Definition, Examples, and Functions of Pressure and Interest Group


Definition, Examples, and Functions of Pressure and Interest Group

The role of pressure groups and other non-governmental, nonpartisan organizations in the political process and  also defines and classifies pressure groups into different categories based on the various functions they perform, as well as their permanent or ad-hoc mode of existence.

We will consider the role of pressure groups in engaging the government in policy formulation, or reevaluation, including the techniques that are at their disposal to influence government positively towards their interests or objectives.


Definitions Pressure and Interest Groups 

Pressure Groups are organized bodies, which seek to influence the context of government decisions. As an interest group, they seek to prevent government from initiating policies and programs, which they may consider to be unfavorable to the wellbeing of their members or to influence government to fashion its policies to the best interest of their members.

It is within the context of this particularistic approach to interest articulation, that some scholars have perceived pressure groups as “narrowly self- interested, out for themselves, (groups) without regard for the public good Ojo (1973). James Madison in the FEDERALIST likened pressure or interest groups to factions “who are united and actuated by common impulse or passion, adverse to the rights of other citizens.” In one breath, Madison suggested they should be outlawed, but in other breath, he conceded that “pressure groups are inevitable in a free society”; to try to eliminate them would require tyranny, a remedy worse than the disease” Greenberg (1993).

We need to stress that interest groups and pressure groups are often used interchangeably but they virtually convey the same meaning. While the emphasis in the former is on why a set of individuals aggregate in pursuit of a common goal in the latter, what is salient is the method they employ in pursuit their interest, which is usually by exerting pressure on agencies of government Olaniyi (1998).

The semantic similarities between pressure groups and interest groups was also affirmed by Greenberg (1993)  “because efforts by the interest groups are often perceived by decisions makers as constituting pressures on them, so interest groups are often called pressure groups”.

A pressure group in a democracy is any group of persons, which tries to get the government or other bodies to take notice of certain things or do something by bringing pressure to bear on such government or body.

Thus, any organized group in a democratic system that tries to exert influence or lobbies for the benefit of its members is a pressure group.

Here, the group is not presenting itself as a potential replacement for the existing government. Rather, it usually only seeks to pressurize government into taking a desired line of action. It is possible in certain cases, however, for a frustrated but powerful pressure group to openly support an opposition, in a desire to replace a party in power with the one more sympathetic to its cause. A related concept is the concept of interest group organized around a particular interest for influencing public policy in regard of their interest.

When local cement manufacturers in Nigeria once came together to seek to convince government to ban the importation of cement into the country, they become an interest group seeking to influence the public policy in the area of international trade.

The difference between pressure group and interest group could be little more than a semantic one, since pressure groups do form around one interest or the other while interest groups often need to exert pressure in order to influence government’s policies in the direction they desired.

We can identify four factors that can help to explain the vibrancy or otherwise of pressure groups in a democracy.

These include change in a nation’s socio-economic and political structure and also in the international environment, which can create new interests, redefine or strengthen the old government policy itself. The presence of the required leadership outside government who are willing and able to use democratic means to organize a group for influencing government decisions and the policy directions of government.

In this wise, that the more active a government is, the greater is the probability that more pressure groups will be formed around such activities.


Functions of Pressure and Interest Groups

Pressure groups are a vital part of a healthy democracy. Indeed the sustained and rapid expansion of pressure group activity and involvement in the political process is often seen as a sign of growing political involvement among the populace.

Pressure groups perform the following functions:

(1) Pressure groups promote discussion and debate, and mobilize public opinion on key issues.

(2) They also educate the public on specific issues. The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) have played prominent roles in this respect.

(3) Pressure groups can also enhance democratic participation. They do this by articulating issues that political parties may not want to touch or dabble into.

(4) They also provide an important access point for those who may want redress of their grievances. This may include providing a platform for the minorities who are marginalized from the mainstream of national politics, thereby lacking the means of directly representing themselves.

The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) has done this severally in the long agitations by the minorities in Niger Delta in Nigeria for compensations on account of environmental pollution, and for fiscal federalism.

(5) Pressure groups can also serve as an important and valuable source of specialized information/expertise for the legislature and bureaucracy, who may have been overburdened by routine activities and may not have the time’ or even the expertise to handle certain issues.

For example the Chambers of Commerce can make valuable inputs to the executive during budget preparations, and assist the legislators during public hearings and both arms in carrying out policy enrichments, in their several post- budget analyses.

