• Says INEC must be allowed to operate free from outside pressure
• We’re committed to electoral justice in Nigeria, says INEC Chairman
The European Union (EU) has committed over €150 million in the provision of technical support to key electoral institutions and stakeholders since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
The EU ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Samuela Isopi disclosed this on Monday in Abuja at the EU Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU SDGN) Programme: Closure Ceremony of Phase I and the launch of Phase II.
She said the EU believed that only a functioning democracy could address citizens’ needs and build prosperous, resilient and strong societies.
Isopi noted that it was against this background that the support to electoral processes was a key element of the EU’s cooperation policy with its partners.
She explained 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, as well as contributing to the reform of the legal framework.
Isopi noted that building on the success of the first phase, the identification and formulation of Phase II of the programme was done in consultation with the federal government and key stakeholders such as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and civil society organisations.
She said: “The European Union has provided technical support to key electoral institutions and stakeholders since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, with over a hundred and fifty million euros (€150 million) committed so far.”
The Ambassador added that the overall objective of the programme was to foster a functioning pluralistic, inclusive, participatory and representative democracy in Nigeria.
Isopi said though Monday marked the official launch of the programme, implementation started five months ago in April 2022, a month before the end of Phase 1.
She added: “The programme – of which the total amount is €39 million – will be implemented until 2027, with a focus on six specific components.”
The components, Isopi said, included improving the quality of electoral administration in Nigeria; strengthening capacities for legislative and judicial reform in compliance with democratic principles and standards; enhancing pluralism, internal democracy and equality of opportunity in the political parties and the political party system; empowering media, including new media to promote fair and ethical coverage of the electoral process and combat hate speech, among others.
She said the EU 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.
According to her, “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.
“As a longstanding partner, the EU shares Nigeria’s interest to see a solid process leading to peaceful, free, fair and credible elections.
“We would like all Nigerian voters to peacefully and freely cast their vote to choose their leaders and contribute to strengthening their country’s democracy and good governance.”
Isopi added that the EU was keen to see greater participation of youth, women and people with disabilities.
She stated that the mobilisation being witnessed across the country – especially among the youth – to register in view of next elections is a strong sign, adding that it is a message from 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 vote will count and will be respected,” she said.
The EU pointed out that it would like to see peaceful and issues-based campaigns, while also encouraging all stakeholders to take a firm stance against violence and hate speech as political campaigns begin in two weeks.
Isopi emphasised that the 2019 Peace Accords facilitated by the National Peace Committee played an important role, saying it welcomed new efforts and commitments towards that goal.
She further stressed that there was a need to support and respect the fundamental and independent role of INEC as it fulfils its constitutional mandate.
Her words: “INEC must be allowed to operate free from outside pressure, and in turn must demonstrate full neutrality and professionalism.
“Tremendous progress has been achieved. The new Electoral Act is a major step forward and its full implementation together with the technical reforms introduced by INEC have the potential to make the 2023 general election a milestone in Nigeria’s democratic history.
“For this to happen, everyone has to do its part.
INEC, but also political actors, civil society groups, media, security agencies — that will need to act with neutrality and professionalism to provide a safe and secure environment – citizens and voters. And also partners, in providing critical technical assistance and support.”
On his part, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, assured the audience that the electoral body was committed to electoral justice 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.
Mahood said under the programme implemented by the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), the Commission received various support mainly in the areas of training and capacity building for its staff, engagement with stakeholders, voter education and public enlightenment and the promotion of inclusivity.
He stressed that the support went a long way to complement the Commission’s efforts at strengthening INEC organisational and planning capacity, improvement of internal and external communication, more frequent consultation with stakeholders and advocacy for increased participation in the electoral process.
Mahmood said: “The combination of these actions and activities not only enhanced public confidence in the Commission, but also provided valuable assistance in strengthening the integrity and credibility of the electoral process. A major achievement in this regard is the progressive provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, especially the deployment of technology for voter accreditation and result management at polling unit level.
“It is commendable that the EU-SDGN II is designed to build on the successes achieved under Phase I. The new programme is anchored on the priorities of the European Union and the Federal Republic of Nigeria as contained in the Indicative Programme 2021-2027 and formulated based on the key recommendations of the EU Election observation Mission (EU-EOM) report on the 2015 and 2019 general election.”
The INEC chairman noted that the Commission would continue to welcome the deployment of international and domestic election observers in line with INEC guidelines.
Mahmood said INEC considers the deployment of such election observation missions as a means of enhancing public confidence and trust in Nigeria’s elections.
He said their recommendations have been especially useful in reviewing INEC processes and the introduction of some of the progressive reforms in the electoral legal framework in line with global good practices.
To this end, Mahmood stated that the Commission has already sent out letters to international organisations such as the United Nations, European Union, Commonwealth, the African Union and ECOWAS, inviting them to deploy observation missions for the 2023 general election.
He assured Nigerians that the Commission would continue to work with the EU, development partners and all electoral stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of the electoral reforms in order to protect the integrity and guarantee the credibility of election outcomes based on the rule of law and the will of the electorate.
Source: This Day