a homogeneous entity, but involved in several aspects which are not usually clearly distinguishable; and second, there is the ascription of human characteristics to what is not human and this causes the state to be treated as though it were an actual person, acting directly upon society.

In short, the state is not a concrete phenomenon but something that is recognised through the activities of certain institutions.

One cannot see the state as one sees the president of a country, but the president is essentially an agent of the States.

Definition of The State

When we speak of the State, we may be talking of it as one of the institutions of the society. it is the arena for the exercise of power in the society.

This does not mean that other societal institutions such as the family, religion, economy and the school do not exercise power

They do exercise power and also provide an ideology, which sustains or challenging the dominance of permanence of the State. The supremacy of the state to other institutions of society is, however, indisputable.

In the world of Miliband, the state refers to a number of particular institutions which together constitute its reality, and which interact as part of what may be called the state system.

The major institutions of the state include government, political parties, the military, and electoral commission. In concurring with this view, Ken Post opines that the state is a group of institutions (apparatuses), which regulate and direct the common affairs of the society by providing a structure within which policies can be made and executed.

Some of these institutions are, in some way, biased towards the ruling class.

The state is, obviously, not an entity that does things as many students tend to believe. Only people can do things. The people who do things in the state are the politicians and bureaucrats.

These people who gain access to the state apparatus and claim to work on its behave tend to control the state and its resources and use them to formulate policies that appear to favour some groups either directly or indirectly.

As such the state cannot be no to an autonomous. This partly explains why the state or its principal-agent, the government, does not somewhat work in the interest of the ordinary people.

The state may also be seen as the intermediary between individuals and the international order system. The state represents us in the international community.

The state in this vein, be defined in simple terms, as an association of people formed for certain specific purposes and which has a clearly defined territory, population and government.

It is therefore possible to talk about the India, Nigeria state or the state of Israel. The reference to state here does not include those small, sub-national unit like Hyderabad (India), Lagos (Nigeria), Gold Coast (Ghana) or Seoul (South Korea).

Historical Development of the State

The origin of the state cannot be traced to any acceptable date or period. What is certain is that the state is emerged because some groups or institutions decided to challenge the existing government monopoly of the use of physical violence in the society.

The state was therefore created to support and consolidate the existence and hegemony of government.

Nationalist movements in the former colonial territories, for example, challenged the monopoly of power enjoyed by the colonial government during the colonial era. In Nigeria, the nationalist formed political parties and pressure groups and established newspapers to agitate for self-government.

They also organised strikes and demonstrations to press home their demands for self-determination. As if they were engaged in a fire for fire strategies, the colonial government arrested several leading nationalists and jailed some of them on trumped-up charges.

In spite of the repressive measures adopted by the colonial government, the Nigerian state was eventually created at the independence in 1960.

But once power was wrestled from the Colonial Masters and the Nigeria state was created, internal struggles also commenced among the new rulers of the independent state. The struggle for domination of the Nigerian state among factions of the ruling class continues unabated.

Thus, before the Nigerian state was created in 1960 there was a colonial government which quickly created the state to deal with those challenging it’s authority. Not surprisingly, the difference between the post-colonial state and its colonial forbearers who was like that between six and half a dozen.

Features of the State

The main features of the state may be summarised as follows:

  • Territory

Every state has a territory. In other words, a state is a geographical entity, which can be demarcated from others. For example, the Nigerian state is bounded in the North by the Niger Republic, in the East by the Republic of Cameroon and in the West by the Republic of Benin. The bight of Benin Republic provides the boundary to the south.

  • Population

A state has its own population. It is inhabited by people and this people usually have a common purpose although it is somewhat difficult to define what the common purpose is. Those influenced by Marxism, would see this common purpose as the interest of the dominant ruling class. One cannot but agree with this assertion given the objective conditions of the Nigerian state e.g. The unbridled sale of public assets to top government officials and well-connected businessmen.

  • Government

Every state has a government. The government is organised to achieve the common purpose of the State.

Government can be seen as an agency of the ruling class. That is, it is an instrument with which the ruling class brings into fulfillment its goals and objectives. Though the ruling class may change, government remains.

It is also believed that changes in ruling classes may equally bring about changes in social relations, production relations, economic relations, cultural relations and governmental relations. On the contrary, changes in government within the same ruling class tend to lead only to changes in government relations.

Thus, the change in the Nigeria ruling elite at independence in 1960 did not bring about a marked change in the social, economic, production and cultural relations in the country.

There were changes only in governmental relations within the same ruling class. In other words, in new colonial societies that succeeded colonial societies, the colonial rule in class no longer controls state power.

Nevertheless, their interest and ideas continue to dictate the fundamental framework of social economic production and cultural relations.

  • Independence

Independence of government is another feature of the State. In other words, the government is free from direct or external control. Thus, Nigeria only qualified to become a state on October 1st, 1960 when she achieved political independent. Hitherto, the government was under the Direct control of her Majesty, the Queen of England.

  • Sovereignty

The government of a state is sovereign in the sense that it is the supreme authority over the territory, population and other governments within its territory. As such, none of the 36 states of Nigeria is a state in the true sense of the word as these state does not passes all the attributes of a state. In particular, they are neither sovereign nor independent.

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