Guest Columnist

So, What is Democracy? By Mike Awoyinfa

One of my favourite columnists, Mrs. Eugenia Abu on November 24, 2022 delivered the Convocation Lecture on “The Role of the Media in Deepening Democracy in Nigeria” at Salem University, Lokoja.  This is part of what she said:


Eugenia Abu
Eugenia Abu

A lecture such as this has many tributaries, many undercurrents, many interpretations and many sub-themes.  In exploring the core themes of media, democracy and the 2023 elections in Nigeria, one must not lose sight of how complex the issues are.  Indeed, the topic is relevant on many fronts and addresses many demographics from politicians to the academia, from students of political science and mass communication to media practitioners and scholars.  It is a topic worthy of exploration and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Let us journey into this lecture by deploying Albert Camus’s far-reaching comment to collectively hold our thoughts: “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority.”

I had many thoughts as I researched this topic especially concerning the best entry point for it.  But as I dug deeper, I found that the best premise would be to start from unraveling the term democracy which has over the years remained one of the most complex and intriguing subject matters among scholars, academics, politicians and students of political science.  Emanating from Greece, the word democracy comes from two Greek words “demos” meaning people and “kratos” meaning power, so essentially democracy can be thought of as power of the people which largely depends on the will of the people.  But since the Greeks began the concept of democracy in 507 B.C., it has evolved across the world to become different things to different countries with different democratic culture while still maintaining the underlying ethos of the people’s power as often expressed in Abraham Lincoln’s government “of the people, for the people, by the people.”  The UN resolution of promoting and consolidating democracy weighing in on the democratic terms asserts that “While democracies share common features, there is no single mode of democracy.”

According to the Council of Europe Manual for Human Rights Education with young people, it is better to understand democracy from the position of what it is not especially since there are so many models of democracy around the world.  The manual lists some of what democracy is not to include dictatorship of autocracy where it is one person’s rule or oligarchy where a select section of the society rules.  The manual adds that democracy should not really be about the rule of the majority if the minority is disenfranchised.  These thoughts are critical for going forward in any lecture that dares to include democracy in its purview.

In the book Defining and Measuring Democracy edited by David Beetham, he along with other social scientists, Biryukov, N, Dunleavy, P, Elkit, J and Saward (1993) among others examine several interesting philosophical and analytical questions.  In his introduction, Beetham places democracy within the scholarly space of a concept that is constantly being explored and always being discussed.  Some of the questions addressed include whether the same criteria for exploring democracy should be applied to the developing democracies as to established ones.  He goes further to question whether the standards used by western scholars for the definition of democracy is ethnocentric or universal and by what criteria or benchmark the progress of a given country’s democracy is to be measured?

In addition to these questions, the book interrogates issues of citizen participation, the meaning of democracy beyond electoral processes as well as government accountability and how far the level of durability of a country’s democracy is determined by key socio-economic variables.  Within these multi-layered conversations lies the vexed question of what democracy is, what it should be, what the media’s role should be and how Nigeria has fared.  Many researchers continue to explore the meaning and assessment of democracy and this exploration would continue for as long as there are different culture and nations pursuing different models of democracy that work for them and for their citizens.  For the purpose of this lecture however, we would abduct the 1993 definition of Beetham:

“The first principle (popular control) is underpinned by the value that we give to people, as self-determined agent who have a say on issues that affect their lives; the second (political equality) is underpinned by the assumption that everyone (or at least every adult) has an equal capacity for self-determination, and therefore and equal right to influence collective decisions, and to have their interests considered when they are made.”

The definition while still problematic in the areas of equality (who determines that?), self-determination and interest (how is this measured and by whom?) still encapsulates the general ambience of this lecture which is primarily citizen participation, political equality and popular candidature through the ballot box, i.e. a larger number of votes determines the winner in an election.


Beyond the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, beyond the election cycle, beyond the winners and losers, beyond the political pundits, how do we fare in the years before and after elections?  Within the ambit of these poser is where this lecture is situated.  The question that is hardly asked in the Nigerian polity is whether democracy is just the period of electioneering campaign and slogans or whether in the interregnum, the four-year period of governance is irrelevant to the entire democratic process.  In seeking answers to this question, in the pursuit of good governance, accountability, citizen participation, and other related democratic nuances, especially beyond the electoral cycle is where the media makes an entrance.  The media is a powerful compass.  A knowledge and moral compass, a directional and opinion compass.  All over the world, the media is and will remain a veritable mirror that “strives to show us the bare truth and harsh realities of life.” (Sarka 2021)

Over the years, researchers and scholars in the discipline of mass communication and the social sciences have come to some level of agreement that the media is a critical arm in any democratic setting.  This is how the media was conferred with the all-encompassing title of the Fourth Estate of the Realm.  Academic and grey literature agree in the main that the role of the media is critical to the sustenance of democracy for many reasons to include, information dissemination, citizen education for both electoral purposes and human rights information, as a link between governors and the governed and as a link between political parties and the citizens among other things.  They also serve as the watchdog to hold elected persons accountable.  Media helps to disseminate education for citizens, to educate them on various issues, including national, legislative, constitutional and political rights, economic and cultural issues as well as policy issues.


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