By Bola Bolawole
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According to the United Nations Guide 2021, the 76th UN General Assembly started on the 14th and will end on the 27th September, 2021 with a total of 278 events on the agenda. Various and varying issues concerning health, climate, SDGs, education, food, mental health, arts and culture, race and ethnicity, human rights, data and technology, COVID-19, gender and even faith are on the plate. This is quite a mouthful. Diplomats and technocrats will deal with much of these while the highpoints of the GA are the days of speeches set aside for Heads of Governments/Delegations to address the General Assembly and, by extension, the entire world. This is the occasion when leaders display their dexterity, eloquence, intellect, and personal aura. It is also when they set their country’s agenda on the global stage, deploying all the power and might their government can muster to seek to swing popular opinion and world support their way. Leaders with clout and panache set the agenda at the UNGA while weak nations tag along. Horse-trading by strong countries and leaders usually hallmarks UNGA.
Serious nations consider three factors when electing a leader: His understanding of diplomacy and international relations; his mastery of the economy; and the leader must be a strong and effective commander-in-chief. Usually, these qualities are attained through long periods of quality education and tutelage; which is why academic qualifications and cognate experience are considered a desideratum. Character and personality are also factors that determine the kind of reception and respect leaders receive in the comity of nations. By their antecedents, leaders and, by extension nations, are feared, respected or trashed at the UNGA. The weight attached to the opinions canvassed by leaders or nations depend on which of the three categories they belong.
The president, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, will be attending the 76th UNGA. According to his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari departed Abuja on Sunday, September 19th and is expected back in the country next Sunday, September 26th. The theme for this year’s UNGA is “Building resilience through hope – To Recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people and revitalise the United Nations”. Buhari is billed to address the Assembly during the general debates on Friday, September 24 and will speak, according to Adesina, “on the theme of the conference and other global issues”
Adesina added that “in the course of the Assembly, the President and members of the delegation will partake in other significant meetings such as the high-level meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action with the theme ‘Reparations, Racial Justice, and Equality for People of African Descent’.The delegation will also participate in food systems summit; high-level dialogue on energy; and the high-level plenary meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”
Not done yet, Buhari is also expected to hold bilateral meetings with a number of other leaders of delegations and heads of international development organisations. He is accompanied by a coterie of officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Minister of State for the Environment, Sharon Ikeazor; the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno; Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ahmed Abubakar; Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa; the Senior Special Assistant to the President on SDGs, Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, among others.
As if to let Nigerians know that Buhari was up-and-doing and leaving no stone unturned to give the country quality representation while those on the delegation were also working hard to earn their estacode allowance, photographs of the president facing a battery of officials as he received briefing ahead of his address to the UNGA made the front page. I wonder how many other leaders at the UNGA would send such photographs home from New York! They made Buhari cut the pathetic picture of a student who waited until examination was hours away before scrambling to load his head with stuff! What do you think will happen to such a student? A few days before examinations in my secondary school days at Owo High School, one of my bosom friends swallowed a tablet which he described as a brain coolant that would make assimilation better. All night he could neither read nor sleep! He kept screaming that his head was swirling and threatening to explode. First thing the next morning we bundled him home. He never took the examination!
A student must be brilliant to successfully do a “crash programme”; let us hope Buhari was only revising what he had already learnt and that the lecturers that surrounded him were only helping to refresh his memory! The next challenge the president will have, however, is delivery; he will have to face the audience and deliver his speech himself, no one else can do that for him. We have seen him struggle with prepared speeches; hoping UNGA will be different. It was in the same United States that erstwhile US President Donald Trump described his meeting with Buhari in unprintable terms; hoping that episode will not repeat itself.
If Buhari scales those hurdles, he will still have the spectacle of a failed State that he has contributed largely into birthing to contend with. Both inside and outside Nigeria, everyone knows that the country inches towards the edge of the precipice. It is the poverty capital of the world. Three of the world’s most deadly terrorist organizations operate in Nigeria, with the Buhari government treating them with kid gloves at the best. Indebted to its neck, Nigeria still scouts everywhere to amass more debts. In addition to South-east Nigeria that have fought a civil war in their agitation for a state of their own, the Yoruba of the South-west have of late also joined the fray. A restive Middle Belt region is also looking in the direction of the South for a solution to decades of oppression and subjugation by the conservative North.
Self-determination agitators operating on the platform of the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) penultimate Tuesday began a well-advertised one-million-man freedom march at the United Nations headquarters in New York. NINAS’ chairman, Prof. Banji Akintoye, who is also the leader of the Yoruba self-determination group, Ilana Omo Oodua, said the protest aimed at drawing the attention of world leaders to the atrocities being perpetrated against ethnic nationalities in the South and Middle-Belt regions of Nigeria allegedly by Fulani herdsmen. NINAS accused Buhari of giving the herdsmen tacit support against their victims. NINAS’ Secretary-General, Tony Nnadi, who represents the Lower Niger Congress, and Prof. Yusuf Turaki, who represents the Middle-Belt Movement, also jointly called on the UN to take urgent steps to prevent Nigeria from descending into chaos.
There can be no gain-saying the fact that Buhari will have his plate full at the 76th UNGA. Those who claim to know say as a result, Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, was dispatched weeks ago to New York to smother the flames kindled by NINAS. How effective that was remains to be seen.
LAST WORD: First it was Omoyele Sowore’s younger brother, Olajide, and now it is ex-Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, columnist and critic, Obadiah Mailafia, both deaths in controversial circumstances! Such riddles are hardly ever unravelled here. Some noise is made; afterwards, eerie silence, like that of the graveyard! End of story! Never one to say die, I am, however, confident we shall see light at the end of this long, dark, and tortuous tunnel – some day, some how!
Bolawole is a respected columnist and former deputy editor in Chief of The Punch