Guterres: UN Committed to Peaceful Nigeria

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•Wants attackers of Global Body’s Building in 2011 Prosecuted

Deji Elumoye and Michael Olugbode in Abuja

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the intergovernmental organisation remains steadfast in its commitment to a peaceful Nigeria. Guterres stated this yesterday in Abuja during a two-day visit to the country.

Guterres called for the prosecution of those that attacked the UN House in Abuja on August 26, 2011, stressing that perpetrators of terrorism in Nigeria must be held to account. He said the international body dedicated to maintaining global peace and security was adopting a victim-centred approach to the fight against terrorism in the country.

Guterres, who also paid a working visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, disclosed that the UN had concluded plans to offer Nigeria an additional $351 million as part of its $1.1 billion humanitarian response scheme for the country.

Buhari, in his remarks, expressed Nigeria’s gratitude to the UN and world leaders who were supporting the country in its fight against terrorism. He said the recent spotlight on Russia and Ukraine could easily distract attention from other pertinent global challenges.

The UN chief, who was on the last day of his two-day visit, laid a wreath in honour of victims of the August 26, 2011 terrorist attack on the UN House. The attack claimed the lives of 23 persons, including many UN staff and civilians.

“On that tragic day (August 26, 2011), an appalling terrorist attack on the UN House left 23 UN employees and civilians’ dead and 16 injured,” Guterres said. “Those staff members, who lost their lives, are heroes, who proudly served Nigerians through the UN organisations,” he added.

The secretary-general stated, “We encourage all Nigerians, who have endured similar violence in their own communities. In our victim-centred approach, perpetrators must be held accountable.”

Guterres thanked the Nigerian government for repairing the UN House, which had enabled the staff to return.

Speaking after meeting with the UN chief, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, told reporters that his interaction with Guterres was on how to resolve the dilemma of a country full of talented people, but facing a lot of challenges.

Onaiyekan said, “Nigerians are genuinely religious, but we see around us so much corruption and outright wickedness.” He stated that it had become pertinent to interrogate how a nation could be so rich, but full of poor people; and how a nation could be full of talented people and yet hardly organised.

The priest laid the problem at the door of the government.

Onaiyekan said he told the UN secretary-general that Nigerians “are not satisfied with how far the rulers are dealing with the issues concerning us, the issue of poverty, the issue of insecurity, and the issues of social services. The government tells us they are doing their best and we say that their best is not good enough. We believe we can do better.”

On the lingering herders-farmers’ crisis, the Cardinal regretted the failure of the federal government to address the issue of armed herdsmen in the last 10 years, saying this is perpetuating the displacement of farmers.

He said, “It seems the displacement is becoming permanent and the herders are taking over the farmlands and the government still claims they have no way of bringing things back to normalcy. The result is that farmers can no longer farm and we are facing the prospects of famine, because the parts of Nigeria that used to produce a lot of food, many of them can no longer farm.”

 A Professor of Law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, who also met the UN chief with her group, said, “We discussed the problems and the status of women in Nigeria and how he can help us to hold our elected officials to account, especially, when it comes to gender parity and women participation in politics.”

During his meeting with Buhari, Guterres said following his visit to Borno State on Tuesday, “I came out of Borno with the sense that Nigeria is able to defeat this threat.

“We are very active in support of the humanitarian efforts of the Nigerian government and that is why we have called for an additional $351 million as part of the overall $1.1 billion for humanitarian response plan for Nigeria.

“But despite all they have seen and endured, the people I met remain hopeful and committed to returning to their communities and resuming their lives.

“To that end, I welcome the establishment of the Presidential Committee on the Repatriation, Return and Resettlement of Displaced Persons in the North-east.

“This spirit of hope amidst hardship – and solidarity in struggle – was also at the centre of my discussions with the presidency today.”

The secretary-general said discussions with Buhari also touched on laying the groundwork for peaceful and democratic elections in the country next year, and the full participation of Nigerian women and young people.

While speaking with newsmen, Guterres stated that measures to address security challenges in the country, Lake Chad, and the Sahel, including the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, were discussed during his meeting with Buhari.

According to him, “We also discussed the government’s measures to address security challenges across the country. I want to extend my deepest condolences to the victims of the appalling attacks in Plateau State two and a half weeks ago. It’s a tragic reminder of terrorism scourge across West Africa and the Sahel.

