The European Union (EU) says building on existing partnerships and cooperation with Nigeria on common issues of migration, security, trade and democracy could yield mutually beneficial outcomes for both groups.
The EU Ambassador and Head of Delegation to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, said this at the grand celebration of “Europe Day 2018’ cocktail on Wednesday in Abuja.
Mr Karlsen acknowledged the existence of a “truly multi-dimensional engagement between EU and Nigeria in a partnership that has never been better, but more needed than ever before.”
Noting Nigeria’s growing importance in the international arena, the envoy said Nigeria, like the EU, should strive not to take its unity and democracy for grant, but ensure they were well nourished at all times.
“We have seen challenges, but we have also seen how crisis can make us stronger. And we have seen how the questioning of our fundamental values will only make us more determined to defend them. Together we are stronger,” he said.
He said over the years the EU adopted an integrated approach in its support to Nigeria’s vision, policies and initiatives.
Again, he said the defining basis of all EU does in Nigeria was to focus on mutual engagements to promote democratic governance in the country.
Since 1999, Mr Karlsen said EU continued to be involved in monitoring and observing the Nigerian elections through development cooperation support to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the National Assembly and civil society groups.
Over the last decade, he said EU provided about €1.5 billion to support the Nigerian electoral process, apart from another €400 million for humanitarian aid and development assistance to the multinational task force in the North East region.
In addition, he said EU equally supported access to water sanitation and health throughout the country as well as affordable and sustainable energy supply for all, human rights in general and women rights in particular.
Besides, another €1 billion has been provided in support of the regional integration of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) between 2014 and 2020.
On the challenge of irregular migration to Europe, the head of the EU delegation lamented: “My heart sinks when I see the deplorable conditions of Nigerians exploited by unscrupulous traffickers, some dying in the desert, some being maltreated in detention camps in Libya, some drowning in the Mediterranean sea and some facing very difficult conditions arriving in Europe.
“We need to stand together to find solutions. We need to follow up on the call by President Buhari to European partners in finding solutions to the immediate crisis, while laying the cornerstones to ensure this matters are not repeated in the future.”
In response to the President’s plea, he said EU has so far facilitated the safe return to Nigeria of about 8,140 Nigerians since 2017.
Besides, he said EU was also engaging partners across Nigeria to seek holistic approaches to the problem by ensuring they invested in the youth by building on the good side of mobility, while discouraging trafficking and exploitation.
On trade, apart from being Nigeria’s biggest partner, Mr Karlsen said about € 25.3 billion was realized last year (about 50 per cent surplus), or about 27 per cent increase since 2016.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, described EU as a wonderful partner to Nigeria on democracy, noting its support to the country’s role in restoring peace in crisis-torn countries in the ECOWAS region.
On migration, Mr Onyeama said it was a big issue the Nigerian government was doing all within its capacity to encourage Nigerians to migrate legally to countries.
He said with EU working on agreement on regulation, Nigeria hopes it would make it easier for legal migrants to travel to European countries, while dissuading others from taking irregular routes fraught with great dangers.
The minister said Nigeria was also working on vocational training programmes and other ways of building the skills to encourage Nigerians to stay home and grow the economy.
He expressed appreciation to EU for its support in the areas of security, particularly the fight against terrorism and militancy in parts of the country, as well as economy, good governance and elections.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki also thanked the EU for its role in delivering credible elections in the country, particularly in 2015, saying as the largest donor to INEC, EU has a significant role to play in ensuring free and fair elections in 2019.
With the coming 2019 elections, he challenged all Nigerians to ensure it was their responsibility to be better than the 2015.
He urged the EU to join the U.S. to expand its support to the armed forces in the areas of equipment to fight against terrorism, training, intelligence and support to humanitarian efforts.
Mr Saraki said the Senates was considering a number of Bills to strengthen the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and the process to check the problem of illegal migration from source, rather than the point of entry in other countries.
On the petroleum industry bill, he said the lawmakers were committed to pass a win-win law that would allow increased revenue for Nigeria, increased investment in the industry, provide jobs, while guaranteeing return on investment to the players.