Democracy 101 Part 3 (Forms of Democracy and the Rule of Law)


This is a continuation of the series on 'Educational Revolution' which started with 'Finally, Our J.J. Rawlings Is Here ' then 'Democracy 101 - part 1' and Democracy 101 – Part 2 with the main objective of highlighting the rights of the electorate and the limit of the power of the elected officers. When the people know their rights and act on them, the revolution is already on the go.

Democracy can be in different forms but bearing to our system, in this piece, we will be discussing, direct, representative and liberal or constitutional democracies.

Direct Democracy
It is a political system where the citizens participate in the decision-making personally, contrary to relying on representatives. This belief is based on the right of every citizen over a certain age to attend political meetings, vote on the issues being discussed at that meeting and accepting the majority decision should such a vote lead to a law being passed which you as an individual did not support.

Part of this belief also, is the right of every one to hold political office if he/she chooses to do so. In this system. everyone has the right to actively participate in the system regardless of religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, physical well being etc. Only those who have specifically gone against society are excluded from direct democracy. For example, those in prison have offended the society in some ways and, therefore, their democratic rights are suspended for the duration of their time in prison. Once released, and having 'learnt a lesson', their democratic rights are once again restored.

Contemporarily, this form of government is rarely used except in some small societies, usually city-states and some town meetings. However, some bigger societies' use of referenda or referendums is akin to direct democracy. In Switzerland , about five million voters make decisions through national referenda and initiatives two to four times a year.

Representative Democracy
As opposed to direct democracy, representative democracy is a system where citizens within a country elect representatives to act in their interests, but not as their proxies, that is, not necessarily as directed but with enough authority to exercise initiative in the face of changing circumstances. The people thereby hand over the responsibility of decision and law making to someone else who wishes to be in that position thus excluding themselves from the process of decision making. Each elected representative represents an area called a constituency. If his/her performance is satisfactory, he/she can be re-elected by that constituency at the next election to serve another term.

Representatives are however responsible to their electorate. In this way they are held accountable to them. If they fail to perform they can be removed by the people of their constituency. In this way, the people exercise control over their representatives. If an elected representative's performance is dissatisfying, he/she may be recalled by his/her constituency.

A representative is usually expected to have a constituency office where the people can voice their opinions on different issues since they play no direct part in the mechanism of decision making.

There is no necessity that individual liberties are respected in a representative democracy. A representative democracy that emphasises individual liberties is called a liberal or constitutional democracy. One that does not is an illiberal democracy.

Liberal Democracy
Nigeria, as well as being a representative democracy, is also a liberal democracy. As written above, a liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy where elected representatives who hold the decision power are moderated by a constitution that emphasises protecting individual liberties and the rights of minorities in the society, such as freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, the right to private property and privacy (within the confines of the law), as well as equality before the law and due process under the rule of law, and many more. “The price of the democratic way of life is a growing appreciation of people's differences, not merely as tolerable, but as the essence of a rich and rewarding human experience.” – Jerome Nathanson

A democracy like ours is usually expected to have a universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of tribe, gender or property ownership. And according to the principles of liberal democracy, the elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive with political pluralism which is usually defined as the presence of multiple and distinct political parties. This makes the fear of the electorate to be the beginning of wisdom.

Separation of powers is another key character of a liberal democracy where the government should be limited in its impact on the citizens and the government should not enjoy arbitrary power. The government is also expected to remove obstacles limiting the well being of people without any exclusion of any group. Usually, the government's involvement in the economic market of a country should be minimal. The government should be there to deal with problems when needed. The concept of an open society is closely related to liberal democracies.

Rule of law
This is a term that we often hear especially from our government without the government taking time to explain the meaning to us. The government has often claimed to make rule of law and due process her core point of governance.

So what is Rule of law?
The rule of law, also called supremacy of law is a featured characteristic of a constitutional democracy like ours which in its most basic form, is the principle that no one is above the law. This means that the Law is the King that rules. It is a general legal saying according to which decisions should be made by applying known principles or laws, without the use of discretion in their application or any act of will.

The most important application of the rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps that are referred to as due process. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian or a democratic leader. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy.

In a society where it functions, the rights of individuals are determined by legal rules and not the arbitrary behaviour of authorities. There can be no punishment unless a court decides there has been a breach of law. Everyone, regardless of his/her position in society, is subject to the law in fairness and with no favour. Another critical feature of the rule of Law is that individual liberties depend on it. Its success depends on the role of impartiality of judges. It also depends on Prerogative Orders in which a case is taken up from an inferior court to a superior one to ensure justice is done. It also prohibits an inferior court from hearing a case it does not have the power to listen to and gives Mandamus orders to an inferior court to carry out its duties.

According to H.L Mencken, “a good politician under democracy is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.” Yes! It is true that there is no perfect democracy and no perfect rule of law but how much democratic is our democracy and how much do we adhere to the principles of the rule of law?

Rule of law is often said than done and the more the people say it, the less they seem to demonstrate the understanding of it. The more the government preach and claim adherence to it, the more events prove they are farther from it. There is no rule of law: where there is selective justice, where the government chooses which law to obey and which one to disobey, where there are human right abuses like extrajudicial killing, where there is no care for human life and happiness but their destruction – isn't this the first object of a good government?, where there is a failure of budget implementation - suffice to know that a budget is an enacted law, where governors and other representatives cross to other parties without relinquishing their offices, where the government operates excess crude account without any constitutional provision for it, where votes don't count and no free and fair election; where some are above the law etc. Even though democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions, it guarantees equality of opportunity where there is rule of law.

Where are the twelve northern states governors who adopted the Shari'a penal code: Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna , Kano , Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa , Niger , Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. They chose this code that provides harsh sentences for alcohol consumption, amputation for theft; lashing and stoning and for infidelity? By now they should all be amputees because they ALL ended up stealing billions from the State covers. Should some be above the law? Animal Farm!

Re-phrasing the word of Howard Winters, a developing democracy should be a government which gradually increases the number of people included in the term 'we' or 'us' and at the same time decreases those labelled as 'you' or 'them' until that category has no one left in it. It should carry people along.

However, we have seen some considerable improvement in the area of the rule of law by this government if compared to the former government of President Obasanjo but not as much as the government claims.

Nigerians should know that there can be no punishment unless a court decides that there has been a breach of the law i.e. everyone is innocent until proven guilty by a court. They have the right be tried and proclaimed innocent or guilty only by a court of law. The POLICE AND ANY OTHER FORCE have no right to manhandle, torture or beat anyone NEITHER DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO KILL ANYONE except their lives are under intense threat. Your fundamental rights are to be protected under this dispensation. They are not what anyone can give you but what no one can take away from you. The central tenets of democracy are equality and freedom.

God Bless Nigeria !
Nigeria Go Better!
Rufus Kayode Oteniya ([email protected]) is the founder of Nigeria Think Tank a Facebook discussion forum created to confront problems confronting us as a people.

To be continued!

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