With growing concern among Nigerians about the continuous borrowing by the federal and state governments, President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA, to grant debt forgiveness to poor and developing countries.
The president also insisted that the resurgent military takeover of governments in West Africa must not be condoned by the international community.
In his speech at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the president in a statement by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, warned that democratic gains of the past decades in West Africa ‘‘are now being eroded’’ due to these negative trends.
The president’s speech, delivered from the podium of the General Assembly hall, addressed other matters on the international agenda of interest to Nigeria, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Arms Trade Treaty, climate change, terrorism, anti-corruption, debt suspension, international trade, UN Security Council Reform, the Palestinian Question, and racial discrimination, among others.
On the issue of debts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian leader urged G20 countries to extend its debt suspension initiatives to all developing countries, least developed countries, and Small Island Developing States facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
The president called for outright debt cancellation for countries facing the most severe challenges.
He said, ‘‘Developing countries have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic
‘‘The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of a new wave of deepening debt where vital public financial resources are allocated to external debt servicing and repayments at the expense of domestic health and financing for critical developmental needs.”
Buhari commended the current initiatives by the international financial institutions and the G20 aimed at significantly mitigating the economic situation of the indebted countries and urged for more efforts in this regard.
‘‘Therefore, there is an urgent need to consider expansion and extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to include all Developing, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
‘‘In addition, a review of the eligibility criteria for debt suspension, including outright cancellation, is needed for countries facing the most severe challenges.’’
LEADERSHIP Weekend reports that President Buhari’s calls for debt cancellation comes amidst growing concern and criticisms from Nigerians at the Buhari administration’s continuous borrowing to fund budget deficits.
Many believe the debts are becoming unsustainable with the country requiring to expend 98 percent of its annual income to service the N33 trillion debts owed by the federal and state governments.
Some individuals, civil society organisations and opposition political parties earlier this week called on the Senate of the National Assembly to reject the president’s newest request for approval to borrow another $4billion and €710 million from foreign sources, with many commentators accusing the government of spending the money to finance consumption rather than on viable capital projects.
The government, on its part, has continuously defended its borrowings, saying they were within economically safe limits, and that the funds were needed to develop world class infrastructure.
The recent trend of unconstitutional takeover of power, sometimes in reaction to unilateral changes of constitutions by some leaders, was also addressed by President Muhammadu Buhari who urged the international community not to tolerate such coups.
He affirmed Nigeria’s support to efforts by ECOWAS, AU and the UN to address this growing challenge.
‘‘As leaders of our individual member states, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region,’’ he said.
The president urged the international community not only to deal with the symptoms of conflict but also the immediate causes that fuel conflicts in the first place.
‘‘These include poor and undemocratic governance, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, injustice and inequalities.
‘‘There are no easy solutions to these conditions. They require long term investments and more effective international cooperation. In this connection, my delegation underscores the importance of promoting peaceful, unfettered, and inclusive participation of states in global actions towards conflict prevention.
‘‘This will facilitate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063.”
The president also used the occasion of the speech to renew his advocacy for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, outlining steps Nigeria has taken to achieve ‘‘moderate success’’ in containing the virus and halting its deadly onslaught in the country.
‘‘Nigeria remains grateful for the assistance received from our partners and friends all over the world.
‘‘Vaccination is the key to our safe emergence from the pandemic.
‘‘We fully support the COVAX initiative from which we have benefitted. We also thank the United States of America, Turkey, India, China, European Union, and others for the vaccines provided.
‘‘Despite the acknowledgement, however, I would like to reiterate my call for a fairer and more equitable distribution of vaccines to all countries so that, together, we can fight and contain the pandemic.
‘‘The rising wave of newer and more contagious strains makes this even more urgent. No country can afford the socio-economic implications of prolonged shutdown. It is imperative to underscore that no one is safe until everyone is safe,’’ he said.
On Nigeria’s intervention to halt the pandemic, the President said:
‘‘At the outset, we recognised detection and contact tracing to be important tools in combating the virus.
‘‘In this connection, from a mere four laboratories with testing and detection capacities, we ramped up the facilities to over 140 centres today.
‘‘Similarly, we built isolation centres and emergency hospital wards in record time all over the country. We carry out genomic sequencing in designated laboratories across the country with a view to detecting variants in circulation.
‘‘In addition, over 40,000 health care workers have recently been trained on Infection, Prevention and Control measures with the support of various partners.
‘‘Through the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, we have established 16 infectious disease treatment centres located within our teaching hospitals and Federal Medical Centres,’’ he said.
On the fight against terrorism, the President told the UN General Assembly that the Nigerian security forces had recorded considerable success.
