The international community, yesterday, marked Democracy Day in keeping with the resolution of the United Nations (UN) of 2007 with the purpose of promoting and upholding the principles of democracy. In its efforts to advocate for democratic societies around the world, the UN serves a variety of purposes including monitoring elections, working to strengthen democratic institutions and accountability, and assisting nations recovering from conflict to create their own constitution.
The UN also strives to achieve its goals of peace, human rights and development because of its firm conviction that human rights and the rule of law are best protected in democratic societies. The UN also recognizes a fundamental truth about democracy everywhere – that democracy is the product of a strong, active and vocal civil society.
But what is democracy? This system of governance, from all indications, is misunderstood and often misapplied for the simple reason that it means different things to different people to the point that even perceptibly authoritarian systems claim to be democratic in the way and manner they choose those who govern.
What is obvious, to a large extent, is that democracies, whatever their shades or forms, share common features. It is also pertinent to bear in mind that there is no single model of democracy and that democracy does not belong to any country or region. What is, however, accepted is that democracy is a universal value based on the freely-expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life.
What is confusing under certain circumstances is the predilection by some countries to insist that the rest of the world abide by their own definition of what democracy is to the point of enforcing it and pretending to be in a position to defend it forgetting the fact if it is a good system as generally believed, then it does not require force of arms or persuasion to exist.
In choosing a day to celebrate democracy, the goal is to draw the attention of governments to the role that they are expected to play in promoting and maintaining values the system upholds as inalienable, giving citizens the power to make decisions regarding all aspects of their lives.
Often, the discourse about democracy is canvassed from the perspective of western democracy which has its origins in ancient Greece and which was defined by a famous President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, as a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’ From this definition, it means that a democratic society is gleaned from the ability of the people to participate in the decision-making process of their nation. This can only happen when everyone is allowed to vote regardless of race, gender or other factors. This means that inclusion, equality, justice, equity and good conscience are also important to the success of a democratic society. The theme for this year’s celebration focuses on strengthening democratic resilience in the face of future crises.
The essence of the day is to emphasise the importance of democracy, what it involves, the challenges it faces as well as the opportunities it offers. Also considering the role the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) played in making the day possible, it is intended to assert the central responsibility that all parliaments have as the key institution of democracy; examine and discuss how well parliament performs its democratic functions, possibly on the basis of a self-assessment, and identify what steps it may take to strengthen its effectiveness.
With appearance of COVID-19 on the world stage, democracy is beginning to assume a different perception as even countries that claim to be the bastion of that system of government are beginning to adopt policies that even their own citizens see as undemocratic. Everywhere around the world governments are implementing measures to fight this pandemic.
In doing this, it is also important that the countries uphold the rule of law, protect and respect international standards and basic principles of legality, and the right to access justice, remedies, and due process of law.
As Nigeria joined other countries of the world to mark the day, it offered an opportunity to critically assess the performance of the National Assembly as a member of the IPU. The legislators claim to be the representatives of the people. Maybe. But to what extent have they performed their duties so as to achieve the basic goal of effective representation and making laws for the good governance of the country?
It is accepted in Nigeria that the Legislature is the face of democracy in the country judging from the nation’s history of military rule. Sadly, in our considered opinion, the parliament in Nigeria has become a by word for corruption, inefficiency and a force against the interest of the same people they claim to represent.
Before they remove their celebration suits, this newspaper urges them to reflect on the principles of democracy as enunciated by the IPU of which they are members and see where they are getting it wrong and devise ways of returning to the path of rectitude.