(6) Pressure groups also play important role in pushing for policy changes or reversals, as well as forcing government’s hands in making changes in implementation of public policies.

Pressure and Interest Groups by Classification and Types

Pressure groups can be classified in two broad ways:

Either through the professions or careers of the members or the type of activities they engage in; or by their nature, character or life span. Depending on the objectives they seek to pursue, protect, promote or advance,

Pressure groups can be broadly categorized into three:-

(a) Economic and Business pressure groups, such as the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), and Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, (NACCIMA). The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) can conveniently be grouped under this category because, as a trade union as it is concerned with economic or labor related matters of wages, working conditions of workers and industrial disputes. These groups apply pressures on government to adopt favorable policies on taxation, tariff structure, interest rate and expatriate quotas.

The second category is composed of various professional groups such as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).

The third category is the religious pressure groups like the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) etc.

The second mode of broad classification can be of four different types: they include communal groups, institutional groups, associational groups and Anomic groups.

(1) Communal groups: These are socio-cultural association whose membership are based on birth, rather than recruitment. They are part of the social institutions in a community, castes and ethnic groups such as the Arewa People’s Congress (APC); the Odua People’s Congress and the Ohaneze Indigbo all fall under this category.

(2) Institutional groups: These are part of the machinery of government and they attempt to exert influence from within their organizations, using the government machinery. They are different from interest groups in that they enjoy no measure of autonomy or independence. Examples are civil servants, military officers and association of local government workers.

(3) Associational groups: This group are formed by people who which to pursue shared, but limited goals. Groups as associations are characterized by voluntary action and the existence of common interests, aspirations or attitudes. The most obvious examples of associational groups are what are commonly called interest groups.

(4) Anomic groups: These are groups that often emerge spontaneously in response to an issue and usually disperse after the objective has been achieved or when the contentious issues have been resolved. Examples of this type of groups include the Campaign for Democracy and the National Democratic Coalition that stood against the annulment of June 12, 1993 election under the Babangida and Abacha military regimes in Nigeria.


Techniques and approaches by Pressure Groups

(1) Several techniques are open to pressure groups to influence public policy making process. Lobbying of policy makers is the most popular or effective of these methods. This can be done in many ways. For instance, when a bill that is relevant to a pressure group comes before the legislature, the leadership of a pressure group may go directly to the lawmakers to solicit their support for, or against a bill before it becomes a law. The Nigerian Labor Congress in several instances has adopted this method. In advanced countries, pressure groups may employ the services of professional lobbyists in order to fully optimize the potential benefit of this method.

(2) Mobilization of members to either support or reject a particular government’s policy is another method available to pressure groups. This is usually achieved through education of members on their policy preferences, or through publicity and propaganda in the mass media. By so doing, they would have succeeded in shaping a public opinion that would be favorable to their interests, and this will also influence policy makers in taking decisions.

(3) Pressure groups may also attempt to influence elections by appearing before party committees at party conventions, by making monetary contributions to candidates, or by offering propaganda services to candidates on the ticket of a party sympathetic to its interests. The idea behind this is that if such a party should come into power, it would adopt such policies that will be favorable to the pressure or interest group.

(4) Propaganda and Mass Media: The communications revolution of the 20th century has enabled pressure groups to use propaganda. They always try to secure such provisions in the election manifestoes of the political parties as can serve their interests and use means of mass media for securing public support for their demands and interests. Through advertisements or press notes in the newspapers the interest groups try to secure public attention towards their demands and support for the campaigns launched for securing such demands. Through lobbying and contacts with the Press, the groups try to secure favourable write-ups and editorials in leading newspapers and periodicals. These write letters to the editors for clarifying their views as well as for answering the questions raised by the press. Through discussions over Radio and Television too, interest groups seek to espouse the interests they represent and the cause that they support. They always try to maintain good public relations with the press. By getting printed and distributed hand-bills, placards and posters, the pressure group try to win public sympathy and support for their interests which in turn is used to influence the policies and decisions of the government.

As such, Interest Groups always use propaganda and publicity through means of mass media for getting goodwill of public opinion and thereby a desired change in governmental policies.

