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On Antonio Guterres’ visit to Nigeria

By Editorial Board
01 June 2022   |   4:10 am
The visit by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres to Nigeria the other day is significant in many respects.

[FILE] United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) reacts after receiving a plaque from the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum (R) during Guterres’ first mission to Nigeria at the Maiduguri International Airport, Borno State, Nigeria on May 3, 2022. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

The visit by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres to Nigeria the other day is significant in many respects. First is that the UN chief could squeeze time from his busy schedule to demonstrate practical concern with Nigeria’s political problems. Second, Guterres’ visit offered him an opportunity to consider first hand, the most nagging issue of insecurity of life and property in Nigeria and, tangential to that, whether the country is on course to overcome her travails and thereby add to global peace.

Early this month, the UN Secretary-General played guest to the Nigerian government in what he termed a visit “to express his solidarity with victims of terrorism” in the country. Given the variety of activities engaging the attention of the number one global civil servant, it is indeed a privilege to have the UN scribe visit Nigeria. In the late 1990s, the UN scribe, then in the person of Mr. Kofi Annan visited Nigeria on some troubleshooting diplomatic engagement with a raving military dictatorship of General Sanni Abacha that took the country to an all-time low. 

Instructively, the recent visit is not somewhat different from the troubled past; a swathe of Nigeria’s territory northeast of the country is under the siege of terrorist groups, namely, Boko Haram Islamic sect, and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). The groups’ dastardly acts have resulted in more than 37,000 deaths by some accounts; and over two million displaced people since 2011. To note, some 11 years ago, the UN building in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, was a target of the terrorist bombing campaigns that resulted in fatalities with 23 people killed including UN staff, and over 60 persons injured. In the fight against terrorism in Nigeria, the United Nations had backed a reintegration centre for former insurgent fighters as well as the displaced in the Internally Displaced People’s camps. Mr. Guterres specifically visited the northeast, its refugee camps, rehabilitation centre, and the state government to see things for himself. He was impressed by what he saw. 

Among other things, Guterres observed the willing disposition of surrendering terrorists to be reintegrated into society through the policy of reconciliation and reintegration. Equally, he was impressed by a Borno State government committed to re-establishing the confidence-based vertical relationship between the people and the government through demonstrable effort to provide for the people in their different villages and fulfil the state’s responsibility of ensuring the security of lives and property and resettlement of the displaced persons in their autobus communities. 
However, the visit provided an opportunity to highlight the importance of Nigeria in the global scheme of things. Mr. Guterres acknowledged this point when he noted that: “I believe Nigeria and its people have a big role to play in shaping solutions to the global crises engulfing our world. …Nigeria is a pillar of continental and global cooperation – and a steadfast partner of the United Nations…From its vital support for peacekeeping … to its leadership in fighting for fairness for developing countries … Above all, Nigeria is a country where Africa’s promise and potential come to vivid life.”

What perhaps, the UN scribe missed in his optimism about Nigeria are the embedded contradictions of the prevailing administration in Nigeria noticeable in the dubiety attending the fight against terrorism and the conspiratorial silence of the state in the ravaging banditry of killer herdsmen across the country that harbour the seeds of greater crisis in the country and by extension, the West Africa sub-region. Perhaps it was not coincidental that Guterres noted that while violence continues to cast a shadow of death over so many Nigerians, it “has sparked a crisis of displacement across the country and the neighbourhood.”

Nonetheless, efforts being spearheaded by the global organisation to support the fight against terrorism in the country as well as government initiatives are to be appreciated. The UN has been very active in support of the humanitarian efforts of the Nigerian government and has bolstered funding for the $1.1 billion earmarked for the humanitarian response plan for Nigeria. On its part, the Nigerian government has also established the Presidential Committee on the Repatriation, Returns, and Resettlement of Displaced Persons in the North-East.

Nevertheless, while the several million displaced people in the northeast struggle with hunger, according to the World Food Programme projections, another estimated 4.1 million people in the North East will face food insecurity with the state of things in the country. While the Nigerian security crisis and its low-intensity warfare in the northeast are solvable, it is worth emphasising that without the sincerity of the minders of the apparatuses of the state in Nigeria, defeating terrorism will remain a mirage. 

It is also pertinent to note that while Nigeria remains the hope of the African continent with its huge population and GDP size, the country’s potentials are constantly undermined by an irresponsible, warped, and ethno-centric leadership at the centre. Perhaps, it is in the area of governance reform that the UN should be more concerned. As the late respected South African statesman, Nelson Mandela once put it, the rest of the world will not respect Africa unless Nigeria gets it right. Also, it should be noted that the current ills afflicting the country are not likely to be positively transformed unless the direction of leadership is altered to a more responsive and responsible leadership.