Welcome! In our social studies lesson today, we will be treating the topic “democracy”. Do have a great time studying with us.
Subject: Social Studies
Learning Objectives: By the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:
- Explain the term democracy;
- Mention the features of democracy;
- State and explain the types of democracy;
- Outline the functions of INEC;
- Outline the functions of the law court;
- State the importance of democracy.
Meaning of Democracy
Democracy means government by the people. The term is derived from the Greek demos, ‘people’ and kratos, ‘rule’. In a democracy, the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. The general principle of democracy is that the majority rules. According to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Useful contrasts can be made with oligarchies and autocracies where political authority is highly concentrated in a few person’s and not subject to meaningful control by the people. While the term democracy is often used in the context of a political state, the principles are also applicable to other areas of governance, in business, in school and the home.
Features of Democracy
The following are the distinguishing features of democracy as opposed to other systems of government:
1. Majority Rule: The majority rules while the minority have their say. The minority forms the opposition.
2. Citizen Participation: The citizens of a country effectively participate in electing their leaders, and they make their views known.
3. Rule of Law: The law of the land, that is the constitution, is supreme or above every other law in the country and everybody is equal before the law, whether rich or poor.
4. Human Rights: The rights of the people are upheld. People’s right to life, freedom of movement, association, speech and other rights are guaranteed by the constitution.
5. Free and Fair Elections: Election of the representatives of the people is free and fair. People are free to choose who they want as their leaders, and the process of electing leaders is fair. Elections are also regular. In Nigeria, elections are conducted every four years.
6. Separation of Powers: In a democracy, there is separation of powers between those who make laws, those who execute the laws and those who interpret and enforce the laws. Power is not concentrated in the hands of one group of people.
7. Multi-Party System: Political parties are more than one in a democracy so that people can join whatever party that suits them.
8. Press Freedom: In a democracy, the press, that is the newspapers, radio and television stations, are free to operate so that people can air their views without the fear of being molested or arrested.
Types of Democracy
Democracy falls into two basic categories, direct representative
i. Direct Democracy: In a direct democracy, people vote on government decisions, such as questions of whether to approve or reject various laws. It is called direct because the power of making decisions is exercised by the people directly without intermediaries or representatives. Historically, this form of government has been rare due to the difficulty of getting all the people of a certain territory in one place for the purpose of voting. All direct democracies to date have been relatively small communities, usually city states. Such a system is clearly only practicable with relatively small numbers of people such as a community organisation or tribal councils. The most notable was the ancient Athenian democracy with an assembly that may number as many as 5,000 to 6,000 people. Today, direct democracy exists in countries such as Switzerland, where certain cantons ( local councils) practise it in it’s literally form, and in other countries, typically those where there is referendum.
ii. Representative Democracy: Representative democracy is so named because the people do not vote on most government decisions directly, but select representatives to a governing body or assembly. In most representative democracies, citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws and administer programmes for the public good. Representatives may be chosen by the electorate as a whole. In other cases, the country may divide into subsets of geographic districts or constituencies. In the latter case, representatives could be chosen by particular constituencies.
In Nigeria, the president is elected by the whole country while senators are elected by the various senatorial zones. Many representative democracies incorporate some elements of direct democracy, such as a referendum. A referendum is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote by all the people on an issue of national importance.
Democratic Institutions in Nigeria
Democratic institutions in Nigeria include:
(i). Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC): It is the body charged with the responsibility of conducting elections in Nigeria. It is independent and impartial in carrying out it’s functions. INEC is headed by a chairman.
Functions of INEC
a. It organises and conducts election into government positions.
b. Political parties are registered by INEC for general elections.
c. Candidates planning to stand for elective posts are registered and screened by INEC.
d. It prepares the voters register by registering those that have attained the age of voting and by removing the names of those who have died or left the country.
e. It divides the country into electoral districts called constituencies.
f. It enlightens the public on how to vote.
g. It declares the winners of an election.
(ii) Political Parties: A political party is made up of a group of people with similar ideas who come together for the purpose of winning a general election and governing a country. Examples of political parties in Nigeria are Action Congress (AC), All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), and People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Functions or Political Parties
a. They present candidates for elections.
b. They unite people with similar ideas or matters concerning the governing of a country.
c. They educate the people on important issues concerning the country and what they stand for.
d. They help in bringing forward the best candidates that would govern a country well from all those who would want to take up elective positions.
e. They ensure a smooth transition from one government to another.
(iii). The Law Courts ( The Judiciary): The law courts, also known as the judiciary, are made up of customary courts, magistrate courts, high courts, special courts known as tribunals, appeal courts, and the supreme court. They interpret the constitution, settle disputes, protect the rights of the people, and act as a guard against the exercise of power in an unjust and wicked way. After a general election, special courts called election tribunals are set up to listen to compliants and pass judgements on the conduct of the election.
Fuctions of the Law Courts
a. They interpret laws or the constitution
b. They settle disputes
c. They protect the rights of the people
d. They hand out punishment to chose who have broken the law.
e. They are watchdogs against the abuse of power
Importance of Democracy
Democracy is regarded as the best form of government. It has certain benefits which are lacking in some other forms of government.
i. Democracy ensures personal freedom: People’s rights are guaranteed. It believes in the importance of the individual. Therefore, decisions are taken based on discussion.
ii. Human beings are equal: Democracy is based on the fact that all human beings are equal and have equal opportunity to become their best.
iii. Democracy guards against the abuse of power: The tendency is for those with political powers to use such powers for their selfish interest. Democracy acts as a check on the abuse of power.
iv. Democracy means that power belongs to the people: Those who exercise power are only doing so on behalf of the people. Such powers can be taken anytime the people feel their representatives are not acting in accordance with their wishes.
v. Democracy leads to good goverance: The government would want to do it’s best to satisfy the people.
vi. Democracy brings about stable government: Since everybody has the opportunity to be in government, and this opportunity comes up regularly, the tendency for a change in government through violence is remote.
Take a quick test for this lesson
1. Attempt a definition of democracy
2. Differentiate between direct and representative democracy
3. What qualities distinguish a democratic government from other forms of government?
4. Describe two democratic institutions in Nigeria and state some of their functions.
5. Why is democracy regarded as the best form of government?
Were you able to answer those questions? Kudos!!
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