Buhari at UNGA: A Postscript


President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday was accompanied by mixed feelings at home and abroad. Omololu Ogunmade gives a dispassionate analysis of the speech

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday delivered what was tagged a national statement during a general debate at the 72nd Session of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 72) in New York. During the speech, the president called for international co-operation and material support for his administration’s prosecution of the war against corruption and asset recovery.

The 15-minute speech, when compared to United States President Donald Trump’s 41-minute address, was described as the most scanty ever delivered by a Nigerian president at any session of UNGA. Some observers were however, quick to attribute the scanty nature of the speech to the president’s state of health, having just recovered from an undisclosed ailment, which he treated for the last eight months of the year.

But analysts were swift to criticise the speech, which they said was made up of paltry local content. According to them, Buhari lost a notable opportunity to market his country on the global stage as the entire speech dwelt mainly on crisis ravaging the world without citing any role his government is playing to raise the standard of governance in the country.

Where the president eventually mentioned an activity of his government – fight against illicit fund and asset recovery move – he only called for material support for asset recovery adding that institutions of state in the country were being strengthened to promote accountability and curtail corruption.
According to him, the country’s desired goals could only be achieved when the international community co-operates with it and provides critical assistance and material support, adding that Nigeria would also cooperate with the international community in the fight against transnational crimes, including cybercrime, human trafficking and forced labour.

“Through our individual national efforts, state institutions are being strengthened to promote accountability, and to combat corruption and asset recovery. These can only be achieved through the international community cooperating and providing critical assistance and material support. We shall also cooperate in addressing the growing transnational crimes such as forced labour, modern day slavery, human trafficking and cybercrime,” Buhari said.

Buhari’s speech was however, completely antithetical to that of Trump as the latter seemed to have greater understanding of the opportunity to deliver a speech at a global stage. Unlike Nigeria’s president, who did not mention any progressive move by his administration to advance good governance and improve the living standard of his people since coming to office, Trump seized the momentum to reel out the achievements of his administration since he was elected late last year and consequently advanced the beauty and glory of America in the eyes of the world, even when they are largely controversial.

Before Trump eventually began to address issues affecting the world, he had already proved to the gathering that charity indeed begins at home.

Hear Trump: “Fortunately, the United States has done very well since election day last November 8. The stock markets at an all-time high, a record! Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before.

“Companies are moving back, creating job growth, the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time, and it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defence. Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been. For more than 70 years, in times of war and peace, the leaders of nations, movements, and religions have stood before this assembly.” That was irrepressible Trump, who maximised the opportunity of appearing on the global stage to advertise both his country and government.

It had also been observed that Buhari mentioning only corruption fight in the speech was another minus for Nigeria as critics believed that it continued to create the impression that Nigeria was only synonymous with corruption and nothing else but fraud takes place in the country especially as the president failed to mention any positive development in the country.

On the other hand, Buhari’s speech on Africa and current issues threatening world peace and progress was meaningful and promising. For instance, his speech, unlike that of Trump, which threatened absolute destruction of North Korea, canvassed the need for the UN to embrace dialogue with the North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un. Whereas Trump had threatened “total destruction” of North Korea if it does not halt its continuous test of nuclear weapons, Buhari counselled otherwise.

According to him, instead of meeting North Korea force with force, a delegation of world leaders and members of the UN should be sent to North Korea to engage Jong-un in a dialogue on the need to halt his nuclear war threat. This advice appeared to make greater sense to the world than Trump’s threat of fire and brimstone and may likely be adopted by the UN body.

Comparing the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons to the Cuban missile of 1962 and Hiroshima and Nagasaki disasters, Buhari warned that only a stitch in time saves nine as he pledged Nigeria’s commitment to global peace.
“In all these crises, the primary victims are the people, the most vulnerable being women and children. That is why the theme of this session: Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet” is most apposite.

“While the international community grapples with resolving these conflicts, we must be mindful and focus on the widening inequalities within societies, and the gap between the rich and the poor nations. These inequalities and gaps are part of the underlining root causes of competition for resources, frustration and anger leading to spiralling instability.

“The most pressing threat to international peace and security today is the accelerated nuclear weapons development programme by North Korea. Since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, we have never come so close to the threat of nuclear war as we have now.

“All necessary pressure and diplomatic efforts must be brought to bear on North Korea to accept peaceful resolution of the crisis. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki painfully remind us, if we fail, the catastrophic and devastating human loss and environmental degradation cannot be imagined.

“Mr. President, Nigeria proposes a strong UN delegation to urgently engage the North Korean Leader. The delegation, led by the Security Council, should include members from all the regions.

“The crisis in the Korean peninsula underscores the urgency for all member states, guided by the spirit of enthroning a safer and more peaceful world, to ratify without delay the Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, which will be open for signature here tomorrow,” the president said.

On Africa, the president said the continent’s faith in democracy remained unshaken as he recalled how the collective efforts and resilience of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) forced out former leader of The Gambian president, Yahyah Jammeh, as was the case earlier in Côte D’Voire.

“Our faith in democracy remains firm and unshaken. Our regional organisation ECOWAS came together to uphold democratic principles in The Gambia as we had done previously in Cote D’Ivoire,” he stated. He also said the frontiers of democracy and good governance were being enthroned in Africa including the creation of the atmosphere for the conduct of free and fair elections and promotion of rule of law.

“In the last year, the international community came together to focus on the need for gender equality, youth empowerment, social inclusion, and the promotion of education, creativity and innovation. The frontiers of good governance, democracy including holding free and fair elections, and enthronement of the rule of law are expanding everywhere, especially in Africa,” he added.

Buhari also canvassed the support of the international community in stopping members of ISIS from fleeing into the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin to take refuge, emphasising that such cooperation was necessary, because the region does not only lack sufficient resources to fight ISIS but it’s response capacity is also weak.

“These cooperative efforts should be sustained. We must collectively devise strategies and mobilise the required responses to stop fleeing ISIS fighters from mutating and infiltrating into the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, where there are insufficient resources and response capacity is weak,” he noted.

But as good as this appeal might sound, it is believed that such a sensitive matter as that should not have been discussed in the public as it may trigger what he was trying to prevent. Instead, it is believed that a better approach would have been sending a private memo to the Security Council of the UN. He also spoke on UN’s role in settling individuals, who were displaced by the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as the support of the international community in containing the threat posed to West Africa by Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda.

He praised the Security Council of the UN for visiting the Lake Chad Basin for assessment of the security situation and also for pledging assistance to rebuild the lives of the victims, assuring that Nigeria would continue to provide “relief and humanitarian assistance to millions in internally displaced camps and those afflicted by terrorism, drought, floods and other natural disasters.”

While tasking the UN to make the maintenance of peace and security in the world its primary responsibility, he recalled that the UN resolution on Middle East had not been implemented since 1967.
He also drew the attention of the world body to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Myanmar as he likened the Myammar crisis to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and tasked the body not to look the other way over the state-sponsored Rohingya crisis which has displaced many residents.

These submissions were also adjudged to be good and in tandem with the spirit of humanitarianism.