By Turaki A. Hassan
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, recently brought his diplomatic prowess to bear when he pushed Nigeria’s interest before world leaders at the highest level of meetings of world heads of parliaments.
The speaker was one of the heads of parliaments from across the world who converged on New York, United States of America, in the last weeks for the Fourth Conference of Speakers of Parliament organised once every four years by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) at the United Nations Headquarters.
IPU is the umbrella organisation of leaders of parliaments with its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and such meetings are only held, to underscore its importance, once in every four years.
The summit was a unique forum for dialogue and cooperation between parliaments at the highest level, with the overall theme of the conference focused on peace, democracy, and development as seen through parliamentary lens.
The conference was part of the series of high-level meetings leading up to the UN Summit which will hold in late September 2015, where new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be launched. It was preceded by the Tenth Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament, which held in August.
Speaker Dogara didnt confine himself to the historic UN General Assembly hall where plenaries took place but went steps further during breaks and sometimes, even late nights, to hold bilateral meetings with Speakers of parliaments of different countries from Africa, Asia and Europe.
The first of such legislative diplomacy held on the eve of the conference as Dogara had a bilateral meeting with delegation of Chinese MPs led by Chairman of the National People`s Congress (NPC) Mr. Zhang Dejian.
The Speaker used the opportunity to solicit for China`s support for Nigeria`s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and Nigeria and Nigerians came out victorious as the Chinese did not hesitate in throwing their weight behind the request.
“We appreciate China for its effort to democratise the institution of the United Nations and appeal that you support our bid to occupy a permanenr seat on the security council,” Dogara had said.
Responding, Mr. Dejiang said there must be a better representation of developing countries in the United Nations and that Nigeria, being an influential country in the world, deserved a seat on the council.
“We support the legitimate demands of Nigeria for a permanent seat on the UN security council, together with the reform of the UN,” Mr. Dejiang said.
Also, agreements were reached on the establishment of a parliamentary friendship group between Nigeria`s National Assembly and the NPC of China.
The Speaker had also appealed to the Chinese government to review its 5 percent tax on Nigeria`s agricultural exports and the Chinese agreed to take up the issue with the their authorities back home, in addition to another promise to attract Chinese investors to Nigeria.
They also pledged to support Nigeria in the fight against terrorism, describing it as a global scourge.
In another bilateral parley, Dogara secured a commitment from the state of Israel in Nigeria`s recent efforts to rout Boko Haram insurgents before the end of the year.
The Speaker of Isreal`s parliament Knesset, Mr. Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, gave the nod when he met with Hon. Dogara who had solicited for Israel`s support to Nigeria to help end Boko Haram and other security challenges, in addition to attracting investment in agriculture, solid minerals, energy and tourism.
Edelstein said while responding to the demand made by Rt Hon. Dogara that Israel will continue to support Nigeria`s fight against terrorism as according to him, there must be global action against terrorists.
Mr. Edelstein said terrorism is a threat to all nations and as such, the world must unite to fight it saying, “we must unite to fight terrorism and not to divide them into their terrorist and our terrorists.”
“Israel is committed to fight against terrorism because terrorists use divisions between nations and even democratic countries,” he added.
Dogara had told Mr. Edelstein that the international community must find a global solution to terrorism as no nation is insulated from its scourge.
He said Nigeria`s North East region where he comes from has been under Boko Haram terrorists and the scale of devastation was unimaginable.
The Speaker further urged the Israelis to invest in Nigeria`s agricultural sector which has the potential to create wealth and generate employment for millions of jobless youths.
He said Israelis were able to transform a desert nation into one of the most agriculturally viable nation on earth and that other sectors such as solid minerals, energy and tourism have a lot of potentials waiting to be tapped.
The Speaker also solicited for technical support from the Isreali parliament Knesset to enable the National Assembly establish its own security outfit by equiping the Sergeants-At-Arms.
He said plans are underway to transform the Sergeant-At-Arms into a modern and sophisticated security outfit as it obtainable in other parliaments. Again, Nigeria-Israel parliamentary friendship group will be established.
Coming closer to home, Dogara held bilateral meetings with president of Niger`s National Assembly, Mr. Amadou Salifou.
Part of the outcome of the talks is the reiteration of the Nigeriens of their commitment to supporting Nigeria`s fight against Boko Haram, with Mr. Salifou saying Nigeriens will continue to support the big brother (Nigeria) until Boko Haram is extinct. He said Niger had already won the war on its own side of the border.
Similarly, Speaker Dogara also met with his Senegalese counterpart , Mr. Moustapha Niasse, who delightfully informed him that he is half-Nigerian as some of his cousins are from Sokoto State. Dogara lauded Senegal`s smooth democratic transition in recents years as an example for other African countries to emulate.
In the same vein, talks were held with the Second Deputy Speaker of Burundi`s National Assembly ,Hon. Nduwimana Edouad, where Dogara called on African nations to look inward and find solutions to their problems instead of relying on foreign nations.
He said Nigeria must, as a matter of necessity, maintain an afrocentric foreign policy because of its commitment to peace and stability in Africa.
In yet another unprecedented engagement, Speaker Dogara held talks with Speaker of the Serbian parliament, Ms Maja Gojkovic, where he assured her that Nigeria will neither forget nor abandoned its old friends who offered helping hands during the civil war. An agreement was also reached to also establish a parliamentary friendship group between the two nations.
At the end of the conference, the indefatigable Speaker spoke passionately about President Muhammadu Buhari`s fight against corruption and pleaded with the international community, especially Western nations, to help return billions of dollars looted from Nigeria.
The Speaker said Western nations have both moral and legal obligation to Nigeria and other African countries to ensure that monies stolen from Africa are repatriated.
He said the return of such funds will help create jobs for millions of jobless young men and women and ultimately reduce to the barest minimum , the surge of migrants to Europe from Africa.
Dogara further appealed to heads of parliaments from the West to enact legislations that will block the movement of stolen funds from Africa to their countries.
He said as presiding officers of the legislature, Speakers of Western parliaments should put pressure on their governments to return such looted funds to Nigeria.
Before leaving America, the Speaker took a trip to Washington DC where he met with some key members of Congress and other stakeholders. During the visit, he asked them to pressurise their governments to make the necessary military hardware available to Nigeria in order to rout out Boko Haram terrorists among other issues discussed.
Hassan is the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to Speaker Yakubu Dogara