Nigeria once again took the centre stage of global reckoning last week with the election of Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande as 74th president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Muhammad-Bande is the second Nigerian to occupy the coveted office after Joseph N. Garba, a retired military officer and diplomat, who was the 44th president of UNGA between 1989 and 1990.
Muhammad-Bande, who is Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), was elected in an unopposed vote on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, to serve the one-year role. The election of the president of the 74th session of the General Assembly took place in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York.
He becomes the 74th holder of the position, taking over from Ecuardorian María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, whose tenure ended with Muhammad-Bande’s election. Going by established principle of geographical rotation and relevant UN resolutions, the presidency of the 74th session had reached the turn of Africa, hence Mohammad-Bande’s election was widely expected.
The immediate past president – the fourth woman to be elected to the post in the history of the world body – took office on June 5, 2018. She was also the first woman since 2006.
Having been formally nominated by the Nigerian government for the position, the then nominee went through informal interactive dialogues with the view to increasing the transparency and inclusivity of the process. The dialogue took place on May 13, 2019, at UNHQ, New York.
The last time Africa held the presidency was in 2014/2015 when Uganda’s Sam Kahamba Kutesa led the 69th session. Aside the normal sessions, the UNGA also calls for special and emergency special sessions that usually have different presidents.
Muhammad-Bande, who will be inaugurated in September, was appointed as Nigeria’s representative to the UN on March 31, 2018, by President Muhammadu Buhari. He was born on December 7, 1957, in Zagga, present-day Kebbi state.
He received a BSc in political science from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1979, MA in political science from Boston University, USA in 1981; and a Ph.D in political science from University of Toronto, Canada, in 1987.
He was the vice-chancellor of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto between 2004 and 2009. He served as the director-general of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) from 2010 to 2016.
A recipient of the national honour of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), Muhammad-Bande served as the vice-president of the general assembly during the 71st session.
Instructively, the General Assembly meets annually in regular session, intensively from September to December, and resumes in January until all issues on the agenda are addressed – which often is just before the next session starts.
Since the 60th session in 2005, the president-elect of the General Assembly suggests a theme of global concern for the upcoming general debate, based on informal discussions with member states, the president of the current session of the General Assembly, and the secretary-general.
Shortly after his/her election, the president-elect sends a letter to all member states announcing the theme for the upcoming general debate and inviting them to focus their speeches on the proposed theme.
The General Assembly is one of the six main organs of the United Nations, the only one in which all Member States have equal representation: one nation, one vote.
All 193 member states of the United Nations are represented in this unique forum to discuss and work together on a wide array of international issues covered by the UN Charter, such as development, peace and security, international law, etc.
In September, all the members meet in the General Assembly Hall in New York for the annual General Assembly session.
It is quite significant that Muhammad-Bande’s election brings the number of Nigerians occupying tUN top jobs simultaneously to two; the other Nigerian is Amina Mohammed, who was appointed as UN Deputy Secretary-General in January 2017.
Before joining the UN, Mohammed who was minister of environment, worked for three successive administrations in Nigeria, serving as Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals.
She provided advice on issues including poverty, public sector reform and sustainable development, and coordinating poverty reduction interventions.
She is also an Adjunct Professor in Development Practice at Columbia University, and serves on numerous international advisory boards and panels, including the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The import of these appointments is that the international community has now fully accepted Nigeria as a member of the comity of nations as well as recognised country’s leadership capacity in not just African but also global affairs.
It, therefore, behooves on the Buhari administration to leverage on this rare international goodwill in attracting greater partnership at ensuring the success of its tripartite agenda of the fight against insurgency, the war against corruption and revitalising the economy.
We congratulate Muhammad-Bande and wish the duo of Bande and Amina Mohammed successful tenures at piloting two critical organs responsible for shaping the world.