By Prudence Arobani
NIGERIA’S Permanent Representative to the United Nations Prof. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande recently completed his one-year tenure as president of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, becoming the second Nigerian to occupy the exalted global position after 30 years.
Analysts said his tenure was strategic for many reasons and most importantly, how he navigated the uncharted waters of COVID-19 pandemic that brought the whole world to its knees during his presidency, by which he has received a plethora of rare accolades among the diplomatic circles and on the global stage.
They also said that UN members are known for an inclination of dissatisfaction with almost everything, especially the performance of those who lead their organs due to constant divisions among the 193-member states and to impress them, therefore, one has to work extremely hard, while dishing out praises to people leading them is a once-in-a-time occurrence.
It was, therefore, a moment of pride for Nigeria and Africa as a whole at the various receptions organised by ambassadors at the UN to celebrate the successful completion of the 74th session, as member states took turns to pour rare accolades on the Nigerian diplomat for his exemplary leadership and outstanding performance at a critical moment in the life of the global body.
Leading the pack of speakers was the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, who prior to this time, had not attended any in-persons meeting due to COVID-19 protocols but had to ‘break’ his own protocol for the first time in six months just to honour the quintessential diplomat.
In emotion-laden remarks, Guterres described Muhammad-Bande as the “miracle” needed by the UN General Assembly to weather the COVID-19 storm to accomplish all that it set out to do due largely to Muhammad-Bande’s “diplomatic skills, wisdom and calmness’’ in getting the 193-member states together and working through their differences to reach consensus.
“When we started to see the COVID-19 spreading and when we saw the measures that were taken everywhere in the world and in particular here in New York, for a moment, I thought it would be impossible for the General Assembly to do its job.
“And what I believe is absolutely remarkable is that with all the restrictions that we had, with all the physical impediments that we had, the General Assembly of the United Nations was able to fully deliver in the elections which mattered. And not one single of important decisions that was supposed to be passed was postponed.
Guterres, however, said that Muhammad-Bande’s success was because of his deeply rooted goodness: “in my own opinion the reason for the miracle is because Muhammad-Bande is a good man’’.
The new President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, also said the Nigerian diplomat has highlighted the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, established the International Day of Education as Permanent Representative of Nigeria, and raised the profile of education at the UN, an international gender champion. Bozkir added that Muhammad-Bande paid attention to poverty eradication.
“He led the General Assembly through uncharted waters; at a time of uncertainty he pioneered hybrid and digital diplomacy to ensure business continuity; even after suffering a great personal loss, he remained available and responsive to all 193 member states.
“His style remains calm and visible at a crisis point in world’s history. I have no doubt that the legacy of the 74th president of the General Assembly will be defined by his good handling of a very difficult situation,’’ he said.
Similarly, the Chair, African Group of Ambassadors at the UN, Amb. Mohamed Edrees of Egypt, said “Muhammad-Bande assumed the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly during what was perhaps one of the most difficult times in its history since 1945.
“This exceptional time that witnessed the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, led to drastic changes that bounced back in the methods, patterns of work and centre of focus and gravity in the United Nations, in a way that did not visit anyone’s imagination’’.
Also, the Chair Asian-Pacific Group, Amb. Tirumurti Srinivasamurti of India, lauded Muhammad-Bande’s exemplary leadership at the helm of the General Assembly in the unprecedented and difficult circumstances.
He said Muhammad-Bande’s stewardship ensured business continuity on important issues for the assembly and for the United Nations, including the adoption of more than 70 resolutions, conduct of socially distancing and important elections and several resolutions on COVID-19 pandemic with wide vote sponsorship, among others.
The Eastern European Group Chair and Hungary’s Permanent Representative, Katalin Bogyay, on her part, commended Muhammad-Bande’s inclusive approach and exceptional work saying.
Also, the Latin American and Caribbean States Chair, Kitty Sweeb, lauded Nigerian diplomat’s unique leadership of the 74th session and for arriving at the end of a very difficult session of the General Assembly, which she said, has indeed been the most challenging as never before in 75 years.
In the same vein, the Chair, Western European and Group, Maria Zappia of Italy, Muhammad-Bande really represented the “wisdom of Africa’’.
“As the group has already manifested in many occasions, we also appreciate your style and manners, your availability to listen to all member states, your charismatic leadership and your always positive attitude proved to be invaluable in allowing us to navigate such difficult circumstances,’’ she said.
But analysts said while it is a proud moment when member states and institutions accorded recognition and appreciated Muhammad-Bande based on merit and excellence, it is more gratifying and invokes a justified feeling of fulfillment when such accolades come from the leader of his own country.
This was as Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, in a rare and natural flow of unrestrained emotions and appreciation, bashed the accomplished diplomat with praises in his special congratulatory letter.
Buhari, who had impressed it upon Muhammad-Bande in New York during a courtesy call on him that the global support for his presidency of the UN General Assembly “puts a heavy weight on you”, could not hide his pride for the diplomat as he described his tenure as “triumphant”.
“Your performance in the Assembly has made Nigeria exceptionally proud, and I wish to pay glowing tributes to you for your huge achievements as Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations. By this stellar performance, you have made history for Nigeria and indeed for the whole of Africa,’’ he said.
Also, Nigeria’s Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires, Samson Itegboje, who was also elected as Interim President of the UN General Assembly ‘Special Session on COVID-19’, said Muhammad-Bande’s exemplary leadership was a fact that was all too obvious to the entire membership of the United Nations.
“Let it be shouted from the rooftop that you are the embodiment of a culture of peace. Your person exudes peace, just as your leadership style radiates peace. During this trying time of the COVID-19 pandemic, you have come through for the United Nations and for the world at large,’’ he said.
Behind the achievements and accolades, Muhammad-Bande commended his team and thanked the permanent representatives for a successful session.
Diplomats believe that as he returns to the UN following his reappointment as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative, Muhammad-Bande’s globally acclaimed integrity set him high.
*Arobani is with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).