Monday, October 26, 2009

Nigeria and UN Security Council seat

On October 15, 2009, Nigeria was elected to a non-permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations with 186 votes. Four other countries, Gabon, Brazil, Bosnia and Lebanon were elected to similar positions. Unlike previous Security Council elections, there were no contested seats this year. As a result, the five countries nominated by regional groups won an easy election, following voting by the 192-member General Assembly. In the case of Nigeria, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) supported her candidacy.

According to the rules of the United Nations, 15 member countries constitute the membership of the Security Council. Collectively, they are to ensure peace and security among nations. Of this number, five permanent members made up of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France exercise veto power over substantive but not procedural resolutions. The remaining 10 are elected for two-year terms only with half retiring every year. Nigeria will assume its position on January 1, 2010.

Ever since the announcement there has been jubilation in official circles almost as if Nigeria has won an undeserved trophy. Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, has been beating his chest in triumph. Never short of slogans, he has coined a new phrase - Preventive Diplomacy - as his concept of Nigeria's new role at the United Nations. We join him as he rejoices. But Nigeria's triumph is not altogether unexpected. The charter relating to the election of non-permanent members into the Security Council provides that in the first instance, such members must have a track record of contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security for mankind.

Nigeria has eminently fulfilled this condition being second only to India in the contribution of troops in support of UN efforts in achieving global peace and security. Nigeria pioneered and sustains ECOWAS. Nigeria had served three tenures as non-permanent member on the Council between 1966/1967, 1978/1979 and 1994/1995. It currently chairs the UN Second Committee, which deals with economic and financial matters, and the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. In more ways than one, therefore, Nigeria fully qualifies to be a member of the Security Council. But the position comes with a lot of responsibility for which Nigeria must be prepared.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister and current United Nations Under-Secretary General Prof. Ibrahim Gambari who should know what the position entails says Security Council membership requires 24-hour concentration; that meetings are called at short notice and that literally there is no time to 'stand and stare'. He says the challenge now is for Nigeria to have an effective representation of Africa's interests as well as promoting Nigeria's own national interests. We agree entirely with him. Our presence at the Security Council at this time should lay a foundation for the country's bid for permanent representation in a reformed and expanded United Nations. The office of Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN should be adequately supported with financial, administrative and personnel resources to enable it discharge the added responsibility.

It is noteworthy that on the eve of this victory, Amnesty International has called on Nigeria to strengthen its national human rights record and demonstrate the country's commitment to promoting and protecting human rights. What Amnesty International is saying, in other words, is that good foreign policy must be anchored on strong domestic policy. Nigeria cannot be presiding over the peace and security of the world when at home it is unable to hold free and fair elections or fight corruption or send our children to school.

The country cannot be at the pinnacle of the world with so much poverty among its people. Right now, Nigeria's economy is stagnating, its banks are in distress. There are bad roads everywhere and not enough employment opportunities for the people. Important industries are relocating away from the country. The cost of refined petroleum products is escalating but the government has refused to build new refineries. These and a whole lot more are things Nigeria should be addressing which its leaders choose to neglect. We shall earn the respect of the United Nations when we respect ourselves by keeping our house in order.