WHAT IS DEMOCRACY?
Democracy is a system of government that allows all qualified citizens of a country to elect their representatives at the federal, state and local level in popular and periodic elections for a fixed period of time. In Nigeria, election is usually every four years; hence elected representatives are to stay in office for four years, before another election. Except if such representative is recall or impeached.
Democracy is organized in accordance with the principles of equity, equality, popular participation and majority rules. In democratic state, efforts should be made to give the minority opportunity to voice their views without intimidation, molestation and other antisocial manners.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American President explains democracy to mean “the government of the people by the people and for the people.’ Efforts therefore should be made by Nigerians to make democracy work. This is because it is the best form of government and all nations of the world are trying to perfect their democracy.
Importance of Democracy
- It encourages popular participation of all people irrespective of colour, tribe, status, class, religion etc.
- Majority decisions are put into consideration and practice by the government officials. Also, the opinions of the minority are considered before final decisions are taken.
- In democracy, there is equality before the law. This means that the rulers and the ruled, the government and the governed, the leaders and the followers are all equal before the law of the land. Anyone who disobeys the law will face the consequences accordingly.
- Democracy allows a popular leader to be elected into the political offices across the country. Thus, it allows people to elect leaders of their choice.
- Democracy allows for the respect of the fundamental human right. Under an ideal democratic system of government, rights of citizens cannot be tampered with.
- Democracy allows periodic elections. In Nigeria, elections are held after four years. Leaders who performed exceptionally in office can be re-elected by the people for another four years. The laws of Nigeria do not allow the executive to contest for the same position more than twice concurrently. Only the legislatures are allowed to contest for unlimited number of years to help strengthen the act of good law making.
Problems of Democracy
Representative government, also known as modern democracy all over the world has so many problems. Some of these are:
- Electoral fraud: This manifests itself in an area such as: figure manipulations, rigging, ballot snatching, use of thugs to intimidate opponents etc.
- Bribery and corruption among the electoral officers and the electorates.
- Lack of proper political education, awareness and social moblization among the electorates.
- High level of ignorance and illiteracy on the part of the electorate in Nigeria and other developing nations of the world.
- Sentiments, nepotism and tribalism among Nigerians. Instead of electing in Nigeria on merit, it is usually based on sentiment, religious bias, ethnicity etc.
- Election Campaigns in Nigeria are no longer based on party manifestoes or party programmes. Party manifesto or the blueprint of programmes of a party is meant to better the lots of the people when actualized, but reverse is the case as attractive manifestoes only trick electorates into electing politicians into public offices.
- Rigging during the election: this takes many forms in-terms of snatching of ballot boxes, manipulation of figures, intimidation of voters, bribery of officials etc.
- Interference in the affairs of the electoral officers by the political office holders, particularly the government in power.
Process of Democracy
Process of democracy means the methods and manner that makes democracy the toast of all civilised communities and nations of the world. These processes include:
- Formation of Political Party: Political parties are formed on ideologies. People of the same interest and ideology are grouped together to form political parties.
- Registration of Political Parties: In Nigeria, political parties are registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
- Registration of the Electorates or Voters: It is also the duty of the Independent National Electoral commission to duly register voters all over the country before elections.
- Political Parties’ Campaigns: This is done to show case the political parties blueprints or party manifestos. Through these activities, voters are educated on the party programmes and their candidates for the elections.
- Political Parties Primaries: This is an election conducted within the party to elect their candidates for general election. Each party must do this to avoid imposition of candidate.
- Independent Electoral Body: Independent and unbiased Electoral Commission must be in-place and free from manipulation of the government officials.
- Availability of Electoral Materials: Electoral materials such as ballot boxes, thumb prints, registration cards, trained officials etc. must be available on the day of the election.
- Security: On the election day, security officials such as: policemen, navy , solders, air force, civil defence, state security service and other security men and other paramilitary personnel’s should be involved in election. They are to provide necessary security on the day of the election.
- Independence of the Judiciary: For democracy to progress in Nigeria, the judiciary must be independent so as to adjudicate on electoral matters. The electoral cases of Sokoto State, Edo State, Oyo State, Osun State, Ondo State, Abia State, Ekiti State and some other states in Nigeria demonstrates the independence of the judiciary when the real winners of election in respective states were sworn in to office.
- Citizens Participation: for democracy to grow efforts should be made for full participation in politicsby citizens, either as voters or contestants seeking political office. Political apathy must be discouraged.
Types of Democracy
There are two main types of Democracy
- Direct or Classical Democracy: This occurs where it is possible for all the citizens to meet together in one place to govern the state e.g. the ancient small Greece city states.
- Indirect or Representative Democracy: This occurs when citizens choose their own representatives who would govern on their behalf and according to the wishes of the people.
Features of Democracy
- Free and Fair Election: Democracy as the government of the people by the people for the people must be free of election manipulations, rigging of results, intimidation of electorates and others.
- Periodic elections: Elections are held at a known period of time as contained in the constitution of the land. The period must be known to all the active players and participants. It must not be a subject of controversies or misunderstanding.
- Existence of political parties: Political parties that will partake in an election must be duly registered with the appropriate authority. Their names and logos/ symbols and candidates must be known for ease of identifications.
- Independence of the judiciary: Judiciary as the last hope of the common man should not interfere in political affairs. Members of the bench should not belong to any political party. They are to be neutral and objective in handling political issues, differences and crisis. They must not allow the integrity of the judiciary to be dragged into the murky waters of politics.
- Fundamental human rights: In democratic governance, fundamental human rights of the citizens are protected, preserved and guaranteed. Citizens have the right to vote and be voted for, join any political party of their choice, protest against unsatisfactory political results etc.
- Press freedom must be ensured: The press should not be denied spreading vital informations that can educate the populace in making better choice before or during elections.
- Political equality: There is universal adult suffrage. Also, a citizen in a country should have the opportunity to run for any office provided he is not disqualified by any law. This goes to mean that there should be political equality.
- Majority rule: In a democracy, the will of the majority as determined through a free and fair election must always hold. At the same time, the minority must also be allowed to voice out their minds.
Conditions for Democracy
- Democratic temper: A good degree of tolerance should exist in the society so that a wide range of opinions can be expressed.
- Social participation: There should be participation of people in social and political activities. People should participate in suffrage and in registration of voters.
- A homogenous society: Democracy will be successful if fundamental unifying influence such as a common language, race, nationality or religion exists and if these are not democracy will be difficult to exist.
- Wide distribution of wealth: Democracy will be more successful, if the wealth of the nation is evenly distributed.
- Well informed electorates: Democracy generally has more chances of success if people are literate and reasonably well informed.
- Democratic Institutions: Institutions should be created so as to provide an effective medium through which the democratic aspirations of the people can be achieved and expressed.