Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande is a political scientist, administrator and career diplomat. He was the permanent representative of Nigeria to the United Nations and served as Vice-President of the General Assembly during its 71st session in 2016. He was recently elected president of the upcoming 74th session of the assembly, to resume in September 2019. Daily Trust Saturday spoke to the one-time Director-General of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) on a variety of topics, and herewith, are excerpts:
Daily Trust: What is the significance of your election as president of the United Nations General Assembly, especially to the issues affecting Africa?
Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande: The position of the President of the General Assembly of the UN is extremely important to the UN systems. It is an important position among the five other principal organs of the system. Its significance lies in the fact that it is more or less a legislative arm. It operates on the principle of equality of states, important because every country that is a member in principle is equal and resolutions are passed by the Assembly and the Assembly shares serious responsibility with some other organs. The most important of such organs is the Security Council, which has a principal authority of dealing with global security issues. So, when tension needs to be doused within and between nations, it plays a critical role.
For the continent of Africa, obviously, you can see we are one of the five regions of the UN system. And we are the largest, being like 54 member-states. The other one is a group of states numbering 53, but not as cohesive as the African one, which is in a lot of ways the most cohesive group, for reasons of history.
DT: What do you intend to bring to the table, and how are you going to be different from your predecessors in carrying out your duties?
Muhammad-Bande: Cooperation and collaboration of nations is definitely important for progress and peace of humanity. The UN deals with any matter whether it’s under the sea, above the oceans, on the ground; anything of importance is critical to the UN. Certain problems like terrorism that we face in this country are best tackled through cooperation. So what will I bring? Certainly, every President of the General Assembly would advance the course of peace, security and development in the world.
For an African candidacy, proposed by Africa and accepted by others, the issues that are important to Africa are important to other regions of the world, as well. But in terms of the urgency of the issues, for an African candidature, what is important is to really harp on the issue of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. There are many of them; some are more urgent in some countries than others. We also want to focus on some that appear more urgent than others.
My priorities are clearly stated in the mission statement in circulation. Cynicism and indifference have suddenly begun to creep into the organization. And the history of the organization, as to why it was created, should really make us pull through, work harder to revalue the organization on the basis of its founding ideals.
DT: What challenges are you likely to face in your new office and how do you intend to tackle them?
Muhammad-Bande: The challenge today for any principal organ or head of any principal organ of the UN is really that of division, in terms of things that appear irreconcilable, when they really are not. We should find ways of resolving disputes through dialogue, rather than through force. And where use of force becomes necessary, it must have the full backing of the Council, it should also have the international body on the same side, that clearly, this requires use of force.
Countries that are unable to feed themselves, or are not able to have the military resources to defend themselves, are put under enormous pressure. And what it means is that those countries should be more involved in the system. And in sticking together, as small as they could be, collectively they are not small. Even the largest country is not large in relation to a conglomeration of states. So, these are the issues.
DT: There is so much unilateralism, especially among leading members. Don’t you think this will affect the ideals of the UN?
Muhammad-Bande: Countries are free because we are dealing with a family of different states. The history of each country is different, the means are different, the traditions are different, the circumstances are different. But we have not gotten to the point where the principles are being discarded, no. No country has left the UN. We have not gotten to that point, but it is something we really need to guard against.
DT: Is there any hope that the UN Security Council can find a solution to the Palestinian crisis to avoid escalation to other regions?
Muhammad-Bande: A problem in a particular region can have repercussions around the world, and the principal example is the Palestinian question. It is the oldest problem the UN has been unable to resolve, principally because at times sheer manipulation, and lack of trust, has become a worrisome thing. Negotiations are not moving in the right direction, and this is not really good for us. But it is not being abandoned, and most delegations raise the issue of the necessity to have a just and urgent solution to the problem. Legal and administrative approaches are used, and they have not helped matters. More creativity is needed. Peace-building must be undertaken by those with real influence on the principal combatants. I think it is important for everyone.
Conflict is a terrible, terrible thing. It is the same in our region; If you go to Libya, it is again the same kind of issue because of the dynamics in the region, relating to the alignments that are worrisome for the security of that country, which again is important to the world but particularly for the African continent.
DT: Are you not worried that developing countries, including Nigeria, are finding it difficult to acquire advanced tech and arms to address security challenges?
Muhammad-Bande: I think relating counter-terrorism specifically, the UN has been extremely proactive, and there has been far greater co-operation from the platform of the UN, to the extent that the Secretary-General created a whole office led by an under-secretary grade officio dealing particularly with counter-terrorism, and this is working pretty well, with support from other countries. But in terms of the protocol relating to acquisition of arms, I think the conditions are different; some countries would give conditions that these are the kind of ways you can use to acquire those weapons, and the whole question of stability and the existing systems are there.
In some situations, because of the protocols involved, there are political undertones, as well. Obviously, the alignments in some countries are not comfortable with certain countries more than others. This is a fact of life, where the law relating to acquisition of arms continues to be a challenge. But the laws relating to counter-terrorism are developing, and I think there is a bit more consensus around them.
DT: The UN Secretary-General agreed to co-chair the launching of $50bn for the revival of Lake Chad. What is the role of the UNGA, and what is the latest on that?
Muhammad-Bande: The UNGA, which is the United Nations General Assembly, is a body involving all countries, including those with means to support, and those who need the support. President Buhari, in all the fora I heard him speak, speaks about the critical nature of Lake Chad. A lot of people live there, not only Nigerians, but he has taken the lead for the countries in the same way they are also aligning with the permanent representatives of those countries.
Nigeria is taking the lead, and Germany, the US, and Norway, with many other countries, are giving support. The African Union, too, is doing what the UN is doing, to help the Lake Chad issues, with senior officials of the UN meeting them to re-strategize the continent as a whole.