61 Years of Nigeria’s Membership of the United Nations: Partnership for a Better World

 By; Abubakar Ahmed

The Month of October is indeed sacred in the life of Nigeria; not because it is the month the country got her independence from erstwhile colonial masters; Britain, but because it is also a month the country applied and was subsequently admitted into the United Nations as the 99th Member on October 7, 1960. The resolution on her admission was sponsored by Tunisia, representing the independent African States and the 10th Commonwealth Nations which were already members of the United Nations. Viz; Australia, Canada, Ceylon (now Sri-Lanka), Ghana, India, Malaya (now Malaysia), New Zealand, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and ironically, the Union of South Africa. Had the South African regime then knew the forceful role Nigeria was destined to play in the anti-apartheid struggle, it might have been less willing to be a sponsor of Nigeria’s admission.

Nigeria’s action at that time was informed by the awareness of the joint destiny of all peoples of the world. Hence, saw the United Nations as an important forum for the promotion of international peace and development. Hence; Nigeria’s diplomacy has since been guided by this conviction. Consequently, October 7 marks 61 years of Nigeria’s Membership of the United Nations; and (Nigeria) has been relentless in contributing positively towards the enhancement of those conditions that would facilitate the maintenance of international peace and security, arms control, decolonization and obstacles to economic and social development at national, regional and international levels.

It is worthy of note that when Nigeria joined the United Nations in 1960, the Organization was bedeviled with Cold war and other issues such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War amongst others. These issues were characterized between the forces of democracy and communism under leadership of the two super powers. That is, the United States of America and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR respectively. Nigeria in this period advocated and pursued along other like-minded countries, a non-aligned posture which rejected allegiance to either of the two power blocs. Nigeria’s concern at that time was in the area of decolonization which witnessed the actual decimation and crumbling of apartheid in Africa and expended its energies working for the political liberation of those parts of Africa, especially the Portuguese colonial territories and other territories in Southern Africa which were under colonial rule.

The unprecedented long tenure of Nigeria’s Chairmanship of the United Nations Committee against Apartheid is a testimony of Nigeria’s avant-garde role in this regard. Nigeria’s consistent position on decolonization and the eradication of apartheid was based on its perception that as the largest single concentration of black people worldwide, its independence could only be meaningful in this regard if it worked to achieve the independence of other African states and ultimate eradication of apartheid in the continent. Nigeria’s contributions to the liberation struggle in Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia are enough proof of this continental commitment.

However, it must be stressed here that the United Nations is not a world government, but an association of sovereign states.  In the past, International Organizations used to be the refuge of weak nations because they needed to take joint actions to deal with the strong and powerful. In realization of this, Nigeria has used the United Nations forum to demonstrate her efforts to harness the international environment in the pursuit of solutions to problems considered important not only to her own national objectives but to Africa; at the same time contributing to international peace and security. In this regard, Nigeria has always played an active role in the operations of the United Nations. For instance, the country was involved in peace keeping operations of the United Nations in the Congo (Zaire) in the 1960s. Nigeria’s troops have helped to keep peace in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, while recently in Liberia, Somalia and DR Congo. While our police force and civilian administrators distinguished themselves in the United Nation’s Interim Administration of Namibia, prior to the independence of that country.

As we celebrate Nigeria’s 61 years at the United Nations which is coming at time when the United Nations is attaining 76 years since its establishment, we must not forget some of the milestones achieved by the country at the United Nations which include but not limited to Nigeria serving 3 terms as non-permanent member in the Security Council, which is the principal organ within the United Nations system responsible for maintaining international peace and security. As a valued consensus builder within the United Nations system, Nigeria actively participated in a number of groupings, namely, the African Group, the Non-Aligned Group, the Group of 77 and the Frontline States among others. Nigeria also initiated the formation of the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS-Group to foster economic integration in the West African Sub–region. The Country also demonstrated maturity by using traditional mechanisms in the pursuit of its objectives within the United Nations system.

In matters of peaceful settlement of disputes, Nigeria has always favored negotiation, arbitration, conciliation and peace–keeping operations; thus playing active role in the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations like World Health Organization WHO, Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, United Nations Industrial Development Organization UNIDO, International Labor Organization ILO, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO, International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD among others. Interestingly, Nigeria’s illustrious sons in the persons of General Joseph Garba and Professor Tijjani Mohammed Bande were President of the 44th and 74th Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly respectively, while the recent appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala as Director General of one of today’s United Nations sensitive organ; the World Trade Organization WTO further corroborates the preceding statement. Above all, one of Nigeria’s finest; Amina Mohammed is currently serving her second term as Deputy Secretary General having been appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.

President Muhammadu Buhari in his speech to the General Debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, 24th September, 2021, in line with this year’s theme: Building resilience through hope – to recover from COVID – 19, rebuild sustainably, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of the people and revitalize the United Nations, shared with world leaders, the efforts and initiatives thus far rolled out by the Federal Government in combating the pandemic from 4 laboratories at the advent of the virus in February, 2020, to over 140 COVID–19 testing laboratories currently. Establishment of infectious disease treatment centres located within Federal Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres. Training of over 40,000 healthcare workers in infection, prevention and control measures as well as the establishment of isolation and emergency centers spreading across different parts of the country. He then appreciated the COVAX facility, European Union as well as countries. Notably; United States; Turkey, India, China, and others for their support drive in providing vaccines to Nigeria as vaccines remains the surest way of defeating the pandemic while calling for a more equitable distribution to guarantee the safety of all humans. With the pandemic tolling on economies of nations; President Buhari called on the Assembly and by extension advanced countries to look into the possibility of deferring repayment of loans, and if possible consider forgiveness of debt owed by developing countries and small island nations in line with Debt Suspension Service Initiative championed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund IMF which was initiated last year.

As terrorism is gradually spreading across the globe with the proliferation of small and light weapons, and Nigeria having its share of the problem through the activities of terrorists organizations, President Buhari, on behalf of Nigeria affirmed that the country will support any counter terrorism measure that will help to nip in the bud any terrorism tendency. President Buhari like he did last year at the same gathering on behalf of Nigeria, harped on the need for the expansion of the United Nations Security Council to reflect the diversity and dynamics of the 21st Century, and that there is a consensus that Africa deserves permanent seats in this very sensitive organ of the United Nations. The President also used the vehicle of the United Nations to affirm Nigeria’s position in the promotion of the Nuclear Non–Proliferation Treaty and the need to have a world devoid of weapons of mass destruction for the safety of all. Interestingly, President Muhammadu Bauhari called on global leaders and bodies to prevail, especially, on African leaders to avoid unilateral change of constitutions and rules and observe term limits. Failure to do so of which is a major recipe for undemocratic change of government as characterized by recent developments in some West African countries. According to President Buhari; the region is slightly drifting from the democratic consolidation gains it has recorded especially in the last decade; a development that must not be left to fester.

As Nigeria celebrates her 61 years of membership of the United Nations this month, we look forward to see her continue playing active role, particularly in the changing international environment through continued cooperation with the majority of member states and act to provide leadership on various issues by exercising diplomatic initiatives in line with the principles which inspired the founding fathers of the organization.

Abubakar Ahmed, a Political Journalist with Liberty TV/Radio, contributed this piece from Kaduna.

President Muhammadu Buhari addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

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