Presidency defends Buhari’s absence at UN forum on displaced persons
THE Presidency has explained why President Muhammadu Buhari and other members of the Nigerian delegation to the ongoing 70th anniversary session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York were absent at an event organised on the sidelines of the summit to discuss rendering assistance to millions of people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
An international news agency, Reuters, at the weekend, stirred the hornet’s nest when it reported that Buhari was absent at the meeting held to discuss how to alleviate the hardship faced by residents of the North east zone who were displaced by activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. Reuters described the absence as a diplomatic blunder.
World leaders and policy makers are currently gathered in New York, United States, to discuss a full spectrum of international affairs and outline goals for the next 15 years.
Yesterday, the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria met with the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, on how to coordinate intelligence sharing and interventions in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) and how to tackle influx of Syrian refugees into Europe.
According to the Reuters report, Nigeria was in the spotlight for an alleged diplomatic blunder when Buhari and his delegation were absent at the meeting, despite the fact that Nigeria is the worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, with over a million IDPs scattered across various camps in the country. It was learnt that at the meeting, UN, Chad, Niger and Cameroon solicited assistance for people displaced by the five-year-old insurgency, as they are currently faced with repeated drought and floods resulting in malnutrition and disease in the Lake Chad Basin area.
But in a swift reaction yesterday, the Presidency maintained that Buhari is fully committed to improving national security and succour for the internally displaced persons.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President (Media and Publicity), Garba Shehu, the Presidency said a strategic multi-prong approach to the war against terrorism, which includes improved security across Nigeria and additional measures to give succour to the IDPs has been central to discussions Buhari has had with other world leaders since his arrival in New York on Thursday last week for the UN event.
“The issues were dominant in the President’s conversations on Friday with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the King of Spain, His Majesty Don Felipe VI and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who came with former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to discuss how to actualise the safe schools initiative, which is of special interest in parts of Nigeria most vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“President Buhari is handling his duty as leader of the Nigerian delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly’s anniversary with the greatest possible diligence and will certainly not tolerate any tardiness on the part of the delegation in seizing every possible opportunity to advance Nigeria’s interests. This notwithstanding, it must be realized that it will be near impossible for any national delegation, no matter its size, to participate in all the meetings that are simultaneously happening in and around the General Assembly in New York.
“The meeting at which Nigeria was reportedly absent was not one of the official events of the United Nations, the purpose of which President Buhari and his modest delegation are in New York. While the meeting referred to in media reports is commendable, it was not the only one or the most important of such meetings in New York that are paying attention to the problem of insecurity, migration and violent extremism in the Lake Chad area and the rest of the world.
“Nigeria was represented earlier yesterday at an important side event devoted to the North-East called by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on ‘Building Stability and Resilience in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin Countries,” the Presidency explained.
But contrary to claims by the presidency, investigations by an online medium yesterday revealed that the meeting is a “high-level” one convened as one of the most important events of the ongoing United Nations annual summit.
The meeting tagged “High Level Event on the Lake Chad Basin” held Friday at the Conference Room 1 of the United Nations headquarters and was convened by Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and held as part of the of the UN Sustainable Development Summit.
“The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is an arm of the United Nations secretariat and a meeting organised by it on an issue threatening Nigeria’s existence cannot be described as unofficial,” a respected Nigerian diplomat, who requested not to be named so as not to anger the Buhari administration, said.
The diplomat believes President Buhari should request Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu, to explain why her office failed to identify the meeting as one of the key ones Nigeria should have attended at the ongoing summit.
“This is definitely a diplomatic blunder,” the diplomat said. “It portrayed us as an unserious country and the President should bring culpable officials to book rather than offer tepid excuses.”
Expressing surprise at the gaffe, U.N. aid chief, O’Brien, could not hide his feelings as Reuters quoted him as saying that Nigeria, where most people have been displaced by Boko Haram attacks did not send anyone to the United Nations event.
On May 25, 2013, former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly missed his speaking slot at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the African Union (AU). Official explanation at the time by the president’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, was that Jonathan missed his speaking slot because he was attending a smaller meeting on the sidelines of the AU assembly on infrastructure development in West Africa.