“Another reason why the United Nations is committed to supporting national and regional efforts to combat terrorism, violent extremism, organised crimes and the root causes, such as poverty, exclusion and food insecurity. This includes the UN’s integrated strategy for the Sahel.”

Guterres thanked Buhari for supporting the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, and promised more commitment from the UN on COVID-19 vaccination, vulnerability of countries to global warming, global food crisis response, and reform of the UN Security Council.

“I thanked President Buhari for his unwavering support of the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Lake Chad Basin Commission. And we also discussed the other challenges that, of course, Nigeria is facing today. Nigeria was, like all African countries, victim of the unequal recovery from COVID-19,” he added.

The UN secretary-general said the war in Ukraine would make things worse with regard to global food, energy and financial systems.

He said, “Our analysis indicates that the war in Ukraine is only making things worse, setting in motion a three-dimensional crisis that is devastating global food, energy and financial systems for the developing countries.

“That is why in the earliest days of this war, I established the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, involving all UN agencies and international financial institutions.

“The steering committee is chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General that you know very well, Amina Mohammed, and the group has developed concrete recommendations in three areas.

“One, we need to ensure a steady flow of food and energy through open markets by lifting all unnecessary export restrictions, directing surpluses and reserves to those in need, and keeping a lid on food prices to calm our market volatility.

“But let me be clear, there is really no true solution to the problem of global food security without bringing back the agricultural production of Ukraine and the food and fertiliser production of Russia and Belarus into world markets, despite the war. I’m determined to do everything to facilitate a dialogue that can help achieve this objective.

“Two, on energy, countries must resist hoarding, and release strategic stockpiles and additional reserves to countries in need, while accelerating the deployment of renewable energy.

“And, three, international financial institutions need to urgently increase liquidity and fiscal space and improve existing debt relief mechanisms, so governments can now not only avoid default, but they can invest in their people, especially in universal social protection at this moment of rising prices.

“The United Nations presented concrete proposals during the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, ranging from the mobilisation of the various funds and instruments that already exist – but are not sufficiently implemented – to a much stronger use and redistribution of special drawing rights, as well as effective debt relief measures.”

Guterres, who was in Borno State on Tuesday, said what he saw was a departure from the picture of hopelessness and despair that had been painted, adding, “People exuded hope.”

He stated, “Yesterday (Tuesday), I visited Maiduguri, where the United Nations is supporting the internally displaced. I was deeply moved by their stories and struggles.

“These include the struggles with hunger, with the World Food Programme projecting 4.1 million people in the North-east of Nigeria to be food insecure in the upcoming lean season.

“Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Borno State and I must confess I arrived in Borno with the impression caused by so many years in which I was hearing stories about how dramatic the situation was, so terrible. The suffering of the people, how impossible to control the terrorist activities, a sense of despair.

“But the Borno I met yesterday was the Borno of hope and I saw an enlightened policy, aiming not only at defeating militarily the terrorists, but at addressing the root causes of terrorism.

“I saw the governor committed to re-establish the confidence between the people in the government, committed to provide the people in their different villages around the state the capacity to protect themselves.

“Committed to create conditions for the return of the displaced, but also for the reintegration of those that have abandoned Boko Haram, that have finally discovered that terrorism is a crime against humanity and the crime against God’s will and that now need support to reintegrate into society, and that support I could witness in the visit I made.

“That’s why yesterday I appealed strongly to the international community to fully support what is being done in Borno State, to make sure that the hope that I saw can be transformed into a reality of peace and prosperity for everybody.

“And I believe Nigeria and its people have a big role to play in shaping solutions to the global crisis engulfing our world.”

Earlier, Buhari noted that the country and the African continent were already concerned that the attention on Russia and Ukraine could crowd out other global issues. He added that the visit of the UN chief clearly showed that “the world has not forgotten us.”

According to Buhari, terrorism remains a threat to global peace, security and progress, with many killed, and millions displaced by the insurgents.

He added, “When we assumed office, the North-east was the major security problem we inherited in 2015, but we have been able to make people understand that you cannot kill people and shout ‘Allahu Akbar,’ (God is great!).

“It is either you don’t know what you are saying or you are simply stupid. God is a God of justice, so you cannot kill people and say God is great. Luckily, the people understood our message and it has made great impact.”

Buhari told his visitor that the government had started a gradual, but steady, process of resettlement and reintegration, where citizens were encouraged to return to their farms, businesses and other pursuits in life.

The president thanked the secretary general for the maiden visit to Nigeria.