Democracy is defined as a form of government in which the people exercise their governing power either directly or through representatives periodically elected by them. Therefore, this informs us that democracy provides institutions for the expression and the supremacy of the people or popular will on basic issues bordering on socio-political decisions and policy-making. Other factors such as political and economic equality, fraternal feelings are basic issues for a successful working of this system. The origin of democracy is traceable to ancient Greek. The word ‘Demo‘ in Greek means people and ‘kratia‘ means government. These two words ‘Demo’ and ‘Kratia’ metamorphosed into the word, democracy.
Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as: ‘Government of the people by the people and for the people.’ This definition could be broken down into three parts with relevant explanations:
- Government of the people refers to government on behalf of the people.
- Government by the people refers to representative government.
- Government for the people means that government should be carried on by people of high principle, that is, that those trusted with the affairs of government should not be politicians who seek to make themselves rich or powerful at the expense of those whom they are supposed to serve – the people.
The French Revolution (1789) and the outbreak of the Great War, World War 1 (1914) are remarkable in the history of government for two developments – the rise of democracy and that of nationalism. However, our main focus here is on democracy and the developments may be traced to four factors:
- Social, economic and political conditions: These conditions favoured and still favour the rise of popular government. The industrial revolution helped to further the movement towards democracy through the development of the middle class and the support and the impetus it gave to city life. The opportunity to unite, which the urban and factory life portrayed, came with it a new consciousness of power and the demand for political recognition. Similarly, industrial revolution came with social problems, e.g. concentration of population gave rise to cities, towns, low wages and uncertainty in employment.
- Historical writings: The writings of Locke and Rousseau were sources of inspiration to most nations of Europe. For example, they proclaimed that men are born free and equal and that government depends on the consent of the people. Mill, in his writing, argued that democracy was the safest form of government.
- Bad government: The incompetence and the vices of most kings also helped the rise of democracy. The revolution which ended in the overthrow of the monarchy was the outcome of the vices, incompetence and unpopularity of the king coupled with the corruption and inefficiency of the government. This gave rise to the formation of Republican Parties.
- Imitation: This is a contributory factor in political development, especially in shaping the constitutions. For example, the constitution of the U.S.A. supplied a model for the rest of America, and Nigeria.
The main features or characteristics of Democracy
- Political liberty: It is an indispensable factor – the equal rights of all normal adults to vote and to stand as candidates for elections, periodic elections, and equal eligibility for political offices etc.
- Value of individual personality: In democracy, the belief in the value of individual personality is restored. It implies the need to respect the other man, to listen to his arguments and to take into account his point of view.
- Free associations and groups: People should be able to choose their own candidates or support political parties without being intimidated. Citizens can form parties and canvass for support for their programmes.
- Political parties: Where democracy is operational, there are more than one political party with different individuals competing for power.
- Free association and periodic elections: These are some of the essentials of democracy. They make for the possibility of an alternative government.
- Secret ballot: In popular democracies, elections are usually done by secret ballot.
- Decision-making: The conception of majority rule and the rights of the minority must be recognised in the areas of decisionmaking.
- Provision of opportunities: Democracy provides opportunities for an individual to develop his or her personality. It provides access to knowledge and free education, security against unemployment, fair working conditions, leisure etc. It also allows the individual to have a say in his place of work and to guard against economic slavery.
- National wealth: Disparity in the distribution of national wealth is progressively reduced.
- Universal adult suffrage: There is universal adult suffrage where adult citizens . have the right to vote in the elections.
- Freedom of the press: The radio, newspapers and television should be free to write and express issues without any hindrance.
- Separation of powers: The powers of the three organs of government are separated both in functions and in personnel.
- Independence of the judiciary: The judiciary should be free and independent of other branches of government, e.g. the executive and the legislature.
- Rule of law: There should be the application of the rule of law and no one should be above the law.
- Supremacy of the constitution: The constitution should be supreme and above every other consideration in any political system.
- Fundamental human rights: The rights of individuals should be promoted and guaranteed.
Types of Democracy
There are direct and indirect democracy.
- Direct democracy: It refers to an idea of government by which all citizens meet together, periodically, to discuss issues affecting the community. This simple system is possible in tribes or villages. Direct democracy is suitable for small states only. The village or the community must be very small, usually not more than a few thousand people. Therefore, direct democracy is seen as a close interaction in which people can continually take an active part.
- Indirect democracy: This form of government becomes operational where citizens are qualified to choose their own representatives to rule on their behalf. This form is complicated and can easily go wrong, if not properly operated. Representative democracy is government by means of persons elected to serve the interests of others, whether in a local government council, parliament or in the executive. Population growth globally has made it impossible for the adoption or retention of direct democracy. Indirect democracy has therefore replaced direct democracy and it has come to stay in modern political systems.
The merits of Democracy
- Free choice of leaders: It gives the electorate the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice.
- Equal opportunity: It ensures equal opportunity for all citizens in all spheres of life.
