By Ukpono Ukpong
President Muhammadu Buhari, on Wednesday, in New York, vowed to entrench a process of free, fair, transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians elect leaders of their choice.
In his farewell speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as President, he told the 77th session that next year, there would be a new face speaking for Nigeria from the podium of the Assembly Hall.
The President used his speech to strongly reiterate his commitment to constitutional term limits and Nigeria’s effort to promote rule of law and democracy in West Africa, citing the country’s support to The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Chad during their political impasse.
”We believe in the sanctity of constitutional term limits and we have steadfastly adhered to it in Nigeria. We have seen the corrosive impact on values when leaders elsewhere seek to change the rules to stay on in power.
”Indeed, we are now preparing for general elections in Nigeria next February. At the 78th UNGA, there will be a new face at this podium speaking for Nigeria.
”Ours is a vast country strengthened by its diversity and its common values of hard work, enduring faith and a sense of community.
”We have invested heavily to strengthen our framework for free and fair elections. I thank our partners for all the support that they have provided our election institutions.
”As President, I have set the goal that one of the enduring legacies I would like to leave is to entrench a process of free, fair and transparent and credible elections through which Nigerians elect leaders of their choice.” Buhari said
Highlighting support for democracy in the sub-region, President Buhari said in The Gambia, Nigeria helped guarantee the first democratic transition since independence and stood by the democratically elected Government in Guinea-Bissau when it faced mutiny.
He added that following the tragic death of President Idris Deby Itno of Chad in the battlefield, Nigeria joined forces with its other neighbours and international partners to stabilize the country and encourage the peaceful transition to democracy, a process which is ongoing.
”Democracy is an idea that crosses time and borders. Certainly, democracy does have its limitations.
”The wheels of democracy turn slowly. It can demand compromises that dilute decisions.
”Sometimes, it bends too much to special interests that exercise influence, not always for the general good, in a manner disproportionate to their numbers.
”But it has been my experience that a democratic culture provides a Government with the legitimacy it needs to deliver positive change,” he said.
Recalling that the first time he could have addressed the Assembly was in 1984, as Military Head of State of Nigeria, President Buhari said it was a great privilege to personally address the Assembly, thirty-one years later, in 2015, ”as the democratically elected President of my country.”
”As I approach the end of my second and final four-year term, I am reminded of how much has changed in Nigeria, in Africa, and in the world, and yet, how some challenges remain,” he said in the address, which also focused on pressing international issues including the consequences of the war in Ukraine, Climate Change, malignant use of technology, debt service suspension, among others.
On the war in Ukraine, the Nigerian leader warned that the danger of escalation further justifies Nigeria’s resolute calls for a nuclear-free world and a universal Arms Trade Treaty, which are necessary measures to prevent global human disasters.
He demanded that world leaders must find quick means to reach consensus on the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty with related commitments by nuclear weapon states.
He said that the war would have adverse consequences on all, hindering the capacity of the international community to work together to resolve conflicts elsewhere, especially in Africa, the Middle-East and Asia:
”Indeed, the ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this Assembly, such as nuclear disarmament, the right of the Rohingya refugees to return to their homes in Myanmar, and the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for statehood and reduction of inequalities within and amongst nations.”
In the context of challenges that have come so sharply into focus in recent years and months, President Buhari emphasized the call by Nigeria and many other Member-States for the reform of the Security Council and other UN Agencies, saying ‘‘CHANGE IS LONG OVERDUE.’’
”We need more effective and representative structures to meet today’s demands that have since outgrown a system designed for the very different world that prevailed at its foundation in 1945.”
On the use of technology, President Buhari called attention to the use of social media to spread hate speech and divisive information, urging world leaders that in confronting these challenges they must come together to defend freedom of speech and uphold other values they cherish.
”We must continue to work for a common standard that balances rights with responsibilities to keep the most vulnerable from harm and help strengthen and enrich communities.
”Efforts to protect communities from the scourge of disinformation and misinformation must also be matched with efforts to reduce inequalities and restore hope to our poorer and most vulnerable of our communities as a means to stem the many socio-economic conflict drivers with which we are faced,” he said.
The President asserted that while social media is helpful in strengthening the foundations of society and common values, at its worst, it is a corrosive digital version of the mob, bristling with intolerance and division.
He noted that a key feature of the last decade has been the growing partnership between states and the increasingly influential non-state actors.
”There was a time when the most important event at this Assembly was the speech by the world’s most powerful leaders.
”Now a Tweet or Instagram post by an influencer on social or environmental issues may have greater impact.
”When I began my tenure as President in 2015, distinctions were drawn between the experience of poorer countries and those apparently better able to manage the avalanche of unfiltered information.
”Nigeria has had many unsavoury experiences with hate speech and divisive disinformation. Increasingly, we also see that many countries face the same challenge. Clearly, data also know no borders,” he said.
President Buhari also called for outright debt cancellation for developing countries facing the most severe fiscal and liquidity challenges.
According to him, the multifaceted challenges facing most developing countries have placed a debilitating chokehold on their fiscal space, justifying the need to address the burden of unsustainable external debt by a global commitment to the expansion and extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative as well as outright cancellation.
On climate change, President Buhari expressed concern that Africa and other developing nations, which produce only a small proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to industrial economies, are the hardest hit by its consequences as seen in the sustained droughts in Somalia and floods of unprecedented severity in Pakistan.
”These and other climate-related occurrences are now sadly becoming widely commonplace in the developing world. We are, in effect, literally paying the price for policies that others pursue. This needs to change.”
The Nigeria leader said: ”At the Cop 26 in Glasgow last year, I did say that Nigeria was not asking for permission to make the same mistakes that others have made in creating the climate emergency.
”Fortunately, we now know what we can do to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis and the related energy challenge. As a first step, we must all commit to releasing the financing and the technology to create a stable and affordable framework for energy transition.
”Development Financial Institutions must prioritise de-risking energy projects to improve access of renewable projects to credit facilities. There should be no countries ‘left behind’ in this equation.
”Rocketing energy costs worldwide are, in part, the product of conflict and supply disruptions to Europe and the Americas.”
The President said Nigeria expects UNGA 77 and the upcoming COP 27 to help galvanise the political will required to drive action towards the fulfilment of the various existing climate change initiatives.
In concluding his address from the ”famous podium”, the President conveyed his final reflection to the world body, urging leaders to uphold values of justice, honour, integrity, among others.
”We live in extraordinary times with interdependent challenges but enormous opportunities. The pace of change can seem bewildering, with sometimes a palpable and unsettling sense of uncertainty about our future.
”But if my years in public service have taught me anything, it is that we must keep faith with those values that endure.
”These include, but are not limited to such values as justice, honour, integrity, ceaseless endeavour, and partnership within and between nations.
”Our strongest moments have always been when we remain true to the basic principles of tolerance, community, and abiding commitment to peace and goodwill towards all.”