Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Professor Tijjani Muhammed Bande, has assumed office as the President of the 74th United Nations General Assembly following his recent unanimous election. In this interview, he speaks on his priorities and challenges in the new position and other issues. Excerpts:
What will be your priority during your tenure as the president?
I think our priorities are priorities set in that we have looked at the already agreed to, Sustainable Development Goals or the 2030 agenda by which the international community at the level of the General Assembly, the United Nations generally are committed to the notion of leaving no one behind and transforming the world regardless of location, and those goals are all-encompassing and am working to deepen the implementation of those goals. In particular, the focus is poverty eradication, climate action, quality education and inclusion.
Now, for the United Nations, it can be taken for granted that every Presidency will deal with the issue of peace, and peace, of course, is a permanent matter in terms of prioritisation and of course, conflict issues are also important to resolve.
Specifically, how will these your ideas be of benefit to Nigeria as a country?
Well, the ideas are not for Nigeria. The ideas are for all countries. But let us pick say climate action. President Muhammadu Buhari in the last several years has been drumming the notion in all fora of the importance of climate action, especially in our region. The conflict we have seen especially around North- East which affects not only Nigeria but other countries as well are driven largely by climate issues. So, if we are able as a global community to pull together to address climate action in terms of the implementation of the Paris Agreement in 2015, in terms of including mitigation and financing, I think a lot will benefit Nigeria and the region.
If we talk about say, quality education, of course, it is very obvious, the importance of education for all girls and we have a large number of out of school children in Nigeria which must be reduced. In fact, it must be brought to zero because something like education connects to almost everything of importance. So, this is just along with the two. All others are equally important for Nigeria and what we have done was to use the already agreed goals to deepen them. All that we are talking about are issues that are also very much in line with the agenda of the African Union 2063, the platform for Africa’s development. That one also is very closely allied to the 2030 agenda. So, at a go, we deal with issues that are important to nations; they are important to regions of the world; they are important to us all.
What can you do to make sure that the United Nations becomes more involved in eradicating the Boko Haram conflict in the North- East of Nigeria?
The United Nations is but a partner to Nigeria and to the countries of the region most directly affected by the conflict and by the terrorism. It is a partner because it has been well recognised that terrorism affects us all and hardly national. The Boko Haram issue is clear. It’s not about Nigeria’s North East; it is about Nigeria; it is about Cameroon; it is about the Niger Republic and there are fears also that other terror groups are trying to find a common cause with Boko Haram elements. So, the global community as represented by the United Nations, the Security Council had a visit to the North- East during the Presidency of Britain (United Kingdom) at the time, which was very important. The whole Council undertook that trip to underscore the importance of dealing with terrorism at the level of the United Nations. The Security Council, which has primary responsibility for these matters, was there. But again, it is an issue of partnership. The United Nations is not the sole body that should do this. Nations are also doing their best. You have seen the multi-national Joint Task Force; the efforts they have undertaken have really helped and the Nigerian military has also been at the heels of the group; the same with the militaries of other neighbouring states. So, the question as to the responsibility of the United Nations is, one, to help in whatever way it can, including helping to bring partnership that will certainly bring the conflict to an earlier end. But all countries in the region are doing very well. Equally important rather, they are also coordinating their efforts. That coordination of efforts by the states in the region. I think it is equally important.
Nigeria has been pushing for a permanent place in the Security Council. How will your appointment advance that?
My Presidency will advance, in cooperation with all member states, the quicker and fairer conclusion to the process. The process has been ongoing for a long time. It has taken too long. It is a difficult one but this is the commitment of the United Nations expressed by the heads of state and government. So, all we can do is to continue to work, occasionally, the divide; how the reform will take place in terms of what is really the optimum number that can work without too much bureaucracy but will still be effective and representative. Next is the question whether we will retain the veto (power) of countries or whether new members will have veto. These are some of the issues that are being discussed. So, Nigeria as you know is operating under the AU and the AU has a consensus relating to that reform and that is one group. There are many other groups or groupings who have other ideas. What is interesting is that by and large, no group has come out to oppose the African position and each group recognises that Africa is the most left out of all the major regions in the world in terms of membership of Council. Now, of course, we have three non-permanent members of the council. They tried their best to coordinate African position but still in terms of permanent representation, there isn’t any for the continent.
Politically and diplomatically, the role of the President of UNGA is seen as more complex because of the disagreement among the permanent members of the Security Council. How will you stop this from impacting negatively on the Assembly’s ability to deliver to member states?
I think that you are right that there is a momentary division in terms of reaching agreement on some matters at the Council. This is not completely new but it is still nonetheless worrisome if there is a stalemate, especially when making important decisions where lives, especially of the vulnerable, are involved. That is a big issue. How do we deal with Syria or how do you deal with Iraq? What are the issues? These ones are vitally important. Yet, the Security Council is but one body within the United Nations system. It has a very important position or power but it is part of the whole system of the United Nations and as an organ just like the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.
The General Assembly must seek collaboration and cooperation of all other organs and the General Assembly is better suited for outreach to others because it has the membership of all and what we need to do is to continue to urge members to, one, remember the purposes of the organisation and see also what is clear. Just imagine what will be the case of the world were there to be no United Nations! And therefore, this moral suasion is important.
We need to continue to work with Council members, especially those who have deep disagreement to narrow their gap of disagreement so that more can be done faster, especially in cases where a lot of people are dying or are facing the threat of death because of squabbles in the Council. But I think conversations are still ongoing and more directly, the General Assembly will continue to reach out to all other organs so that we do not send a message that we are not able to resolve issues even if they are clearly urgent. I think that is what we have to do.
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