While the 2003 and 2007 general elections referred to above could be regarded as milestones in the political life of the country, the mismanagement of, and irregularities that trailed the elections, took the country many miles away from democracy. This is because elections have meaning for most people only in a democratic context, because they lead to the choice of decision makers by the majority of citizens. Elections and democracy are therefore inextricably linked. As Kurfi (2005:101) rightly observed, rigging is almost synonymous with Nigerian elections. The objective of electoral fraud is to frustrate the democratic aspirations of citizens who have voted or would have voted into offices someone other than the purported victor.
Owing to Nigeria’s track record of electoral irregularities and fraud, elections in the country have often been characterized with political tension, crisis, assassinations and high level of violence (Adekanye, 1990:2). The outcomes of many elections have been so fiercely contested that the survival of the country and democracy has been jeopardized. This sad history of electoral fraud or rigging has serious implications for Nigeria’s political future because the phenomenon rather than declining, keeps growing and becoming more sophisticated with every succeeding elections. The principal forms of electoral fraud and irregularities were perfected in the elections of 1964, 1965, 1979, 1983, 1999, 2003 and 2007. The implication is that the outcome of elections has been the subversion of the democratic process rather than its consolidation. Expectedly, major political conflicts have emerged from fraudulently manipulated elections as evidenced in “Operation Wetie” in 1964, coups, assassinations in 2003 and 2007, etc (Kurfi, 2005:97).
In 2003, Nigeria conducted the second general election since her return to civilian rule in May, 1999. Those elections were almost as contentious as the infamous 1983 elections that precipitated the collapse of the Second Republic. The report by Nigerian observers confirmed numerous cases of fraud in many states across the country (Transition Monitoring Group, 2003:120). The European Union Observers’ report also indicted widespread election-related malpractices in a number of states in the Middle Belt, the South-East and South-South (European Commission, 2003:42). Such was also the case in 2007 when several reports wrote the election off and described it as a charade and a mockery of democracy. In the words of Yaqub (2008:2), “the 2007 General Elections belong in the genre of undemocratic elections. Indeed, the elections of April 2007 were or did not satisfy the minimum conditions of democracy”.
The varied forms of electoral irregularities and malpractices, as well as high number of electoral violence, have rekindled old fears that the basic institutional weaknesses associated with the electoral system could bring the democratic experiment to grief. This fear is even more palpable as Nigeria moves toward the 2011 elections without genuine commitments at reforming the electoral system.
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in May, 1999, after almost three decades of military misrule, the country has been faced with the challenges of dealing with electoral fraud and its implications of illegitimate governments. While majority of the people have demonstrated a general commitment to freely exercise their voting rights in the most civic and responsible manner, the political class has consistently and systematically frustrated their efforts by truncating such exercises through massive electoral fraud (FOMWAN, 2008). The result is that elections have become turning points in which outcomes have reflected subversion of the democratic process rather than consolidation. The 2003 and 2007 general elections in Nigeria have proved the worst in the order of declining quality of elections in the country since 1999.