By Owei Lakemfa
THE United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, is the lone stage in the world all countries make annual appearances. But in this 76th Session, Afghanistan is allowed only a cameo appearance.
This is because the Western countries who dominate the UN Permanent Security Council are still licking their wounds and would not allow the Taliban government in Kabul address the world, at least not on the platform of the UN. Rather, they are allowing the headless government of Ashraf Ghani to occupy the Afghan seat but only to be seen, not heard.
Nigeria has an undisputed leadership headed by President Muhammadu Buhari and he made it to the New York venue five days before his Friday, September 24, 2021 address. The period afforded him time to meet other world leaders and attend meetings on the side-lines of the conference. Buhari met the Queen of the Netherlands, Maxima Zorreguieta, and appealed for funds, particularly for agriculture.
He told her: “People returned to the land, which was extremely beneficial to us. We provided fertilisers and resurrected dams, and it all paid off.” There are not a few who will argue that rather than return to the land, Nigerian farmers are actually being chased away from the land by armed invaders in the Benue food basin, terrorists in the North East and bandits, especially in the North West.
He also met Burundian President, Evariste Ndayishimiye, who had come to beg Nigeria for assistance. The latter was to tell the UNGA that the “only enemy that remains a threat to citizens (Burundians), in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is common to all of us, is poverty.”
The case of Presidents Buhari and Ndayishimiye was like a man leaving his house to beg for food, only to meet someone who has neither shelter nor food.
The United States, US, has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, threatening to equally sanction countries who trade with it. In fact, America with some of its allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel want not just to isolate Iran, but also invade it.
So it must have taken some courage for the Nigerian government to meet Iran on the side-lines of the UNGA and ask for the deepening of trade between both countries. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, told his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian: “We are two big countries in our respective sub-regions, but unfortunately, the level of trade is not what it should be. And we should do a lot more.”
Amir-Abdollahian responded that as part of moves to increase trade with Nigeria, Iran is seeking ways to establish a direct shipping route. Perhaps the Buhari government is trying to tell Iran that its clampdown on the Shiite movement in Nigeria does not affect trade.
While President Buhari was engaged in New York, some Nigerians were for days, busy in front of the UN Building, protesting against him and his policies. They are not a group to easily dismiss, at least not in the consciousness of Americans as Nigerians are the most educated group in the US ahead of the White, Latino and African American populations.
Not surprisingly, the Buhari administration was not without its supporters on the streets of New York. Mainly dressed in fine tracksuits and shirts made in Nigerian national colours, they staged counter-protests. But curiously, some of these pro-Buhari demonstrators were Latinos which gave them out as non-Nigerians.
Some of these protesters, including Blacks, interviewed on camera, confessed they were hired to stage the protests. Doubtlessly, some Nigerian officials or businessmen who won the ‘contract’ to hire these lows of the American society, must be smiling to the bank; their bags padded with dollars.
As President Buhari prepared to take the rostrum, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, petitioned the world body to query him on the role of his government in alleged human rights violations, corruption, electoral malpractices, economic adversity and the escalation of banditry, terrorism and criminality in the country since his May 2015 ascent to power.
It was as if the PDP had a foreknowledge of Buhari’s presentation, and wanted either to pre-empt him or give a caveat to the world. The PDP claimed that the failures of the Buhari administration and its alleged compromises have resulted in grave insecurity, including mass killings, terrorism, kidnapping and banditry.
But in his address, President Buhari pushed aside the claims of the PDP. He claimed Nigeria has been unfaltering in protecting human rights and that it “remains unwavering in its commitment to ensuring the advancement of human rights within its shores and beyond (as) no society can claim to be free or just if it deprives anyone of these rights.” Buhari added that his government is resolute in the fight against terrorism, kidnapping and banditry.
The Buhari administration had on December 31, 2020 shocked many when, at the UN, it abstained on a bill on concrete global action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
How could Nigeria not support a bill seeking to protect humanity from racial discrimination and xenophobia, more so when many of the victims are Black people? However, in his UNGA address on Friday, he reiterated the country’s legacy of fighting racism: “Nigeria has long been a principled fighter against racism and all forms of discrimination inspired by its African experience.
In the past, racism oiled the machine of slavery and colonialism. Today, racism drives hate crimes and institutional discrimination. In all this, Africans and people of African descent are among the major victims.”
Another contradictory position he clarified in his address is on coups. His administration had shocked not a few by not only endorsing and supporting the April 19, 2021 military coup in Chad which sacked the executive and parliament, but also laying the red carpet for the coup plotter, General Mahamat Deby when he visited Nigeria.
But in his UN address, President Buhari made a strong case against coups. He told the world: “The recent trend of unconstitutional takeover of power, sometimes in reaction to unilateral changes of constitutions by some leaders, must not be tolerated by the international community.”
The Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion had before Buhari’s address, raised its voice on virtually the same issues the PDP raised while also taking a stand against ceaseless foreign borrowings. It had urged the Buhari administration “to exercise restraints in further borrowing so as not to jeopardise the future of all Nigerians.”
At the UN, Buhari seemed to have an answer to these fears. He begged the creditors “for debt suspension, including outright cancellation” of debts owed by Developing, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.