Buhari’s Speech at UNGA
On Tuesday last week, September 19, President Muhammadu Buhari delivered a speech on Nigeria’s behalf at the General Debate of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. A day before he delivered it, some mischief makers concocted and circulated a fake “Buhari’s speech” on the social media. Full text of the real speech was later posted by the Presidency after Buhari delivered it.
Before Buhari spoke, expectations were high in Nigeria that the president would make many significant pronouncements at the UN given that he chose to personally travel to New York and address the General Assembly after his return from a long medical leave abroad. There are always many political, security, socioeconomic and other contentious issues on the international scene which affect Africa and Nigeria but the president was expected to pay more attention to issues that affect Nigeria more directly. In that respect the speech did not live up to expectation because Buhari concentrated on foreign issues.
He began by describing this age as “extra-ordinarily troubled and dangerous times.” This was an exaggeration because Africa, for one, has fewer ongoing wars than at any time in the last six decades. They are also of lower intensity than previous African wars. Significantly, President Buhari itemised what he called “the most significant events” of the past year to include “the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and, of grave concern, the North Korean nuclear crisis.” These three are no doubt important to the peace and prosperity of mankind but for Nigeria and Africa, issues such as Boko Haram, insurgencies, internal insecurity, unchecked flow of weapons from the developed world, foreign meddling in African affairs and the desperate economic situation that makes thousands of Africans to undertake dangerous migration to Europe through the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea are of greater import.
After commending the UN for its role in helping innocent civilians caught up in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some European governments for assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees, Buhari devoted a little time to address Nigeria’s biggest security problem, namely Boko Haram. He said, “In an exemplary show of solidarity, the international community came together within my own region to assist the countries and communities in the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions to contain the threats posed by Al Qaida and Boko Haram.” He added, “We thank the Security Council for visiting the countries of the Lake Chad Basin to assess the security situation and humanitarian needs and for pledging assistance to rebuild lives and livelihoods.”
This message was not sharp enough. The whole world is aware of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, probably the deadliest insurgent group in the world. Buhari ought to have seized the chance of addressing the biggest of all international forums to drive home the cruelties of Boko Haram, its destabilising effect on many Sahelian countries; the need for greater international military assistance to defeat it, provide relief to displaced persons, rebuild destroyed towns and communities and resettle millions of people in their homes. Buhari said, “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 put it too mildly, because the Western powers’ ill-advised regime change actions in Libya, Syria and Sudan ended up channelling deadly weapons and determined terrorists into our countries. They therefore have a huge obligation in helping us to curb this menace, and the president of Nigeria should not shy away from making this case forcefully.
A good part of Buhari’s speech was devoted to conflict situations outside Africa. He said, “New conflicts should not make us lose focus on ongoing unresolved old conflicts. For example, several UN Security Council Resolutions from 1967 on the Middle East crisis remain unimplemented. Meanwhile, the suffering of the Palestinian people and the blockade of Gaza continue. Additionally, we are now confronted by the desperate human rights and humanitarian situations in Yemen and most tragically in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.” He described the Myanmar crisis as “very reminiscent of what happened in Bosnia in 1995 and in Rwanda in 1994.”
Buhari went even further with respect to the ongoing confrontation between North Korea and the United States over the former’s missile tests. He said, “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.” He proposed “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.” It is doubtful if a delegation that includes Africans, Arabs or Indians would create any impression on Kim Jong Un, given what we see from afar of the North Korean supreme leader.
President Buhari also missed a chance to say something about pressing internal issues in Nigeria. This would have been most helpful because some disgruntled groups of Nigerians in America even mobilised to protest against him in New York and Atlanta. Given that some determined propagandists are selling the lie to the international community about alleged marginalisation of some regions and alleged military brutality against dissident groups, a few words of clarification would have been very helpful.
President Muhammadu Buhari