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Definition and Features of a State

Definition and Features of a State

A state may be defined as a politically organised body of people inhabiting a defined geographical entity with an organized legitimate government.

A state must be free from all forms of external control to exercise its sovereignty within its area of jurisdiction. It must be noted that a state differs from a kingdom and empire. Nigeria is an example of a state, while Owu is a good example of a kingdom and Oyo, an empire. In order for a state to exist, it must have the following features.

  1. Population: The most obvious essential feature of a state is its people. “States where the population shares a general political and social consensus (an agreement) about basic beliefs, have the most stable governments.”
  2. Territory: A state or country or city has certain boundaries. Conflicts can arise between states and countries over where borders should be placed. Boundaries can also be changed due to war, purchase or territory, or negotiations between governments.
  3. Sovereignty: “The key characteristic of a state. Political sovereignty means the state has absolute supreme authority within the boundary of its territory. It can make laws, shape foreign policy, and make its own actions without the approval of a higher authority.
  4. Government: A government “is the institution through which the state maintains social order, provides public services, and enforces decisions that are binding on its citizens.”
  5. Permanence: A state must be relatively permanent, unlike the government which changes from time to time. This permanence makes it possible for a state to develop as it should.
  6. Recognition: For a territory to be called a state, it must be recognized by other states and international organizations that surrounds it. This recognition will hinder any form of violence or war for boundaries and the likes.

Why People Obey the Laws of the State

The following are some reasons why people obey the laws of the state:

  • Because they come from a law-abiding family.
  • Because of moral obligations to the state. An important function of the state is to protect the rights, properties etc of citizens, and also to provide them with certain essential facilities. In return, it seems fair for citizens to reciprocate by obeying the laws of the state.
  • Some obey the law because they assume, and rightly so, that the laws are made for the general good of everybody in the state.
  • Fear of punishment.
  • It could also be for religious reasons. Religious people obey the laws of the state because they are taught to do so by their sacred books.
  • Loyalty to the government and for the purpose of ensuring stability and societal trust.

Why Some People Disobey the Laws of the State

The following are some reasons why some people disobey the laws of the state:

  • Sometimes, the government in power may be deemed to be illegitimate. Perhaps, the government is dictatorial, so the people choose to disobey the laws of the government.
  • Some people disobey the laws of the state if, for example, the person is convinced that the law violates the fundamental human rights of the individual. For instance, Nelson Mandela disobeyed some of the apartheid laws at the risk of being imprisoned for similar reasons.
  • In situations of a civil war or armed conflict, where there is a general breakdown of law and order, some people may choose to disobey the law of the state.
  • Sometimes, a particular law may conflict with an individual’s conscience. This conflict may be on the grounds of religion, morality or ideology. For this reasons, they choose not to obey the law. 

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