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Democracy and imperatives of enduring institutions

The concept of democracy has received varying definitions and interpretations from scholars and political observers depending on the ideological leaning or interest of the contending scholars.

 

Samuel Lipset offered one of the initially recognized classifications of contemporary democracy which he hinges on majority rule and minority rights. Morlino further builds on Lipset’s hypothesis by describing a democratic system as “a set of institutions and rules that allow competition and participation for all citizens considered as equals, characterized by free, fair and recurring elections.

Though, scholars’ definitions of democracy may vary for obvious reasons, there are, however, certain basic features of democracy that serve as consensus among the contending perspectives. One of such is accountability. Every democratically elected government is accountable to the people, to whom it owes its existence. The other is the conduct of free and fair elections. The true representatives of the people must emerge through credible electoral process. One other basic component of democracy is the availability and sustenance of basic democratic institutions.  

Now that democracy is gradually being entrenched into the nation’s polity, is the precise time to encourage certain tendencies that would further help in consolidating democratic principles and values in the country.

 One of such tendencies is institution building. A good number of the crisis usually experienced in the system is a reflection of the faulty nature of democratic institutions in the country. Non adherence to the principle of internal democracy is partially responsible for the stalemates heating up the polity.

Rather than adopt arbitrary rules in the way they are run, political parties need to tilt towards institutionalizing their mode of operation. One of the distinguishing features of democracy is its participatory nature. For democracy to really overcome its teething stage in the country, political parties must truly promote participatory democracy.

Also of equal significance is the necessity for a clear cut separation, as affirms by the constitution, between the executive arm and other arms of government. Fortunately, there seems to be a relative measure of independence in the way the legislative arms across the country now carry out their functions. This is against the backdrop of what used to be the trend in the early years of the current political dispensation.

However, there is still much to be done in ensuring that every arm of government operates independently and interdependently according to the spirit of the constitution. Since legislatures are elected representatives of the people, it is important that they truly provide the check and balance needed to guarantee transparency and accountability in the system. Any attempt by the two arms of government to deliberately short-change the people, aside being a betrayal of trust, would be fundamentally injurious to the system.

This is no less correct in respect of the judiciary arm of government. Indeed, if there is any government institution that needs to function devoid of external influence, it is the judiciary. As it is often said, the judiciary is the last hope of the ordinary citizens. But for this to remain a reality, the judiciary must remain strictly independent, principled and upright. There had been instances in the past that painted the judiciary in bad light with judges giving frivolous injunctions. Since ‘what goes around comes around’, it is in the best interest of the polity, and indeed everyone, that the judicial organ of the state is preserved and protected from all manners of compromise. This is the only way to build an effective and enduring democratic culture.     

Same goes for all the state’s security organs.  Over the years, the tendency have been for the security forces to operate as a stooge of the central government. When the public security operatives function under the rule of law they may protect democracy by their example of respect for the law, but when they act contrarily they threaten democracy.

 The relentless vulnerability of government institutions and, in some instances, the wearing down of the state’s capability to carry out its most basic functions and make available public goods eventually damages the authenticity and sustainability of democracy.  

To consolidate democracy, restore a functioning economy, and promote sustainable economic growth, we need to strengthen the various organs of government and other institutions of governance.

Perhaps more importantly, the people must begin to hold government accountable by becoming more active in terms of political culture and engaging the leaders more constructively. For democracy to truly be the government of the people, it is important that the people really understand the power they hold in a democracy. Indeed, as it is often said, and truly so, power belongs to the people, but certainly not for docile, weak and apolitical people.   

In the words of former American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rules of a democracy are not a President and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

Tayo Ogunbiyi

Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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