(5) Strike: Strike has come to be a frequently used method for securing interests. Through strike, which involves a temporary stoppage of work, a pressure group tries to coerce those who are responsible for satisfying its interests. It is used by the pressure group as a weapon of offence and to demonstrate the harm, loss and inconvenience those results from the stoppage of work. Its purpose is to demonstrate the importance of the worked by the group and to show the unity and solidarity of the members and their determination to secure their demands and interests. Strike involves direct application of pressure for securing interests. Strike, in the sense of a general and total suspension of work as a means of securing the interests, is used by the pressure groups, but only after exhausting other means like, stay in strike, token strike, work to rule, period demonstrations, mass casual leave, go slow, dharna, wearing of black badges, etc.

An indefinite strike or a general strike is used as an ultimate means of direct action. Its purpose is to force the managing authorities to accept the demands of the pressure group. In the words of Bondurant, “The strike is commonly used to affect economic pressure and is intended to hurt business, or to strain relationship so that normal functions are brought to a half, or at least inhibited.

Normal functioning cannot be resumed until policy changes are instituted. The process of strikes or passive resistance in its most common forms amounts to the intensification of pressure or the shifting of the points of attacks until a settlement is reached through capitulation or through compromise. “(Hunger strikes, fasts into deaths, token hunger strikes, etc. also fall in this category.) These lines clearly define the nature of strike as a means used by pressure groups. It is a means of direct action, a weapon used for forcing a general capitulation by the employers in favour of the workers.

(6) A Bandh is like a general strike in so far as it also involves cessation of work but it has a wider area of application and hence can be termed as a separate and distinct method. A band involves a total stoppage of all work and activity by all the people of the bandh area and not a mere stoppage of work by the members of a pressure group or some groups or parties. It is a pressure technique in which organized violence can take place and, as such is a dreaded means of instant pressure.

Sometimes, a bandh is resorted to for mischievous purpose, e.g., for creating widespread disturbances, mob-violence’s and mob- manipulations. Bandits often involve violent disturbances in various parts of the state. Bandh is a destructive and dangerous weapon. It can lead to more harm than good. Only strong, big and aggressive pressure groups resort to this means.

(7) Interest groups use demonstrations as a means for exhibiting the solidarity of their members as well as for focussing the attention of the public and the government towards their demands. Demonstrations involve processions, Dharnas, black flag demonstrations, silent processions, rallies, submission of memoranda, etc. It is again a means of direct action. In a democratic system, it is a recognised means of pressure group activity.

(8) Gherao: In this technique the members of the pressure group encircle and confine the employer’s o& officials to a particular place and they are not allowed to move about and do their routine work. It is done to coerce them to meet their demands as per their satisfaction. It is a sort of human blocade enforced by the workers against their employers for forcing them to accept their demands.

“When employers and factory managers are encircled in their office or elsewhere by the labourers and are prevented from freely moving about or out for hours or days together until their demands are conceded, the action is called gherao.” It can also be of the form of picketing.

“Gherao “writes Dr. J.C. Johri, “is the most reprehensible technique of agitation politics and its occurrence cannot be justified even by the canon of expediency.” However, in actual practice, at least it is very true of our country; gherao is frequently used as a weapon by the pressure groups, particularly by anomic interest groups, for securing the acceptance of their demands.

All these methods are used by the Interest/Pressure groups for securing their interests. The decision as to which method is to be used and when it is to be used is taken by the pressure groups on the basis of their resources and the environment that prevails.

Usually, the pressure groups first try to secure their demands through persuasive methods, like lobbying, propaganda and press, and if these fail, then they resort to direct action or agitation means like strike, bandh, gherao, etc. In fact, they generally employ all kinds of methods to promote their interests.

To be effective in influencing government policy, a pressure group may adopt any of these methods or a combination of them. However, pressure groups are conscious of the time to apply any of these methods in order to optimally achieve the desired effect. But the effectiveness of any of these methods will depend on the type of issues involved, the organizational strength or otherwise of the groups involved, the resources-human and material- at their disposal and their positions within the political, socio-economic structure of the country (Ajibola, 1978:133)


Pressure Groups and Policy Making Process

Public policy making is central to the activity of any government; especially a democratic government that is always conscious of justifying the mandate reposed in it by the electorates. If public policy is premised on goal attainment, or as Chandler and Plane defines it, “the strategic use of resources to alleviate national problems,” then the process of making such policies is critical to the success or the failure of any government. But it is a fact that resources at the disposal of government in relation to the multiple, and often conflicting ends, or interests to be satisfied are limited. Based on Harold Lasswell’s (1936) conception of politics as “who gets what, when and how and given the inadequacy of resources, government is thereby constrained to rank or prioritize these interests, in order to determine which one to address first. Therefore, a policy decision to solve an environmental, or political problem, may be at the expense of an economic or educational policy option.

