PRESSURE GROUPS AND THE CHURCH


What are pressure groups?

Pressure groups are organised groups of people who share common goals and try to influence government policies and community leadership. Pressure groups are occasionally referred to as special-interest groups. Just as an individual has a personal interest to protect, every group in society has its interest to protect too. The essence of people coming together to form a group is to pursue their interest and pursue goals beneficial to all members of the group.

How are pressure groups different from political parties?

Pressure groups are not principally interested in winning elections, and that makes them different from political parties. Pressure groups are not concerned about who occupies a political office but what policies are being formulated by a government and its leaders. Pressure groups are involved in elections because they desire to elect people who will support the pressure groups policies and protect their members’ interest. Although pressure groups may support candidates nominated for an election, they do not contest any election or nominate candidates for elections. 

Is there any constitutional right provision protecting membership of pressure groups?

Yes. For example, in a country like the United States, the right to join pressure groups is protected by the First Amendment. In Nigeria, the right to join pressure groups is provided for in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The Ghanaian Constitution contains a similar provision in its Section 21, and so do many other laws in democratic countries.

What should be a Christian’s attitude to pressure groups?

The object of the pressure group should in the first place determine whether it is appropriate or not for a Christian to associate with the pressure group. Doctrinal statements, tenets, creeds of the Christian’s church, and ultimately the Bible are at issue here. The provisions of the Bible should be our standard of deciding whether membership of a pressure group is worthwhile or not. But we all know that Bible is subject to various interpretation by the different denominations that make up Christendom. Many denominations in Christendom believe that life begins at conception, and no one has a right to take life through abortion or destruction of a human foetus (even in extreme cases like rape). It will be contradictory for a Christian who belongs to a church that believes in the right to life to join an abortion-rights movement. Some splinter denominations or groups within the church today are advocating for gay rights, while the mainstream church is totally against it, rightly citing Bible passages to buttress their trenchant opposition to same-sex marriage. Some Christian denominations are entirely apolitical, believing that a Christian should not be involved in any political or social activities. These are all factors that should guide a Christian’s attitude when deciding whether to join a pressure group or not.

What are the types of pressure group?

Political scientists have bickered about how pressure groups should be classified due to their imprecise and multifarious forms. The size of pressure groups differs and are dependent on factors like membership strength, intensity and the group type. There are pressure groups on one side or the other of nearly every major political issue. The largest number of pressure groups represent economic interest; businesses, labour, and so forth. According to Gabriel Almond, an American political scientist, pressure groups may be classified into four basic categories; institutional groups, associational groups, non-associational groups and anomic groups.

Institutional Pressure Groups are made up of the legislatures, executive, civil servants and the judiciary. Institutional pressure groups formulate their interest within the structure of an organisation. For example, the judiciary may subtly lobby the Bar Association to protest the executive’s indiscriminate arrest and humiliation of judges through the security agencies.

Associational Pressure Groups, unlike the institutional pressure groups, are overt and well organised. They are registered with the appropriate authorities in the country, and have written constitutions and registered offices, and are usually the face of pressure groups.

Non-Association Pressure Groups are informal groups brought together by family, tribal, communal, cultural or social bonds. They usually do not have a permanent existence, and there are no formalities and procedures in these organisations. They include tribal, religious and philanthropic groups. Their goal is to provide economic and social succour to their members. In Nigeria, examples include the Bring Back Our Girls Movement (BBG), Committee for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), etc. Village and tribal associations in the diaspora are non-association groups.

Anomic Pressure Group are erratic groups whose behaviour and reactions cannot be predicted. Anomic groups are volatile and respond to a stimulus of the moment which is usually a government or an authority’s decision which they perceive as being averse to their interest and wellbeing. They have no rules of behaviour, and they are recognised in collective actions like demonstrations, protests, rioting, strikes, and even revolutions. Their lifespan is often short and dependent on whether their goals have been achieved or abandoned. On the international scene, The Arab Spring is an example of an anomic pressure group.

What are the techniques used by pressure groups to achieve their goals?

Pressure groups seek to influence government both directly and indirectly. Direct approaches are aimed at government officials and politicians through lobbying. Lobbying is trying to influence a government to act in the interest of the pressure group. Pressure groups often use lobbyists, who are persons who serve as agents for the pressure group to get their point of view accepted. Lobbying takes various facets. Commonly, lobbying is achieved through sponsoring bills in the legislative assembly, or it may take the guise of testifying before relevant legislative committees to facilitate easy passage of a bill.

In the United States, as of June 2016, there were 12,553 federal lobbyists registered in Washington, down from 14,800 at the end of 2008, and well below a record 15,137 in 2007, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks such activities. In Nigeria, lobbying exists, although it is not well defined as in the United States. Nigeria seeks to regulate lobbying with the legislative process on it dragging for over one year since its first reading in the Senate in December 2015. The second reading of the Bill was on October 12, 2016. If eventually passed into law, it will make provision for registration and regulation of professional lobbyists in the Legislature, as well as any intending lobbyist, under the Company and Allied Matters Act. Lobbyist will also be required to register with the Ministry of Justice to practise as a lobbyist in the Senate or House of Representatives or both Houses.

There is also the grassroot lobbying where pressure groups ask their members or sympathisers to write their Senators or House of Representative members.

