Definition, Characteristics and Functions of Government



Subject :


Class :

SS 1

Term :


Week :

Week 1

Teaching and Learning Resources :  .

  • Online materials
  • Schemes of work
  • Textbooks
  • Newspaper
  • Films that are related to the topic
  • Pictures
  • Activity charts


Topic :

  • Defining government
  • Characteristics and Functions of Government

Previous Knowledge :

The pupils have previous knowledge of


that was taught as a topic in their previous lesson

Behavioural Objectives :  At the end of the lesson, the pupils should be able to

  • Explain the meaning of government
  • List the functions of each arm of government
  • Distinguish between the state and the government
  • Explain the process of making rules and regulations
  • Highlight how laws are implemented





  • Definition of Government as an institution of the state.
  • Structure of government.
  • Characteristics of government
  • Functions of government.
  • Definition and features of the state
  • Relationship between the state and government.

Sub-Topic 1:


The term “Government” can be defined in three major aspects without which the definition is not complete. It can be defined as 1. Government as an institution of the state. 2. Government as a process or art of governing. 3. Government as an academic field of study or a school subject.

Government as an institution of the state can be defined as the machinery or agency through which the policies of the state are formulated and implemented and attained. These machineries which make, enforces and interprets the laws of the state are the three arms of government namely the legislature, executive and the judiciary.

Sub-Topic 2:


This is the division of the powers of government into different segments called the arms or organs of government which include the legislature, executive and the judiciary. These organs of government performed the following major functions.

  1. THE LEGISLATURE: The legislature makes laws for the state.
  2. THE EXECUTIVE: The executive execute or enforce or implement the laws made by the legislature.
  3. THE JUDICIARY: The judiciary adjudicates on disputes, interprets the laws and punishes offenders.

Sub –Topic 3:


Government as an institution of the state has the following characteristics:

  1. Political power: Government has political power. This enables the government to regulate the conduct of the citizens and also implementits policies.
  2. Law: Government have set of rules and regulations to ensure proper order in the society.
  3. Revenue: Government generates funds for the provision of social services and for the running of the state.
  4. Public Support: Government needs the people’s support to guarantee

conducive atmosphere for effective functioning of such government.

  1. Social Services: provision of social services such as electricity, pipe borne water, good roads, hospitals etc. Is another characteristic of government.
  2. Personnel: Government has team of qualified staff who are responsible for carrying out the duties of the state.
  3. Periodic Change: Government is not permanent, it changes from time to time both in personnel and form.


Government as an institution of the state performs the following functions:

  1. Making laws to ensure peace and stability in the state. This is done through the legislature.
  2. It defends and protects the lives and properties of its citizens. This is done through the police and the law court.
  3. Maintenance of law and order in the state. This is done through the executive arm of government.
  4. Protection of the fundamental human rights of the citizens e.g. right to life, right to freedom of movement etc.
  5. Maintenance of external relations with other countries of the world.
  6. It provides and enhances the provision of employment opportunities for its citizens.
  7. Government has the duty of providing social services/infrastructure for its citizens to improve their wellbeing e.g. electricity, good roads etc.

iix. Administration of justice through peaceful settlement of conflicts or disputes. This is carried out by the judicial arm of government.

  1. Promotion and protection of national interest.
  2. Formulation    and    implementation    of    policies    to    ensure    good governance.


DEFINITION OF A STATE: A state is a politically organized group of people living in a given geographical area under the control of government, having freedom from external control with the ability to ensure obedience from the people living within its territory. Also, a state may be defined as a politically organized body of people occupying a definite territory, with an organized government, free from external control.

In this sense, a state is described as a country but not as a component of a country or region, such as Lagos state, Oyo state and Sokoto state in Nigeria.


The following are the features of a state:

  1. Definite Territory: A state must have a definite territory which can be large or small. The territory must have clear boundaries that will separate it from other states.
  2. Population: A state should have a population which simply means the total number of people living in it. There is no maximum or minimum number of people that should constitute a state.
  3. Government: A state must have government that will enable it to carry out its activities and programmes.
  4. Sovereignty and Independence: A state must have supreme power that will enable it make and implement its laws and it must be free from external influence or control.
  5. Recognition: A state should be recognized internally and externally.


The state and government paint the picture of a complementary relationship. This is because without the government, the state is incomplete; the state needs the government as machinery through which it can run its affairs. This means even if the government is temporal, it ensures the permanence/continuity of the state by exercising judiciously the supreme power of sovereignty owned by the state. Government is the decision making body of a state. Without the state, there can be no government and without the government, a state cannot be governed.

There are differences between the state and government. These differences will be discussed below:

  1. A state is a territorial association of people with clear boundaries while Government is an administrative institution within a state.
  2. A state is more inclusive and therefore greater than government i.e. it embraces all the people and associations within a particular area while Government is not as inclusive as a state. It is only a part of a state.
  3. A state is a continuing entity. It is therefore permanent. It can hardly be overthrown or changed while Government is a temporary institution. It only lasts over a period of time. It can be changed or overthrown.
  4. A state depend on government in carrying out it functions while Government is the machinery by which the functions of the state are performed.
  5. A state has its elements or features as population, territory, government, sovereignty while Government has its main organs as the legislature, executive, judiciary.
  6. State is described as an association of people while government is an organization of administrators.
  7. Sovereignty is an attribute of the state and not of the government but the government exercises sovereignty on behalf of the state.



The topic is presented step by step


Step 1:

The class teacher revises the previous topics


Step 2.

He introduces the new topic


Step 3:

The class teacher allows the pupils to give their own examples and he corrects them when the needs arise



  1. Define government as an institution of the state.
  2. State four characteristics of government.
  3. Explain six functions of government as an institution of the state.
  4. What is a state?
  5. Explain five relationships between a state and government.
  6. Define the legislative arm of government.
  7. Explain two functions of the executive arm of government
  8. Define and state the characteristics of government
  9. Explain two functions of government
  10. Define government as a process or an art.


  1. Describe the term government as an institution of the state.
  2. Outline six characteristics of government.
  3. Highlight any five duties of government.
  4. What is a state?
  5. Outline five features of a state.


Objective Test:

  1. Government can be defined as the study of (a) constitution (b) cabinet system of government only (c) how people rule themselves (d) presidential system of government only
  2. Which of the following is not an acceptable function of government? (a) Defence (b) provision of social amenities (c) subversion (d) embarking on public enlightenment.
  3. The primary function of government in a state is to (a) maintain law and order (b) provide transport services (c) engage in campaigns and rallies (d) imprison criminals
  4. The functions of the state are achieved through (a) political socialization (b) separation of powers (c) organs of government (d) Diplomatic means
  5. A unique feature of a state is (a) information (b) anarchy (c) organised laws (d) direct democracy

Essay Questions

  1. Outline five features of a state.
  2. State five differences between a state and government.


ASSIGNMENT: Read about the definition of government as a process or art of governing and the reasons for studying government.

Conclusion :


The class teacher wraps up or conclude the lesson by giving out short note to summarize the topic that he or she has just taught.

The class teacher also goes round to make sure that the notes are well copied or well written. He or she does the necessary corrections when the need arises.



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