Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Presidency I would like to take this opportunity for an exchange of views on the developments in Nigeria. The situation in Nigeria has great significance for stability in Western Africa and, at the end of the day, throughout the entire continent.
As you know, the recent elections in Nigeria were very disappointing, as the Council publicly expressed in a declaration on 27 April.
There were numerous irregularities and violent incidents. Up to 200 people were killed, and many more were injured or intimidated. The Council expects the people responsible for these acts of violence to be brought to justice.
Fortunately, there was no sign of any religious or ethnic conflicts, at least.
The improved legal framework for these elections as well as the considerable resources made available for them had prompted us to expect that the 2007 elections would be better than those held in 2003. We are still waiting for the final report from the EU Election Observer Mission, but several initial assessments lead us to suppose that the 2007 elections were even worse than those held in 2003.
The main problems stemmed from inadequate organization, particularly the late opening of the polling stations, the lack of ballot papers and the fact that voting was not secret. Even more serious was the fact that evidence of considerable vote-rigging came to light, as well as the widespread irregularities.
Another grave problem with the elections was that no detailed results were published. Moreover, the way the results were calculated was unclear. On this point we should appeal to the Nigerian authorities to publish the results and provide a break-down of the figures for each polling station. This will guarantee the transparency of the electoral system.
However, the Council found the signs of the increasing independence shown by the judiciary during the election campaign positive and encouraging. We hope this trend will continue after the elections. Also encouraging were the lively discussions in the private media before and after the elections. Last but not least, the Council was impressed by the support of Nigerians themselves for the democratic process. The commitment of civil society organizations is and remains extremely important.
The Council has called upon all political players to use peaceful means, to demonstrate responsibility by strictly complying with legal procedures and not to let down the people of Nigeria. We hope that the Independent National Electoral Commission and other bodies will quickly provide the evidence the electoral tribunals need to complete their work as soon as possible.
The Council also hopes that the Nigerian authorities will look sympathetically at the case for election reruns where there is clear evidence of serious electoral malpractice.
Against this background, the EU has decided to wait to officially congratulate Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who has been declared the winner of the presidential elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission, at least until he has been inaugurated.
However, this is not the time to turn our backs on Nigeria. On the contrary, stability and development in Nigeria are crucially important not only for the Nigerian people, but also for the whole of Africa. If the Millennium Development Goals are not achieved in Nigeria, we will not be able to achieve them at all in Africa.
Nigeria's future Government will be confronted with numerous challenges. One key task is the effective monitoring of the resources allocated to the federal states. Another aspect is the ongoing insecurity in the Niger Delta.
The EU should help Nigeria to overcome these challenges. It should intensify its efforts to strengthen responsible governance and democracy and to promote respect for human rights in Nigeria. This support must take place in cooperation with Nigeria and on the basis of clear assurances from the Government.
The Council will continue to closely observe the developments in Nigeria.
Thank you for your attention.