[By Zeal Akaraiwe]


There’s a very common saying that goes something along the lines of: “By their fruits, you shall know them; can one go to a mango tree and pluck an agbalumo?”

I believe that by being patient and observing the fruits, one can learn everything possible regarding a situation as the fruits reveal the tree’s nature.

Although there is no “ideal” template for democracy across different societies, we can agree on certain consistent “fruits”, or “features”, of a democracy. Given that countries have varied expressions of their individually-evolved democracy, the following commonly aligns:

  1. Strong independent institutions
  2. Respect for and upholding human rights
  3. Adherence to the rule of law
  4. Respect for the spirit, not just the letter, of the Constitution
  5. Institutionalized checks & balances across the arms of government
  6. Freedom of speech
  7. Press freedom
  8. Transparency and accountability
  9. The right to protest
  10. The right to vote and be voted for

These are the cardinal points in recognizing a genuine democracy, and if the above do not align, it isn’t a democracy. I purposefully put the right to vote and be voted for last because if voting is the sole evidence of a democracy, it isn’t a democracy.

So, what is it if it appears like a democracy? Should it be called a democracy, because the citizens vote like in a democracy but do not reap the “fruits” of democratic governance? It’s called an ELECTOCRACY, and it’s a pseudo-democracy with a name.

What exactly is an “electocracy”? Simply described, it is a political system in which power is obtained by elections or merely voting. A more dictionary-type definition would be: “where citizens can vote for their government but cannot directly participate in their governance decision-making; and when the government does not share power with the citizens.”

Its characteristics (better known as “consequences”) are pretty easy to determine from the definition. I’ll give you a few examples of the more obvious ones:

  1. Politicians will operate on a “winner-takes-all” basis, and elections will be plagued with violence since it is a do-or-die situation because once in power, there is practically nothing that can be done to remove them. It is a form of government in which, despite being elected, the power obtained is nearly absolute. And I’m sure we’ve all heard Lord Acton’s famous quote: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  2. Accountability to the people is near zero and this breeds another evidence of an ELECTOCRACY in what Malcolm Gladwell calls the ‘Power Distance Index” which remains extremely high i.e. while the people suffer and get impoverished, the politicians are ring-fenced from the reality of the people and therefore are both unaware and uncaring about the quality and standard of living of those who elected them.
  3. I will stretch this hypothesis a little and add that a country practicing electocracy will have to decimate its educational sector!! Of course, ending education or schooling in today’s world is impossible so what you will find will be a generational decline in the sustainable development of the education sector. The sector takes low priority of course, a very low “education budget to GDP” ratio; Obviously, the more enlightened and educated the population, the less likely they will accept an electocracy in place  of a democracy; hence, a systematic destruction of the sector by all not-so-subtle means necessary.

In order for an electocracy to exist, politicians will have to disrupt democracy’s core institutions and blur the borders around the cardinal premise of democracy, “SEPARATION OF POWERS AND ACCOUNTABILITY.” You’ll note that the executive, legislature, and judiciary will all be in cahoots with one another, deferring to one another rather than holding one another accountable.

The ensuing casualties will be rule of law, accountability and livelihood of the common man.

Now, let’s get a glimpse into the expectations of a successful democracy. A democracy is not just a style of government, it’s a way of life that exudes from the individual citizens that eventually form the voting bloc.

  1. To start with, all citizens, including politicians and government leaders, have to know, respect and abide by the rule of law; and when we have disputes, we have the obligation to, habitually, hand it over to law enforcement. This implies a well-educated, impartial and diligent law enforcement.
  2. We also have to submit to and trust the judiciary to adjudicate on the disputes we have and this too implies a well-educated, unbiased, courageous and uncompromised judiciary.
  3. As citizens, particularly the media, we have to boldly, without fear or favoritism, hold leaders accountable.

It is no coincidence that “well-educated” is prominent in the building and sustainability of democratic citizens. Nigerians are largely well-schooled and, at best, ill-educated. Evidence of being schooled is a certificate whereas the evidence of being educated is in the ability to think critically and contribute to solving problems in society.

To know if we have a democracy, just ask yourself, or better still, ask your kids:

  1. Will I call the police when my neighbor upsets me? Will I go to court when I have a car accident? Does our system equip law enforcers to protect me, respect me and abide by the rule of law?
  2. Does the judiciary demonstrate a habitual behavior that signifies “justice delayed is justice denied”?
  3. Do law enforcement and the armed forces protect the vulnerable against aggressors? Or are they aggressors themselves?
  4. Does the executive act in a transparent manner in the best interest of the citizens? Do they submit to the principle of checks and balances?
  5. Does the legislative arm live amongst, and therefore thoroughly understand the daily plight of the ordinary citizens and enact/amend laws to ensure that the evolution of culture is in the direction of human dignity?
  6. What ratio of those in public office use public amenities like public schools, public hospitals, public toilets, public transportation etc?

A democracy is a daily culture founded on education, freedom, protection, human dignity, and the rule of law. A democracy is felt and observed on a daily basis, just as oppression is. Which of these do you feel? Teach? Live daily?

Democracy isn’t something that happens every four years at the polls; it happens every day. So, anything that appears to be a 4-year cycle of activity in which leaders are chosen is merely an electocracy.

In conclusion, just as undetected false money is detrimental to the general economy and undetected fake pharmaceuticals may be lethal to humans, an electocracy, which is essentially an undetected fake democracy, can be fatal to the nation and citizens’ well-being.

You can’t grow an apple tree with the aim of gathering pineapples, and it’s a mistake to think that just because pineapples contain the word “apple” in their name that they’re one and the same. Just because you call what exists a democracy, doesn’t make it one!  The fruits define it!

You cannot reap the dividends of a democracy when you are actively involved in, promoting and enshrining an electocracy in the name of a  democracy. We must ensure that we educate ourselves so that we do not remain ignorant of the wiles of the enemies of our democracy who are here to steal our commonwealth, kill the future of our children and destroy our livelihoods. If we fail to arm ourselves with knowledge and education, we have only ourselves to blame if they continue to run circles around us!

The dividends of an electocracy is oppression, compromised judiciary, ineffective law enforcement that oppresses the people instead of protecting them!

The dividends of an electocracy is wealth concentrated in the hands of politicians and their families while the general population suffers unemployment and poverty!

I started with a popular quote and so I think I should end with one:

“If the blind leads the blind, both will end in a ditch”: this amazing quote subtly puts the responsibility on you, whether you can see or not and whether you are ignorant or not, to ensure that those you follow, those that lead you are not in the same incapacitated position as you. Your ignorance will not save you from the ditch.

Zeal Akaraiwe is the CEO of Graeme Blaque Advisory.

Twitter: @zeal_a | LinkedIn: Zeal Akaraiwe

Submit an article

This blog focuses on good governance and public accountability issues in Nigeria.
We appreciate your contributions.

Kindly send your articles to research@eienigeria.org.