State and Nation – Definitions, Characteristics and Differences.


Nation is defined as a community or body of people that have a common history, culture, language and socio-economic background. A nation is made up of large group of people that share the same ancestral origin, common language, history and culture. Examples of nations are The Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani, Efik etc. The people of a particular nation do not always share a common boundary, an example is the Yoruba, they are located in Nigeria and in The Republic of Benin.

A nation-state is a state that is made up of single people of common background that is politically organised with sovereignty. It is a nation that is politically independence, has its own government and a defined territory.

Features/Characteristics of a Nation.

  1. Common Language: A nation consist of people with a common or similar language.
  2. Common Culture: A nation is made up of people with similar customs and traditions. It consists of people that share the same cultural values and norms such as food, mode of dressing, dancing, etc.
  3. Common Ancestry or Historical Background: A nation is made up of people that share the same ancestry or people with common historical origin. For instance, the Igbo people believe that they descended from Eri or Nri.
  4. Population: There must must be a number of people in order to make up a nation.
  5. Boundary: A nation has a boundary or territory which they can be found in. The boundary may not always be well defined.
  6. Govermment: A nation has institutions that organizes and see to the affairs of the people. For instance, the Yoruba have the Afenifere, the Igbo have the Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Hausa have the Arewa Consultative Forum.


A state is a body of people with a recognized govermment that has sovereign power over a defined territory. It is a geographical area or territory occupied by a group of people with a legitimate government that has sovereignty and power including the instrument of coercion. It is the highest form of political organization. Simply put, and it is an entity that has population, a recognized govermment, sovereignty and a well defined territory. Examples of states are Nigeria, The United States of America, Ghana, etc.

Features/Characteristics of a State.

  1. Population: This is the most important feature of a state. It is made up of people that occupies it. There is no limitation to the number of people that can occupy a state. Therefore, a state can be either largely populated or thinly populated.
  2. Defined Territory: A state must have a well defined geographical territory which includes ocean and air, that separates it from other states.
  3. Government: A state must have a recognized and legitimate government which serve as it’s machinery through with it’s carries out its functions and affairs.
  4. Sovereignty: A state must the supreme power make and enforce binding decisions or laws that are free from external influences, on its people and within its territories. Sovereignty is a unique feature of a state that differentiate state from other organizations in the society.
  5. Permanence: It is a permanent institution because government is dynamic but a state will always remain.
  6. Recognition: A state must be recognized and accepted both externally and internally.

Differences between a State and a Nation.

  1. A State has a clear cut boundary or a defined territory that separates it from other states while a nation’s boundary may or may not be defined.
  2. A nation is made up of people that share a common history or ancestral origin and culture while a state is made up of an organized body of people for the purpose of government.
  3. A nation is made up of people with similar language while a state may be made up of people with different languages. A state can adopt one or some of the language as its official language.
  4. A state is more larger and inclusive while a nation is much smaller and is part of a state.
  5. A nation is made up of people that makes part of the population of a state but population of the state is the total sum of all the group of people within it.

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