According to one time American president, Abraham Lincoln, democracy is defined as “The government of the people, by the people and for the people”. This is the system of government in which people participate by exercising their political power (i.e. voting) through periodic election of their leaders by themselves or their representatives.

The word democracy has its root in ancient Greek. The words DEMO and KRATIA which form democracy mean people and government or “rule by people”.

Generally, in a democracy the people are sovereign which means that, they are the ultimate source of authority.

Furthermore, we shall be looking at the meaning of democracy from two perspectives, viz.:

  • Political democracy.
  • Economic democracy.


  1. Political Democracy: It means that political power of the state is equally shared by the citizens. Citizens have the power to legislate, which they perform by delegating this function to their elected representatives. In a political democracy the state is self-governing and citizens make decisions that concern the state’s progress and development without external influence or interference. Decision making resides with the people as well as the presence of basic freedom of citizens.
  2. Economic Democracy: It means everybody who contributes to production is entitled to have his share of wages and allowances. Here, every contributor/worker has a say in the decision making process as in what to produce, how to produce, where to distribute, what the price should be, etc. There is a paradigm shift in decision-making power from corporate managers and a few capitalists to larger groups of public stakeholders that include workers, customers, suppliers and the broader public. It encourages economic decentralization, formation and growth of cooperatives, and reduction of the powers of monopolies/ concentration of wealth.



Popular participation can be defined as the active involvement of citizens in the socio-political activities of a country. It can also be seen as the practice of involving people in the governance of their country and decision making on important socio-cultural, political and economic issues.

Political participation affords citizens the opportunity to communicate information to government officials about their concerns and preferences and to put pressure on them to respond.


Types of Political Participation

There are various ways by which citizens involve in decision making. These are as follows:

  1. Voting in elections.
  2. Working in and contributing to electoral campaigns and organizations.
  3. Contacting government officials.
  4. Attending protests, marches and demonstrations.
  5. Working informally with others to solve some community problems.
  6. Writing a letter to a public officer.
  7. Joining an activist or interest group.
  8. Holding a public official position.
  9. Public consultation commonly known as town hall meetings.
  10. Jury duty; which ensures that people who are charged with a crime are judged by people like them rather than a single person, such as a judge.
  11. Blogging about a public issue.
  12. Donating money to a cause.

As long as the activity involves ordinary citizens expressing their opinions by contributing to the political process, we can probably assume that it is a form of political participation.


Importance of Popular Participation

Popular participation promotes political awareness and education.

  1. It fosters political stability.
  2. It promotes self-fulfilment and satisfaction of citizens.
  3. It encourages development.
  4. It ensures responsive and responsible government.
  5. It promotes popular consciousness.
  6. It enhances confidence of the people to hold government accountable.
  7. It promotes a sense of belonging amongst the people.
  8. It influences the direction of government policies.
  9. It enhances collective effort in the development of the political system.
  10. It improves the quality of governance.
  11. It ensures equity in the allocation of societal resources.
  12. It ensures every member of the society is carried along in the process of development.
  13. It enables people to gain socio-economic and political power.



1) Direct Democracy: This is a system of government in which public decisions are made by the people directly, rather than by elected representatives. Direct democracy was possible in the past due to low population. It was practised in Greece, although elements of direct democracy exist in California’s (USA) referenda, initiatives and recall elections.


2) Representative or Indirect Democracy: This is a form of democracy in which people vote for or elect representatives who will represent them in parliament and at other levels of government. Representative democracy was pioneered by Roman Republic. Examples of these representatives are the president, governors, local government chairmen, senators, counsellors, etc. It is practised in Nigeria, Ghana, France, United Kingdom, U.S.A ., South Africa, etc.


Characteristics of Representative Democracy

  • Multi-party system: The existence of several parties.
  • Majority rule and minority rights: The wish of the majority prevails while the desires or say of the minority is not neglected.
  • Existence of organized opposition: Other parties not in power.
  • Universal adult suffrage: Eligible adults exercise their right to vote.
  • Independent judiciary: Non-interference in judicial proceedings.
  • Periodic elections
  • Electoral body: Independent electoral body e.g. INEC.
  • Freedom of the press.
  • Separation of powers: Among the three arms of government i.e. the executive, legislative and the judiciary.
  • Political equality: Equal opportunities should be given to every citizen for unrestricted participation in the political process.


Constitutional Democracy: This is the type of democracy where powers of the majority are exercised within a framework of the constitution designed to guarantee the majority rights. In this type of democracy, how the people are to be ruled and governed are stated in the constitution.


Characteristics of Constitutional Democracy

  • Popular Sovereignty: The people are the ultimate source of the authority of the government.
  • Minority Rights: The fundamental rights of the minorities are protected.
  • Limited government: Government exercises its power within the ambit of the law (constitution).
  • Basic freedom: As enshrined in the constitution.
  • Majority Rule: Guarantees leadership rights to the people.



The rule of law is a legal principle that stresses the supremacy of the law over every other consideration. It also implies that the law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by unpredictable decisions of individual government officials. Rule of law emphasizes that every citizen must act in accordance with the law. The concept was made popular by Professor A.V. Dicey in his book “An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution”.


Principles of the Rule of Law

Principle of impartiality: This ensures that no one is punished of any offence except he/she has been found guilty by the court.

Principle of equality before the law: This ensures that everyone is treated equally

Principle of fair hearing: It states that everyone arrested for an offence should be listened to through the normal court process before judgement is passed.

Principle of supremacy of the law: This principle holds the law as sovereign or that the law of the land is always the final authority.

Right to appeal: This states that when a person is not satisfied with the judgement of the lower court he/she has the right to appeal the judgement by applying to a higher court.



  1. City States of Ancient Greece where democracy was first practiced: This was around the 5th century BC. The main bodies in the Athenian (Greece) democracy were the assembly composed of male citizens; the boule, composed of 500 citizens; and the law courts, composed of a massive number of jurors chosen by lot with no judges.
  2. Igbo village democracy: where each family has a representative in the community decision-making council; there is no formal system but each unit head serves as a representative, they operate decentralized system of government.
  3. Modern democratic systems as it is operating now in nations of the world such as Nigeria, Ghana, India, USA, UK, France, Germany, Norway, Greece, Italy, etc.



  1. Citizens should be allowed to participate in the government of the country.
  2. The government allows different political parties to participate.
  3. People are allowed to elect their leaders through a free and fair election.
  4. The principles guiding democracy should be strictly adhered to.
  5. Political institutions should be strengthened and made more independent.
  6. Freedom of the press: people should be allowed to express their opinion freely and criticize the government.



  1. Authority emanates from the people.
  2. There must be rule of law.
  3. There is liberty for the citizens.
  4. There must be majority rule and minority rights.
  5. There must be periodic election.
  6. There must be equality before the law.
  7. There must be independence of the judiciary.

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