‘‘As a result of the renewed vigour of Nigeria’s military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,’’ he said.
The president noted that while terrorism continues to dominate security discourse worldwide, in Nigeria, Boko Haram terrorists group, though fragmented by internal strife and weakened by the defence forces, is still active and preying on soft targets.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to work closely with UN Counter-Terrorism bodies and entities with a view to bringing this scourge to an end, ’’ he said, adding that the country would spare no effort in addressing the challenges of terrorism posed by the activities of Boko Haram in North East Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, as well as banditry in the North West and North Central Nigeria.
‘‘I and three other Nigerian heads of state served actively as peacekeepers and Nigeria continues to support peacekeeping efforts. We know the sacrifice involved; we also know how important peacekeeping is for those in vulnerable situations.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to play its part fully in supporting United Nations peacekeeping operations within Africa and beyond,’’ he said.
On international trade, President Buhari called for reforms that will engender recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies that can deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals .
‘‘Nigeria reaffirms that international trade is an engine for development and sustained economic growth, as well as the global eradication of poverty.
‘‘My delegation would like to reaffirm the critical role that a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system can play in stimulating economic growth and development.
‘‘Fair and equitable trade would eventually eliminate the need for aid.
‘‘My country and indeed all African countries do not intend to stay indefinitely looking for aid. All we need is a fair and equitable system of international trade,’’ he said.
The Nigerian leader also renewed the call for the reforms of the UN Security Council, stressing that intergovernmental negotiations on the issue were taking too long.
‘‘No reform of the United Nations system is more urgent than that of the Security Council. Stakeholders around the world are asking how such power could be concentrated, with scant representation.
‘‘The intergovernmental negotiations have taken too long, some 15 years.
‘‘We must avoid going in circles. Consensus has been achieved in some of the elements of this reform, especially that of the representation of Africa on the basis of the Elzuwini Consensus and the Sirte Declaration.
‘‘It is unreasonable to expect unanimity in this matter. The issue, indeed, is about justice, not unanimity. Without justice, the legitimacy (even efficacy) of our organisation is called to question.
‘‘We can and must make substantial, irreversible progress on Security Council reform in the current session,’’ he said.
On the Palestinian question, the president encouraged Israel and Palestine to re-engage in dialogue based on relevant UN resolutions and initiatives.
‘‘The two-state solution has the support of the international community and is widely acknowledged as the path to lasting peace,’’ he said.
President Buhari also expressed deep concerns at the devastating effects of small arms and weapons, calling for accountability in conventional arms trade.
“Nigeria remains deeply concerned over the illicit trade, transfer, and circulation of small arms and light weapons. Their excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread in many regions of the world are having devastating humanitarian and socio-economic consequences, especially on the continent of Africa.
“It is on this note that my delegation calls for the world wide application of the Arms Trade Treaty to codify accountability in conventional arms trade, which is critical to the security of nations. This is in recognition of the need for a broad-based global partnership in the on-going battle against trans-border crimes, including terrorism and piracy.”
President Buhari concluded his UN speech at the 76th annual general debate with praise for the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He also pledged Nigeria’s unalloyed support for multilateralism and faith in the UN as the pre-eminent body for solving current and emerging global challenges.
Continue to use your leadership position to stabilize West Africa, UN Secretary-general urges President Buhari
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his leadership roles in Africa as well as the stabilization of the West African sub-region.
The Secretary General spoke yesterday in a meeting with the Nigerian president on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly taking place in New York.
According to the UN scribe, Africa, especially West Africa, was generally seen as an ocean of stability and good governance, but was deeply concerned at recent reversal of fortunes in democratic rule in some parts of the West African sub-region with coups overturning elected institutions.
He, therefore, urged President Buhari to continue to show leadership as he looks up to Nigeria to help stabilise the sub-region in terms of democracy and good governance.
On terrorism, the Secretary General commended the efforts of Nigeria on this global phenomenon, assuring the Nigerian leader of the United Nations’ continued support in her efforts to address the prevailing security and humanitarian challenges that had arisen, especially with the Internally Displaced Persons.
He also commended Nigeria’s efforts on climate change, expressing willingness of the world body to cooperate with the country in this regard.
President Buhari applauded Mr Gutterres for his global leadership and the success of the 76th Session.
He assured the Secretary General that Nigeria had achieved appreciable successes in tackling the insecurity caused by terrorists and bandits.
The president also thanked him for the global organisation’s intervention in activities towards reducing the effects of climate change, especially with the support for the Great Green Wall programme, which is aimed at arresting desertification across the Sahel as well as the campaign against deforestation in Nigeria.
President Buhari added that Nigeria was ready to support and work closely with the United Nations towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.