Indirect approaches are aimed at public opinion, which eventually helps to influence the three arms of government. In this instance, grassroot lobbying is intended for the public. Arguments aimed at stirring up public opinion are often called propaganda.  The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) successfully used press releases to truncate the Abortion Bill in Nigeria’s Second Republic. Similarly, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) opposed the handing over of schools to voluntary organisations and agencies. It is of interest to note that all the major professional groups in the associational pressure group typically use the medium of propaganda.

Strikes and boycotts are last resort method that pressure groups use to force the government or those in authority to yield to their demands. During strikes and boycotts, the employees down tools and refuse to carry out their legitimate duties. Usually, the pressure group gives the authorities a notice of strike, and when their demands are not met, they may give ultimatum notice again before finally embarking on strike action. It may even be sit down strike in which case; they can go to work but refuse to work. When it is a total strike, the workers will stay at home waiting for directives on the next line of action from their leaders. It may take a few days, weeks or months, like the Academic Staff Union of Nigeria Universities (ASUU) strike of 2013, which demanded that the government implement the agreement reached between the Federal Government and ASUU since 2009. When workers go on strike, the machinery of government is paralysed resulting in massive losses of fiscal revenues.

What are the pros and cons of pressure groups?

Your evaluation of pressure groups will all depend on which side of the divide you belong. If you agree with pressure groups demands, you would probably deem them to be a blessing. However, if you do not agree with their pursuits, you would probably assume that the pressure group is a curse to the society.

Many people argue that pressure groups and lobbyists are an integral constituent of the democratic process. Their line of reason is predicated on the need for government officials to balance the interest of all parts of the society, and the only way to balance those interest is when pressure groups tell them what the interest are. Pressure groups serve as a powerful link between the people and the government, and they assist the government in the execution of some of its functions. The government sometimes request that pressure groups that are expert in some areas handle its programme. Pressure groups help legislators and officials of the state with statistical data, inputs on some important and technical issues which they cannot ordinarily handle for the implementation of public policy. Although the people do not elect pressure groups, pressure groups give support to the government so that they may be acceptable to the people.

Pressure groups criticise unpopular government policies and prevent maladministration and check dictatorial tendencies of any government. Pressure groups like Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Mining, etc. contribute substantially to the growth and development of the country. They also serve in different arms of government, e.g. on tribunals, committees, etc. Pressure groups educate people about their fundamental rights and also provide political education to the public and in some cases; they promote welfare services to the public.

However, opponents of pressure groups point out that pressure groups only represent what may be described as organised interest. Any interest that is not represented by a pressure group may be left out. For example, unemployed youths in Nigeria do not have a trade union that represents their interest which is principally the need for government to create more jobs.  Another shortcoming of pressure groups is that they may sponsor narrow interest of a few members at the expense of the majority they claim to be working for. These narrow interests may be forced on those who have the power to make decisions by using illegal tactics, and this does not augur well for the health of the political community. Many pressure groups do not have a formal structure, and they are dominated by unelected officials that run the affairs of the group, and this makes it difficult for members to control the group. Similar bodies in the same trade or organisation may put up their demands for instance if government yields to the request of another group. Thus, the demands would be endless in the place of competing demands for the limited resources of the state. The objectives of pressure group are in most cases not submitted to the members for their endorsement or approval, but they are developed by officials who are paid for their services. One of the greatest strategies of pressure groups is lobbying, and this has been abused because of secret operations which may lead to suspicion of pressure groups. Pressure groups are alleged to engage in hero-worship of those in the position of authority to enable them to get approval for their demands.

What should be the attitude of the church to pressure groups?

Churches are organised communities of religious believers, and their primary focus is, of course, spiritual rather than political. Nonetheless, as Gandhi once observed, “if you believe that religion has nothing to do with politics, you don’t understand religion.” In every political system, religion and politics are somewhat inevitably interwoven, and there is no doubt that churches play a role, albeit of varying significance, in all policy and social systems.

Although the ultimate destination of Christianity is an eternity, our faith is also part of our daily lives on earth. Christianity is not merely an intensely personal religion, with little or nothing to say about social or secular matters. The values of our faith must permeate our whole life, whether private or public, spiritual or material, religious or secular. In the words of A. G. Hebert, S. S. M. in Liturgy and Society, page 191, “it is wrong to assume that the concern of Christianity is only with the religious life of the individual and the endeavour of a select circle of devout people to live a sanctified life and attain an individual perfection. It is the denial of the Incarnation.” Make no mistakes, God is directly interested in the way society is organised, wealth distribution, property utilisation, and in the way, men behave to one another. The church ought not to make compromises with social injustice. The antislavery activists were pressure groups emanating from the church which metamorphosed into large-scale pressure groups. The consequent success of the British antislavery movement (credited with the 1833 law abolishing slavery) internationally established the pressure group as an inspiring new tool in battling social and political vices.  It is also perhaps significant that the earliest recorded strike is found in the Bible was a strike by brickmakers, organised by Moses against their Egyptian masters. This struggle led to one of the most bitter, protracted and miraculous national liberation movements in history.

Against this backdrop, the church should encourage its members to co-operate and work with pressure groups by sharing in their struggles, successes, and failures, provided the objects of the pressure group are not inconsistent with the commandments of the Bible and the techniques employed by the pressure groups are not illegal, violent and anti-biblical. In most instances, pressure groups are defensive, rather than offensive organisations, and their chief object is the protection of their interest. If a pressure group is successful in its advocacy for the protection of its interest; won’t a Christian whose interest is covered by the pressure group not benefit from such collective bargaining?

 

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