- Stability: Democracy promotes stability in the country. A bad government can be removed from office peacefully through the process of voting.
- Legitimacy: It gives legitimacy to the elected government. This is because the elected government has the support of the people.
- Operation of the rule of law: Those in government rule according to the provisions of the constitution.
- Misuse of power: Democracy does not allow for misuse of power because power is not concentrated in the hands of one person.
- Tolerance: Democracy encourages tolerance of the views of the opposition. The majority will have its way, but the minority must have its say.
- Equality of individual: There is individual equality, freedom and protection of their possessions and their rights where democracy operates.
- Superiority: Democracy is superior to other forms of government because the rights and interests of every person are guaranteed.
- Participation in governmental affairs: The individual is lifted above the narrow circle of his ego and his interests are also broadened. It makes him interested in his country and this gives him a sense of responsibility.
- Decision-making: Decision is reached through discussion, argument and 10 persuasion. Democracy does not believe in suppression of opinion.
Demerits of Democracy
- It leads to slow decision-making: When opportunity is given to everybody to express his or her views before the final decision is taken on any issue of public importance, decision making is slowed down.
- Expensive to operate: Democracy involves many people in the decision making process and that makes it very expensive to operate.
- Incompetent people may be in government: In a democracy, many people who do not have the ability to govern may get elected.
- The idea of democracy involves representation: Those who are representatives of the people may be representing their own interests.
- Self-minded individuals: Elections held in most cases may not be free and fair, leading to the enthronement of irresponsible, callous and self – minded individuals.
- Rule of ignorance: Democracy is the rule of ignorance. It pays attention to quantity, not to quality. Votes are counted, not weighed.
- Political education: The citizens may not be sufficiently educated to appreciate the meaning of the issues which come before them at elections.
- The rule of many: Democracy can never represent the rule of many because as a rule, the people merely accept the opinions of their leaders.
Conditions necessary for a successful operation of democracy
- Good government: There must be in place a good government, tested and acceptable leadership.
- Willingness: A successful operation of democracy depends on the people’s willingness and desire.
- Enlightenment: For effective and popular participation, there is the need for a well informed, educated and enlightened electorate.
- Rule of law: The government should be organized based on the provisions of the constitution and both the government and the people should show respect for the rule of law.
- Openness: The activities of the government must not be hidden but open for the people to appreciate and criticize.
- Tolerance: There must be the willingness on the part of the people to tolerate one another’s view and action irrespective of political differences.
- Oppositions: For a successful operation of democracy, the government must be ready to tolerate different opposition groups in the system.
- Independence of judiciary: The independence of the judiciary should not be debatable in a democratic system. In fact, the executive and the legislative bodies should not interfere with the affairs of the judiciary.
- Free and fair elections: The conduct of the election should be devoid of intimidations, harassments etc. The people should be free to exercise their franchise
- Supremacy of the constitution: The constitution still remains supreme. The political leaders and the citizens must be ready to abide by the provisions of the constitution.
PILLARS OF DEMOCRACY
Pillars of democracy are the factors that contribute to the smooth running of democracy. In other words, pillars of democracy are the people and those institutions that give the needed support, the sustenance and good running of democracy in a country like Nigeria. Pillars of democracy are as important as pillars supporting a house.
In a democracy, the major pillars in the system are the people, political institutions, the rule of law, transparent electoral process, majority rule and minority rights. Major Pillars of democracy to be discussed below.
- The people – In all democratic countries, people’s participation represents the engine, the building block on which the democratic government stands.In elections, people have to vote to elect representatives in government. This elected representatives will rise to organise, harness all other pillars and see to the success of democracy in the country.
- Democratic institutions – Examples of democratic institutions are political parties, electoral commission e.g. INEC, pressure groups, the arms of government – the Executive, legislature and the judiciary. They all play key roles and in the process the actualization of democracy in the country is obtained.
- The rule of law – This is a strong pillar of democracy. Infact, it is the bedrock of democracy . The rule of law is the supremacy of law over everybody in the society, making all citizens equal before the law and supporting the application of fundamental human rights. Democracy becomes impossible where the rights of individuals are restricted and where the judiciary is not independent and impartial. Therefore, the rule of law ensures a viable and sustainable democratic process.
- Transparent Electoral Process – The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is assigned the role of conducting elections in Nigeria. INEC should be free and fair to all and Sundry. Rigging and falsification of election results should be avoided. Stages of all the elections are to be transparently monitored.
- Majority Role – In democracies, the candidate or the party that has the highest number of votes is declared the winner by the electoral body. This in actual fact demonstrates that democracy as a system is resting on the decision of the majority. Therefore, the political party or candidates that rule through the votes of the majority, has the legitimate support of the people.
- Minority Rights – Nigeria, as a democratic country recognises the rights of the minorities even as it is entrenched in the constitution. They have the right to elect their representatives and to be part of the privileges provided, for e.g. The policy of rotational presidency. It gives them the opportunity of producing a president for the country.