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UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS: Buhari Pleads For Debt Relief Amid Unending Borrowings

….demands equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines
….says B’Haram weakened,preying on soft targets

President Muhammadu Buhari has pleaded for debt service extension for Nigeria and other developing countries amid unrelenting borrowings, saying that COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the biting economic situations of poor nations. The President, in his presentation at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) holding in New York, United States of America (USA), specifically asked the G20 countries to extend debt relief to all developing countries of the world, especially considering the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic on their economies.

He urged G20 countries to extend its debt suspension initiatives to all developing countries, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States facing fiscal and liquidity challenges. ‘‘Developing countries have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of 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. ‘‘I must commend the current initiatives by the international financial institutions and the G20 aimed at significantly mitigating the economic situation of the indebted countries and urge 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.’’ According to the President, the unconstitutional takeover of power had sometimes been in reaction to unilateral changes of constitutions by some leaders, admonishing those elected to lead countries to reject the temptation to stay beyond their constitutional term of office.

He affirmed Nigeria’s support to efforts by ECOWAS, AU and the UN to address this growing challenge, saying “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.”

While urging the developed countries to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the world, Buhari equally reiterated the call for the reform of the UN Security Council to accommodate representations from Africa and other parts of the world for there to be stability and equity.

In a release by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, the Nigerian President warned that the democratic gains of the past decades in West Africa were being eroded due to the deployment of unconstitutional and undemocratic means to take over power in the region. While affirming Nigeria’s support to efforts by ECOWAS, AU and the UN to address the growing challenges, Buhari said “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 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’s speech equally 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, Palestinian Question, racial discrimination, among others.

The President also used the occasion 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 halt its deadly onslaught in the country. Expressing gratitude for support received from Nigeria’s partners and friends globally, Buhari attributed the nation’s save emergence from the pandemic to vaccination.

‘‘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. Commenting on the nation’s intervention to halt the spread of 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 healthcare 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 have recorded considerable success.

He told the world body that many terrorists are voluntarily surrendering be-cause of the renewed vigour of the military, adding that while terrorism continues to dominate security discourse worldwide, the Boko Haram insurgents were still active in preying over soft targets notwithstanding the fact that they have been fragmented and weakened.

Assuring that Nigeria would spare no efforts in addressing the challenge of terrorism posed by the Boko Haram in the North East, banditry in the North West and North Central, Buhari said he would continue to work closely with the UN’s Counter- Terrorism bodies and entities with a view to bringing the scourge to an end. He gave the assurance that Nigeria would continue to play her part in peace keeping efforts knowing how important it is for those countries in vulnerable situations.

On international trade, the President called for reforms that would engender recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies that could deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The Nigerian leader also renewed the call for the reforms of the UN Security Council, stressing that intergovernmental negotiations on the issue was 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 Organization 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.

Buhari expressed deep concerns at the devastating effects of small arms and weapons, calling for accountability in conventional arms trade. 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.

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