From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ambassador Samuela Isopi, has said the EU stands with Nigerians ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Isopi, who spoke exclusively with Daily Sun in Abuja, said next year’s elections will be very important for all Nigerians.
The EU envoy appealed to the youth, whom she said represent the majority of the population, including women, to register for the forthcoming elections and participate as candidates, if they can or at least, as voters.
Isopi also dwelt on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, explaining the different steps taken by the EU to halt the crisis.
What is the significance of the 2022 Europe Day celebration?
First of all, the significance of every celebration of the Europe Day every year is to celebrate peace and unity. Peace and unity in Europe, but to celebrate peace, unity and solidarity also as the basic values that we share with all our partners, including Nigeria.
How much impact will the EU’s recent adoption of a seven-year funding scheme for its interventions in the country have on Nigerians?
What we said is that, first of all, Nigeria is a very important partner for us. We are natural partners, Europe and Nigeria. We are working together already on many fronts – peace and security, economic development, green and digital economy and I can mention a long, long list. We have in recent years and in the past few months set together two milestones to continue our partnership, to strengthen our partnership. One is a road map that we have, a new framework to work together, very structured cooperation along five main areas. And on the cooperation side, we have just launched our operation programme for the next seven years, which is focussed on three main priority areas – Green and Digital Economy, Governance, Peace and Migration and Human Development. So, we continue to work together with Nigerians and youths; the theme of this year’s celebration of the Europe Day is youth. The year 2022 is the year of European Union youth. That is why, in everything that we will be doing, there will be a focus on youth.
What is the EU’s expectations of Nigeria as the country prepares for the 2023 general election?
As a partner, what we can say is that we want to continue to support Nigeria in strengthening its already vibrant democracy. Next year’s election will be very important for all Nigerians and we stand with them. We have launched a new support programme, which supports INEC, but also other important stakeholders like the civil societies and political parties, to help Nigerians have elections next year.
Is the EU satisfied with developments regarding the signing of the Electoral Act?
We think it is a major step and Nigerians should be proud of it because this is a very important reform that introduced some innovations that will make the process stronger.
What is the EU’s position on the amount for the purchase of forms, particularly that of the ruling party that placed its presidential form at N100 million?
It is their choice. If you ask me my personal opinion, I might say it looks to me a little bit expensive. But it is their choice. It is their responsibility.
What role does the EU expect Nigerian women to play in the 2023 elections? Are you expecting the first Nigerian female President?
I think elections in every country are very important because people can really have the opportunity to choose their leaders. This is true for Nigeria, but it is also true for my own country and this is true for all countries. If I can launch a personal appeal, young people, they represent the majority of the population. And women also, they represent the majority of the population. So, this is something, which is extremely strong and extremely important. You can make a difference. If I can launch an appeal, I will appeal to the youth to register for elections and to participate as candidates, if they can, but, at least, as voters. Also, participating as voters is something important because our votes can help make changes.
In the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine, you met with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs alongside EU ambassadors. What role was the EU looking at Nigeria playing in the crisis?
We are partners and, as between all partners and with partners, we discuss because we all share the same responsibility, trying to promote peace, solidarity, cooperation and support multilateralism in the world. And I think, with Nigeria, we share exactly the same values. So, it is normal that we exchange with our partners because the war in Ukraine is something that affects the European continent, but which affects all countries in the world in terms of principles. And I think, with Nigeria in particular, we very much are big supporters of multilateralism and we both call for peace.
But why did the EU not intervene when Putin annexed Crimea?
I mean, we did react. What do you mean by reacting? Militarily reaction? I was serving in Russia at the Italian Embassy in Moscow when Crimea was annexed and we took, at that time, quite important measures, and sanctions started already and they had an impact. So, we continued and the Europe Open Day today and the youth celebration this year are also very special, they have a special significance because war on a large scale is back in Europe and this is why we think it is even more important to talk about peace and unity.
Aside from granting access to refugees from Ukraine, is the EU also extending the gesture to other nationals who are refugees from Ukraine?
Sure! If you look at it well, correctly, you will see that the European Union is not only opening its doors to Ukrainians, but to all those that were actually in Ukraine and other cities for support. And I would like to commend all member states for the unity and the solidarity they have shown, but especially the member states, the neighbours of Ukraine, Poland and others, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia; they have opened the doors not only to Ukrainians but also to all those that were fleeing the war.
Apart from sending aid to Ukraine to mitigate Russia’s aggression, how else does the EU want to intervene in Ukraine?
We did a lot because, for the very first time, the European Union is providing military support to Ukraine, through a new European peace facility. Member states are also doing this, most of them I would say on a bilateral basis, but the European Union, for the very first time, is militarily supporting a country, which is at war, and we also have decided to provide a very huge financial package to help because the Ukrainian economy is collapsing. So, it is not only humanitarian aid, but also financial aid to help the state continue to have the resilience of the state and of the population. So, we have done all we could. Of course, we have adopted several packages of sanctions, unprecedented, I would say, against Russia – financial sanctions, economic sanctions and sanctions on individuals. These are sanctions that have the objective of preventing the war to last. And we will continue. We will continue to support, but it is very important that the same support comes from other partners as well.
What is stopping the move to grant Ukraine membership of EU?
Nothing is stopping us from granting Ukraine membership. The process has started. Becoming a member of the EU is a process. To be a member of the EU, I mean, we share values, but you need to have some kind of reforms. So, the application has been received and the process has started. So, it is hopefully ongoing.
So, it will happen soon?
This is not up to me to say, but the process has started and I think if you followed the messages given by European leaders, both the leaders of EU institutions and also the member states, it is clear that Ukraine is part of the European family.