Under this circumstance, pressure groups set in their own perception of socioeconomic problems and attempt to influence government about their own ideas of what constitute rational solutions, or options in the context of a rational decision-making. Adebayo (1982), identifies the following stages in decision making during which pressure groups can engage the government: when a given problem or demand is identified; when the nature of problem is determined by clarifying goals, value and objectives; the point at which the available possible choices of action are outlined; that stage when the probable cost and benefits of the alternatives course of actions are examined and considered; and the final point when policy makers select the option, which in their opinion, is most appropriate to maximize set goals. A proactive pressure group strategically positions itself and knows when and how best to influence policy making at any, or all of these stages.

The environments in which policy makers operate also have implications for the type of influence, which pressure groups can exert on policy-making. In a military setting where personal freedoms and liberty are curtailed, it may be difficult for pressure groups and other civil society organizations to enjoy smooth operation. Similarly, in advanced societies, where political campaigns are issue-oriented, policy makers are often favorably disposed to taking into account the competing views canvasses by interest groups. This is in contrast with developing societies like in Nigeria, where primordial factors, such as ethnicity and religion, or partisan considerations, are salient. Also, because pressure groups are usually urban-based, and given the nature of policy issues that are of interest to them, they are more likely to be concerned with issues of “first-order magnitude” that are either federal or state in nature, rather than local, or residual. In most developing countries like Nigeria, the pre-occupation of policy makers has been with issues of economic development, political stability and social cohesion. Using Nigeria as a case study since the attainment of independence in 1960, we can identify key areas of public policy making in which different pressure groups have engaged the Federal Government.

1.  The Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact

The decision by the Balewa’s government in 1962 to abrogate the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, following demonstrations spearheaded by the students of University of Ibadan was a response by the government to a pressure group demand. Many Nigerian’s felt the pact was an affront on Nigerian sovereignty. On the other hand, the insistence by the same government to go ahead with the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference in Nigerian in spite of the political disorder in the Western Region in January 1996 represents another extreme of the government’s indifference or insensitivity to pressures from articulate and organized groups.

2. The Deregulation Policy of the Down Stream Sector

During his first term in office the Obasanjo’s government decided to introduce what it called “appropriate pricing” for petroleum products in order to curb the smuggling of the products to neighboring countries and thus, maintaining price stability. The decision saw the price of petrol (PMS) jumping from N18:00 (the price the Obasanjo’s administration inherited from its predecessor) to N70:00 within eight years, before President Yar’Adua reduced it to N 65:00. More than three times during President Obasanjo’s administration, the Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) went on strikes because it was not convinced about the government’s stated rationale for the repeated increases. The Yar’Adua’s administration also engaged the organized labor for dialogue aimed at convincing the body on its intention to completely remove the subsidies on petroleum products, in the name of total de-regulation of the down-stream sector.

3.  ASUU and the case of ‘Unilorin 34’

Since it entered into an agreement with the federal government in June 2001, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been repeatedly calling on its members out on strikes to force the hands of the government to implement the terms of the pact. The agreement borders on issues of funding of universities, unpaid salaries and dismissal of 34 lecturers from the University of Ilorin. For about five months, almost all public universities in the countries were shut down in 2009, which completely disrupted the 2008/2009 academic session. The universities were only re-opened after the government agreed to substantially implement its agreement with ASUU. The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in December 2009 also reinstated the sacked Unilorin lecturers.

4.The Derivation Policy

The age-long agitations by the oil producing states paid off when the Obasanjo’s administration decided to set aside 13 percent to compensate the states for the ecological degradation and oil spillage arising from the exploratory activities of the oil companies. But this policy, in turn, created another problem of how to share the revenue among the littoral states which degenerate to a dilemma popularly known as on-shore, off-shore dichotomy. The search for a solution to this problem saw the oil bearing states converting to pressure groups, and finally instituted a legal suit for a judicial interpretation of the contentious law. The dispute was not resolved until the Supreme Court in its interpretation of the seaward boundaries of a littoral state abolished the so called on-shore, off-shore dichotomy. This forced the hands of the federal government to find a political solution to resolve the impasse.

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