As the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly successfully concludes, we sat down with the outgoing President, H.E. Pr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande to get his reflections on implementing key priorities during his presidency, the evolution of multilateralism, and the place of Africa in the global system.
1. Excellency, as Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, you were elected President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly by acclamation. As we approach the end of your tenure, what are some of your reflections?
I certainly was humbled by the confidence of my peers in me. They trusted me with the responsibility to shepherd the affairs of the General Assembly during the 74th Session. We experienced a lot of challenges during the session but the camaraderie and support of colleagues was omnipresent, even during challenging negotiations. This, to a large extent, ensured the timely and effective implementation of the priorities of the 74th Session, as well as the fulfillment of the mandates entrusted by Member States to me as the President of the General Assembly.
During the session we had to prepare for the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and this included intergovernmental negotiations on the Draft Declaration for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN to be adopted at the UN75 High-level meeting on 21 September 2020. It also included several other important process relating to the three pillars of the United Nations, namely : Human Rights; Peace and Security; and Development.
What I feel right now is gratitude.I feel immensely blessed to have had the opportunity to serve this great Organisation and I hope that we have collectively made a difference during the 74th session. I hope that the good things we have done together will endure.
2. What in your opinion were some of the challenges and opportunities during the implementation of your key priorities, namely quality education, poverty, and inclusion?
On 24 January 2020, I convened an Interactive Dialogue on the International Day of Education, under the theme “Aligning Inclusive Quality Education Policies with Sustainable Development Goals”. The dialogue brought together policy-makers; representatives of teachers’, students’ and youth associations; and as well as participants from the private sector and civil society organizations to discuss the various means of implementing SDG4. The momentum generated by the event galvanized greater international cooperation to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
On 12 February 2020, I convened the interactive dialogue on “Targeting Hunger: South-South and Triangular Cooperation for Transforming Agriculture”, with a focus on eradicating hunger.
On 2 March 2020, The President of ECOSOC and I launched the Financial Accountability and Transparency Initiative (FACTI) Panel. The FACTI panel will continue to be operational following the conclusion of the 74th session of the General Assembly, and its work will be essential to the Decade of Recovery to further our goals of eliminating illicit financial flows.
You will recall that the first high-level meeting of the 74th session of the General Assembly was focused on health. In a landmark political declaration on universal health coverage, Heads of State and Government committed to scale up national and global efforts to build a healthier world for all.
An then early this year, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Communities around the world are now experiencing at a deeper level the message expressed by world leaders in September 2019: that health is an investment in human capital, social and economic development and the empowerment of all people.
As a result of the pandemic we were unable to convene in-person meetings since mid-March 2020. As the world contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations remains best placed to galvanize a multilateral response. At the General Assembly, Member States are continuing to tackle a wide range of complex intersectional issues which affect the people we serve. Therefore my priorities became more urgent because of the crisis. Some of our accomplishment during this period include:
- On 30 June 2020, a 40-Member Alliance for Poverty Eradication was established, and the first in an annual series of colloquium on poverty eradication took place under the theme, “Trends, Options and Strategies in Poverty Eradication Across the World”. The Alliance for Poverty Eradication is a group of Member States which are adopting a holistic response to eradicating poverty vis a vis multi-pronged, cross-cutting and coordinated interventions.
- On 9 September 2020, my Office in coordination with the Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, convened the Youth Plenary on UN at 75, in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 73/299 on the Commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which emphasized the need to engage young people in all UN75 commemorative activities.
3. In terms of inclusion and being a national of an African State, how did you navigate between reticence and demands for greater representation of Africa in the United Nations system?
We must appreciate that every region of the world is equally important. We must send the message to all that no longer will we have a world in which some regions would dictate to other regions.
Indeed, we need to strive to make the UN system more representative. Even more important , is the need to get young people involved in multilateral efforts towards addressing global challenges. In my view, the youth of the world, far more than my generation, are realizing that inclusion is important.
We need not look further than their drive for social change, social justice and climate action, among many other salient global issues. We have seen how the youth have signed onto this idea of equality of religion and of nations. It is in the same spirit, that in the midst of this pandemic, the priority area of inclusion became even more important.
Education and its enablers are crucial. Technology must be provided to allow full participation of all. We cannot have quality education nor address challenges today while ignoring technology. We need technology to address poverty, which is the number one objective of my presidency.