The European Union (EU) on Monday advised Nigerian politiians to engage in issue-based campaigns, shun violence and hate speech, ahead of the electioneering campaign which starts on Sept. 28.
Ms Samuela Isopi, the EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, said this at the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Programme Closure of Phase 1 and Launch of Phase 11 in Abuja.
“The EU SDGN testifies to the continued partnership with Nigeria that has grown in mutual respect and benefit since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999,” Isopi said.
She said the rule of law; human rights and democracy were the founding principles of the EU.
“ The electoral campaign will start in two weeks; as a friend of Nigeria, we would like to see peaceful and issues-based campaigns and we would like to encourage all stakeholders to take a firm stance against violence and hate speech.
“As the largest democracy in Africa, elections in Nigeria matter, they matter to Nigeria and Nigerians, they also matter for Africa as their outcome will be watched and felt well beyond its borders.
“Nigeria has the responsibility to lead and inspire other democracies on the continent six months ahead of the 2023 General Election, Nigeria is at a pivotal moment in the process.
“Who wins the elections is for the Nigerian people to decide; as a longstanding partner, the EU shares Nigeria’s interest to see a solid process leading to peaceful, free, fair and credible elections,” she said.
Isopi said the EU would also want all Nigerian voters to peacefully and freely cast their votes to choose their leaders and contribute to strengthening the country’s democracy and good governance.
She added that the EU was particularly keen to see greater participation of youth, women and people with disabilities.
She said that the mobilisation being witnessed across the country especially among the youth to register in view of next elections was a strong sign.
“It is a message from the Nigerians, from the youth in particular, that they believe in democracy.
“It is also a sign of trust in the electoral process that has made tremendous progress over the past few years and months.
“Thanks to the reforms and the technical innovations introduced by INEC to make elections more transparent and more credible, and to reassure voters that their votes will count and will be respected,” she said.
Isopi said EU firmly believed that only a functioning democracy could address citizens’ needs and build prosperous, resilient and strong societies.
She said it was with that belief in mind that the support to electoral processes was key element of the EU’s cooperation policy with its partners.
She said that the EU provided technical support to key electoral institutions and stakeholders since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, with over a 150 million euros committed so far.
She said that the Phase I of the EU-SDGN programme contributed to the reform of the electoral process by building capacities, strengthening institutions, strengthening the role and participation of civil society, contributing to the reform ofthe legal framework.
She added that building on the success of the first phase, the formulation of phase II was done in consultation with the Nigerian Government and key stakeholders such as the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) and civil society organisations.
She said the overall objective of the programme was to foster a functioning pluralistic, inclusive, participatory and representative democracy in Nigeria.
“Even though today marks the official launch of the programme, implementation started five months ago in April 2022, a month before the end of Phase 1.
“The programme of which the total amount is 39 million euros – will be implemented until 2027, with a focus on six specific components,” she said.
Isopi said the programme was aimed at improving the quality of electoral administration in Nigeria and strengthen capacities for legislative and judicial reform in compliance with democratic principles and standards.
She said it would enhance pluralism, internal democracy and equality of opportunity in the political parties and the political party system and empower the media to promote fair and ethical coverage of the electoral process and combat hate speech.
She said the programme also aimed at tackling disinformation, enhance participation of women, youth and other marginalised groups in the political process and empower CSOs and relevant agencies to demand greater transparency and accountability in the electoral and decision making process, and promote greater citizens’ participation.
Isopi said the European Union would continue to provide targeted support by building on the successes of the past electoral cycles and taking forward the very significant lessons learned within the period.
She called on Nigerians to support and respect the fundamental and independent role INEC as it fulfils its constitutional mandate and should be allowed to operate free from outside pressure, and in turn must demonstrate full neutrality and professionalism.
She said the new electoral act was a major step forward and its full implementation by INEC have the potential to make 2023 general elections a milestone in Nigeria’s democratic history.
She however, said for this to happen, everyone has to do his part.
Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), commended the ambassador for the closure of Phase I and launch of Phase II of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (the EU-SDGN) Programme.
Yakubu said the closure of the Phase I and simultaneous launch of Phase II of the EU-SDGN Programme was a further affirmation of the enduring commitment and support of the European Union towards the strengthening of democratic institutions and the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria.
He said INEC was a key beneficiary of the first phase of the EU-SDGN Programme conceived under the National Indicative Programme 2014 – 2020.
“ The support went a long way to complement the Commission’s efforts at strengthening our organisational and planning capacity, a major achievement is the progressive provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, especially the deployment of technology atpolling unit level,” he said.
Yakubu reassured that the commission would work together with the consortium of partners to implement the support to its component of the EU-SDGN II.
He said the choice of the partners signified a vote of confidence in their capacity to undertake actions and implement activities that are critical to promoting the institutionalisation of democratic norms in our country.
He said INEC would work with the implementing partners for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections.
He added that the commission would continue to welcome the deployment of international and domestic election observers in line with INEC’s guidelines.
This, he said was because the commission considered the deployment of such election observation missions as a means of enhancing public confidence and trust in Nigeria’s elections. (NAN)