What is Democracy?

Overview of Democracy

Democracy is a system of government in which every citizen in the country can vote to elect the rulers of the country. It is a system which allows the citizens to make decisions on national and state matters.

Representation generally means standing in for somebody or a group of people, either in a social group, or in the administration of a country.

A representative is a person who has been chosen to speak or vote on behalf of the people that he or she is representing

Representative democracy therefore is an arrangement in which everybody in a state is accorded the opportunity to vote during election, for the purpose of electing their rulers. Representative democracy is resorted to as a result of the difficulty or impossibility of every citizen getting directly involved in the daily administration of the country. It is the opposite of direct democracy that was used in the early administration of the Greek City states of Athens.

Basic features of democracy

Democracy as a form of government has some features which distinguish it from other forms of government. Some of these features are as follows:

  1. The citizens of the country vote and elect their leaders
  2. Those who desire to serve the country by being leaders have the opportunity to present themselves and their ideas to the people for consideration.
  3. The leaders are accountable to the people. The explain their actions (for inaction) to the people.
  4. Decisions are not made unilaterally, this means that decisions are not taken by one person or one group. They are taken by many people who represent the different groups in the country or state.
  5. The people are free to enjoy their rights and free to protect such rights
  6. If the leaders are found to go against the law, the people can remove them from office and replace them with new leaders (according to the constitution).
  7. The law is supreme, both the rulers and those they govern are subject to the laws of the land.

Democratic institutions and their functions

In order for the democratic system of government to work out well in practice, some institutions are established either by the state, individuals, or groups to carryout certain basic functions needed in a democracy. These bodies are known collectively as democratic institutions and they include: independent electoral commission, political parties, pressure groups, and the arms of government.

It is necessary to take each of these institutions in turn for better understanding of their meaning and functions

Independent electoral commission

This is the institution established by the government to handle all electoral matters at the state level and at the federal level. Its major functions are as follows:

  1. To conduct elections.
  2. To divide the country into constituencies: it is the duty of the electoral body to regularly see to it that the country is evenly divided so that people can be adequately represented in the running of the government
  3. To provide electoral materials: elections require many materials and equipment. Some of these materials are ballot boxes, ballot papers, ink-pads and stationary. It is the duty of the independent electoral commission to secure all that they are distributed to all areas where they are needed.
  4. Appoint and train electoral officers.
  5. To announce election results.

Political parties

Political parties are social and political institutions found in all democratic states. They are formed either by the government, individuals or groups of people, all political parties make promises of what they would do if voted into power. These promises are known as manifestoes. All political parties have to register with the independent electoral commission.

The candidates who offer to serve the people by contesting in elections, do do through their political parties.

Functions of political parties are as follows:

  1. To recruit key government officials: the major government officials come into office through their political parties
  2. To integrate people from different ethnic and religious groups: in a country like Nigeria with different ethnic, religious, economic and political divisions, political parties provide an avenue for these different political parties. Political parties therefore serve as means through which the people can easily unite and understand each other.
  3. To educate the people: political parties provide ready avenue for the education of the people on political issues. The different parties mobilise the people to get involved in the administration of the country.
  4. To link the people with the government: it is difficult for individuals or groups to easily get in touch with the government over their demands but the political parties provide the link between the people and the government.
  5. To provide an easy method of changing government: political parties provide democratic means of effecting leadership change without a coup d’etat
  6. To form government: political parties are the only institutions which are widely accepted for forming legitimate government after free and fair elections.

Pressure groups

Pressure groups are social institutions common in all democratic countries. They are usually formed to advance specific interests which may be for a group or for the people in general.

Pressure groups can be in the form of business associations, labour groups, agricultural groups, professional groups, religious groups, ethnic groups, reform groups and protest groups.

Functions of pressure groups

It is difficult to list general functions common to all pressure groups. Each pressure group has its own peculiar role or function common to it.

