The Making Of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic

Project and Seminar Material for History

The Making Of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic

Chapter One

Theories And Nature Of Democracy

Democracy has been subjected to different theories and interpretations. This is consequent of the fact that it can be seen from various perspectives. But the word “Democracy” is from two Greek words, ‘demos’ and ‘kratein’, demos means the people while and kratein is to rule.1 Democracy is thus a political system in which the people of a country rule through any form of government they choose to establish. In a modern democracy, supreme authority is exercised for the most part by representatives elected by popular suffrage.

The representatives may be supplanted by the electorate according to the legal procedures of recall and referendum, and they are, at least in principle, responsible to the electorate. In many democracies, such as that of the United States and Nigeria, both the executive head of government and the legislature are elected.2 In typical constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdom and Norway, only the legislators are elected, and from their ranks a cabinet and a prime minister are chosen.

Democratic forms and institutions are often confused with the concept ‘democracy.’3 The danger is what Bola Ige refers to as provincial tendency. He laments that some scholars assume that the American system is the model, a written constitution, separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial reviews, federalism and private enterprise which are basic essentials to the American democracy.4 Election in a democracy is the selection of a person or persons for office by ballot. The essence is freedom of choice and making choice is only possible between alternatives implying multiparty system and multiplicity of candidates where there must be meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and organized groups for positions of government power.5 It is the existence of such groups, organized and operated along democratic traditions, that gives meaning to the electoral process and beautify the freedom to choose.

Electoral and party systems are, hence, necessarily intertwined as both are designed to facilitate peaceful and orderly transfer of political power. Party politics within a democratic setting are, indeed, “intrinsically electoral politics.”6 Developments of the electoral system of any country are therefore bound to reflect one way or the other on the party system, and vice versa. For a party system to further the goal of democratic consolidation through free and fair elections, it must be conducive to the promotion of democratic culture among its leadership and officials.7 Accordingly, any program of electoral reform designed to further the goal of democratic transition or consolidation must take cognizance of the significant role of these key participants in the democratic process because the activities of this group, the rules and patterns of their operation, as well as their relationships and behavior do have significant consequences for the electoral system in particular and the political system in general.8

A general trait among democratic countries of the world is the conduct of free, fair and periodic elections to enable the populace choose those who will exercise state power.9 This is based on the fact that it is through elections that democratic governments are formed. Consequently, democracy can also be qualify as a system of government in which those who have authority to make decisions that have the force of law acquire and retain such authority either direct or indirect as a result of winning a free election in which the bulk of adult citizens are allowed to participate.10 This leads to the conclusion that a government is not democratic if the political system has no place for elections or if elections are maneuvered to violate or undermine majority choice.

This is a fall out of the fact that democracy is inseparable from the notion of power in the hands of the people. It connotes a system of political structures in which sovereignty belongs to the people. In another sense, democracy refers to the control of an organization by its members, who take part in the making of decisions.11 It implies majority rule and respect for fundamental rights of the people signifies political system dominated by representatives either directly or indirectly chosen by the people.12 Democracy is popular rule that embodies fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, right to life, right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, press, peaceful assembly and association, movement, political participation, etc.13

There are several features of a democratic state. Most important among these is a solid electoral system. There must also be some basic structures such as “a statutory provision establishing the electoral Bodies, Delineation of wards/constituencies, Registration of political parties, Registration of voters, Recruitment and training of ad-hoc staff, Procurement of electoral material, logistic, screening of candidates, provision of polling agents monitoring agents, actual voting, accreditation of voters, counting votes and providing avenues for settlement of disputed results.”14 For democracy to be truly consolidated, there must be in existence an independent and fearless judiciary for the interpretation of electoral laws; competent and non-partisan umpire to manage the election; existence of well developed and organized system of political parties to put their policies and candidates before the electorates as alternatives from which to select and lastly a general acceptance throughout the political community of certain rather than vague rules of the game, which limits the struggle for power without which the game will disappear amid the wreckage of the whole system.

The quality of the population determines largely by access to information, political socialization and standard of living is the most valid indicator of the functionality of democratic institutions and bureaucracies. Hence education and knowledge are crucial criteria for building a democracy devoid of corruption. The Ghanaian Government for example devotes a large percentage of the national budget to its educational system, which is open to all. The African Charter for Popular Participation in Democracy and Transformation cling to the view that no meaningful political reform will take place until the civil society is allowed to participate freely in the process.15 It continues to lay emphasis on the need to democratize both politics and development if any meaningful progress is to take place in the democracy process. Its major aim is helping civil society contribute to the maturation of Africa’s polity and economy. It views popular participation as both a means and an end, ‘a fundamental right of the people to fully and effectively participate in the determination of the decisions which affect their lives at all levels and at all times.’16 The charter identified Fostering complementary relationships between the state and civil society and promoting well-functioning democracies characterized by full citizen participation in government, fair ground rules for competition, and establishment of the rules of laws as the sine qua non for democracy.

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