Law As A Vehicle For Good Governance And National Integration In Nigeria (Part 4), By Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, CON, PhD


In last week’s episode, we touched on good governance as a concept and considered its definitive marks, explaining how it differed from one country to another. In this week’s installment, we shall examine the features of good governance (participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, focus on consensus, equity/inclusiveness, effectiveness/efficiency, accountability, strategic vision) and democracy. Enjoy.

Features of Good Governance

Participation: Good governance is participatory. Anyone affected by or interested in a decision should have the opportunity to participate in the process for making that decision. Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate and trusted intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision making Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand.

Rule of Law: Good governance follows the rule of law. This means that decisions are consistent with relevant legislation or common law. Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.

Transparency: Good governance is transparent; hence people should be able to follow and understand the decision-making process. Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media. This means that they will be able to clearly see how and why a decision was made, what information, advice and consultation council considered, and which legislative requirements was followed.

Responsiveness: Good governance is responsive, thus requiring that institutions and processes should try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe Thus, to ensure good governance, government should always try to serve the needs of the entire community while balancing competing interests in a timely, appropriate and responsive manner.

Consensus Oriented: There are several actors and as many view points in a given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the general public and how this can be achieved. This can only result from an understanding of the historical, cultural and social contexts of a given society or community.

Equity and Inclusiveness: A society’s wellbeing depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society. This requires all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their wellbeing.

Effectiveness and Efficiency: Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal. In this regard, government should implement decisions and follow processes that make the best use of the available people, resources and time to ensure the best possible results for their community. The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.

  1. Accountability: Accountability is a key requirement of good governance that should not only focus on governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. This is because an organization or an institution is accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. But because accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law, it becomes pertinent that government or organization leaders live up to their obligation to report, explain and be answerable for the consequences of decisions it has made on behalf of the community it represents (UNESCAP, 2009; However, The UNDP added another one to make it nine.
  2. Strategic Vision: Leaders and the public should have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, together with a sense of what is needed for such development. There should also be an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded (UNDP 1997).


 There are as many definitions and concepts of democracy as there are writers, political theoreticians, each viewing democracy from his prison. They are all right. It is akin to the theory of the four blind men and the elephant. One described the elephant as flat and hard as a wall, having touched its broad trunk. The other argued that it was as long and thin as a snake. He had actually touched its tail. Yet the third swore by all the gods of sight and vision that the elephant was large and flexible like a fan. This third blind man had managed to touch the fanny ear, yet another described the elephant as a trumpet. He had merely touched the tusk. They were all right, albeit not completely so.

The Black’s Law Dictionary with pronunciations definition of democracy is more laconic and straight to the point. It says democracy is:

“That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of the citizens directly or indirectly through a system representation as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy or oligarchy”.

It was Abraham Lincoln, the great slaves’ liberator and former president of the United States of America who on 19th November, 1863, in his Gettysburg Declaration, defined democracy as government of the people, for the people and by the people. This definition lives on till date. “Democracy” has been identified with government by the people, usually through elected representative. Democracy is a political system that enables people to freely choose an effective, honest, transparent and accountable government.

It can equally be described as the philosophy of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly or indirectly through a system of representation, usually involving periodic free elections.


 The concept of democracy originated in ancient Greece as a philosophy of popular sovereignty in Greek city states. The rise of democracy as a universal system of governance is largely a product of the 20th century. Although, it has now gained widespread acceptance, democracy took a long time to emerge. From its ancient origins in Greek City States, the growth of democracy was largely facilitated by the French and American Revolutions of the 18th Century; the widening of the franchise in Europe and North America in the 19th Century, to the heroic struggles for popular participation and social justice in the 20th Century. With the collapse of communism, democracy has become established as the “normal” form of governance.

The practice of democracy differs from one place to another. In the United States of America and Nigeria for example, democracy is predicated on presidentialism, separation of powers, checks and balances and an independent judiciary. In Britain and many other commonwealth countries, there is almost an imperceptible integration and intertwining of the executive and legislative Organs of Government. As Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth Secretary General has noted, whatever variants of democracy we may have, there are universally acceptable ingredients that define a truly democratic country. They are:

  1. The right of the people to choose freely their governments periodically;
  2. The right to freedom of association especially in forming political parties;
  3. The right to freedom of expression, especially freedom of speech and a free media;
  4. The primacy of the rule of law and the independence of judiciary; and

5 The continuing transparency and accountability of government to its electorate.

Democracy is not a magical wand. It is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means to an end.

Any democracy that does not yield “democracy dividends” is as accursed as military dictatorship. Democracy goes beyond the mere holding of periodic elections of Government.

In the words of Salim Ahmed Salim, “Democratic governance is not simply structures or only rituals; it is also a modality of behavior and interaction. It constitutes relations as well as values to be internalized. It is a means of societal empowerment and with such a complex composition. Democratic governance is not a “one-off” static phenomenon to be juxtaposed or grafted into a society. It is a dynamic process that is nurtured and enriched with the growth and evolution of society…

I need to also point out in this regard, that democratic governance is not only a relationship between state and society, but it also refers to relationships within society. At this second level, it underscores such virtues as tolerances, dialogue and understanding, social integration, gender equality, abidance to norms, respect for fundamental human rights, adherence to the rule of law negation of corruption.”

It is very important that access to political power is extended to every citizen of the country and that he is given an opportunity to participate in the choice of those who govern him. This is called public participation and it helps to nip conflict in the bud and balance centripetal and centrifugal forces. In like manner, we must emphasis that the use of acquired political power is not synonymous with the mere holding “free and fair elections”, “but should go beyond that and critically explore hoe the management of the acquired political power affects the generality of the people. If instead of its being used to promote the basic needs and aspirations of the generality of the people, the acquired political power is merely used to promote the needs of a microscopic ruling elite, then democracy cannot deliver peace and public harmony”.

In the illuminating words of Lord James Bryce, Modern Democracy. Democracy is supposed to be the product and the guardian both of Equality and of Liberty, being so consecrated by its relationship to both theses precious possessions as to be almost above criticism.”

Prof. Ben Nwabueze, the erudite and renowned constitutional lawyer note with precision that:

“Democracy as a form of government, is man-based; it is a humanist, individualist and moralist institution, “created for the sake of what the ancient philosophers called the “Good Life” of society. Herein lies one of the essential differences between democracy and socialism. “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man mere agent, a mere number … while democracy seek equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude”. (To be continued).