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August 1, 2021

Large group of people forming Nigeria map

Democracy is a government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all adult citizens, directly, or through their freely elected representatives. Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule and individual rights.

Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that all levels of government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.

Citizens in a democracy have not only rights but also the responsibility to participate in the political system that, in turn, protects their rights and freedoms.

Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under the law; and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in the political, economic, and cultural life of society. Democracies conduct regular free and fair elections open to citizens of voting age.

Citizens in a democracy have not only rights but also the responsibility to participate in the political system that, in turn, protects their rights and freedoms. Democratic societies are committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.

 

Rights and Responsibility in a Democracy:

Fundamental Rights

This relationship of citizen and state is fundamental to democracy. In the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

 

More specifically, in democracies, these fundamental or inalienable rights include freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly, and the right to equal protection before the law. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the rights that citizens enjoy in a democracy, but it does constitute a set of the irreducible core rights that any democratic government worthy of the name must uphold.

 

Speech, Assembly, and Protest

Freedom of speech and expression, especially about political and social issues, is the lifeblood of any democracy. Democratic governments do not control the content of most written and verbal speech. Thus democracies are usually filled with many voices expressing different or even contrary ideas and opinions.

Democracy depends upon a literate, knowledgeable citizenry whose access to information enables it to participate as fully as possible in the public life of society and to criticize unwise or oppressive government officials or policies. Citizens and their elected representatives recognize that democracy depends upon the widest possible access to uncensored ideas, data, and opinions. For a free people to govern themselves, they must be free to express themselves – openly, publicly, and repeatedly – in speech and in writing.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but it is not absolute, and cannot be used to incite violence.

All people have the right to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes.

Protests serve as a testing ground for any democracy – thus the right to peaceful assembly is essential and plays an integral part in facilitating the use of free speech. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but it is not absolute, and cannot be used to incite violence. Slander and libel, if proven, are usually defined and controlled through the courts.

 

Religious, Freedom, and Tolerance

All citizens should be free to follow their conscience in matters of religious faith. Freedom of religion includes the right to worship alone or with others, in public or private, or not to worship at all, and to participate in religious observance, practice, and teaching without fear of persecution from government or other groups in society.

All people have the right to worship or assemble in connection with a religion or belief, and to establish and maintain places for these purposes.

Separation of Powers

Through free elections, citizens of a democracy confer powers that are defined by law upon their leaders. In a constitutional democracy, the power of government is divided so that the legislature makes the laws, the executive authority carries them out, and the judiciary operates quasi-independently.

These divisions are sometimes described as a separation of powers. In actual practice, however, such divisions are rarely neat, and in most modern democratic states these powers are overlapping and shared as much as they are separated

Executive Arm

Executive authority in modern democracies is generally organized in one of two ways: as a parliamentary or a presidential system.

In a parliamentary system, the majority party (or a coalition of parties willing to govern together) in the legislature forms the executive branch of the government, headed by a prime minister.

The legislative and executive branches are not entirely distinct from one another in a parliamentary system, since the prime minister and members of the cabinet are drawn from the parliament; even so, the prime minister is the national leader.

In a presidential system, by contrast, the president usually is elected separately from the members of the legislature. Both the president and the legislature have their own power bases and political constituencies, which serve to check and balance each other.

For presidential systems, the principal claims are direct accountability, continuity, and strength. Presidents, elected for fixed periods by the people, can claim authority deriving from the direct election, whatever the standing of their political party in the congress.

By creating separate but theoretically equal branches of government, a presidential system seeks to establish strong executive and legislative institutions, each able to claim a mandate from the people and each capable of checking and balancing the other.

Legislative Arm

Elected legislatures – whether under a parliamentary or presidential system – are the principal forum for deliberating, debating, and passing laws in a representative democracy.

They are not so-called rubber-stamp parliaments merely approving the decisions of an authoritarian leader. Legislators may question the government officials about their actions and decisions, approve national budgets, and confirm executive appointees to courts and ministries. In some democracies, legislative committees provide lawmakers a forum for these public examinations of national issues.

Legislators may support the government in power or they may serve as a loyal political opposition that offers alternative policies and programs.

Legislators may support the government in power or they may serve as a loyal political opposition that offers alternative policies and programs.

Legislators have a responsibility to articulate their views as effectively as possible. But they must work within the democratic ethic of tolerance, respect, and compromise to reach agreements that will benefit the general welfare of all the people – not just their political supporters.

 

Each legislator must alone decide on how to balance the general welfare with the needs of a local constituency. Nigeria operates under the bi-cam-era legislative style with two legislative houses. Nigeria’s legislative arm has the upper and lower chamber. The Senate is the upper chamber with 109 members. Three legislatures from each of the thirty-six states and one from the federal capital territory. The lower chamber which is known as the house of assembly has 360 members.

 

Judiciary Arm

Independent and professional judges are the foundation of a fair, impartial, and constitutionally guaranteed system of courts of law.

Independent and professional judges are the foundation of a fair, impartial, and constitutionally guaranteed system of courts of law.

This independence does not imply judges can make decisions based on personal preferences, but rather that they are free to make lawful decisions – even if those decisions contradict the government or powerful parties involved in a case. In democracies, the protective constitutional structure and prestige of the judicial branch of government guarantees independence from political pressure.

 

Thus, judicial rulings can be impartial, based on the facts of a case, legal arguments, and relevant laws

  • without restrictions or improper influence by the executive or legislative branches. These principles ensure equal legal protection for The power of judges to review public laws and declare them in violation of the nation’s constitution serves as a fundamental check on potential government abuse of power – even if the government is elected by a popular majority.

 

This power, however, requires that the courts be seen as fundamentally independent and non-partisan and able to rest their decisions upon the law, not political considerations. Whether elected or appointed, judges must have job security or tenure, guaranteed by law, in order that they can make decisions without concern for pressure or attack by those in positions of authority. To ensure their impartiality, judicial ethics require judges to step aside (or recuse themselves) from deciding cases in which they have a personal conflict of interest. Judges in a democracy cannot be removed for minor complaints, or in response to political criticism.

 

Instead, they can be removed only for serious crimes or infractions through the lengthy and difficult procedure of impeachment (bringing charges) and trial – either in the legislature or before a separate court panel.

 

With these rights listed above, can we say that Nigeria is truly practicing democracy?