Generally, all pressure groups are formed to effect a positive change. A pressure group can work to get the government to do something which will make life better for a particular group of people in the society. An example is the Nigeria prisoners, welfare association, formed to change the government’s attitude (and that of the society in general) towards prisoners.

Some of the strategies which pressure groups adopt in pursuing their objectives include lobbying, working within political parties, employing hr mass media, demonstration, boycott, strike and protect marches.

Pressure groups allowed to operate more under a democratic system than in any other systems of government.

Arms of government

There are three major arms of government in the democratic countries of the world. These are the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

The executive

This is the first arm of government, it sees to the execution of government policies and programmes. The executive arm of government can be parliamentary or presidential. In Nigeria, the office of the executive is occupied by the president.

Functions of the executive

  1. Recommendation of the bills to the legislature: many bills that becomes laws in most cases are introduced by the executive.
  2. Defending bills in the legislature: since most bills are initiated by the executive, it becomes its duty to defend such bills in the legislature.
  3. Exercising veto power over bills: the executive has the power to veto or refuse to sign into law any bill that it finds unacceptable.
  4. Exercising the power to summon or dissolve the legislature: the executive can dissolve the legislature or summon it after elections.
  5. Directing and supervising the execution of laws: when laws are made by the legislature, it is the function of the executive to see to their execution
  6. Appointment of government officials: the executive appoints major government officials like ministers and special advisers
  7. Representing the country: the executive is the one assigned with the responsibility of representing the people inside and outside country
  8. Judicial function: the executive performs the functions of pardoning convicted persons through the use of the prerogative of mercy
  9. Military function: it is the duty of the executive to maintain internal security and prevent external aggression through the establishment and maintenance of the police and the military. In fact, the president is the commander in-chief of the armed forces.

The legislature;

This is the organ of government which consists of the representative of the people. It is charged with the responsibility of making laws for the smooth running of the government. It is the second arm of government, the legislature may be unicameral or bicameral in composition. Where the unicameral legislature is adopted, the legislative arm has just one single chamber; but where bicameral legislature is the one chosen, the legislative arm is composed of two legislative chambers. These chambers are called the lower and upper chambers, in Nigeria, the lower chamber is called the house of representatives and the upper house is referred to as the senate. The bicameral legislature is usually adopted in the federal system or government.

Functions of the legislature-The functions associated with the legislature are:

  1. Law making: this is the primary duty of the legislature, it makes laws that are used in running the country.
  2. Control of public funds: it controls the way government raises and spends money, through the budget.
  3. Approval of appointments: it approves the appointment important government officials, like ministers and ambassadors.
  4. Checking the activities of other arms of the government: in order to operate under the law, the legislature is empowered to check the activities of other arms of government.
  5. Deliberating on major national issues: the legislature is empowered to deliberate on national issues which affect the people.
  6. Conducting investigations: it can conduct investigation into the activities of any government department or official charged with corruption or any other vice.

The judiciary   

This is the third organ of government, the judiciary is made up of the judges, the chief justice of the federation heads the federal judiciary, but the chief judge of a state heads the judiciary of that state.

Functions of the judiciary

These are the major functions of the judiciary

  1. Interpretation of the law: it interprets the laws of the land, it explains the law and how such laws are to be applied.
  2. Settlement of disputes: it settles disputes between people and between the people and government.
  3. Administration of the oath of office: it swears in those major government officials who need to be sworn in.

Revision activities

  1. Explain democracy
  2. Give five feature of democracy
  3. Mention three democratic institutions
  4. Explain two function of each institution
  5. Explain two functions of each of these arms of government
  • The executive
  • The legislature
  • The judiciary
  1. Give two reasons why voting is important in a country like Nigeria.
  2. Daniel will turn 18 next week. He is eager to vote in the forthcoming elections, but he does not know what to expect. Explain the process of voting to Daniel
  3. State two ways in which electoral malpractices can be prevented