Thank you for your warm welcome. I thank the Vice-President for his leadership, and the Foreign Ministry for so generously hosting us today. I look forward to the discussion by the esteemed panelists that will follow my remarks.
I am pleased to be accompanied by a number of my senior advisors, including Nigeria’s own Dr. Babtunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA; and my Special Advisor on development issues, Assistant Secretary-General Amina Mohammad.
We also have Mr. Mohammad Chambas, my Special Representative for the UN Office for West Africa; and Ms. Zainab Bangura, My Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
It is always a pleasure to be in Nigeria – and it is extra special to be here as you begin a new chapter in your history.
Our history goes back to your earliest days.
Nigeria’s partnership with the United Nations began soon after the flag of an independent Nigeria first rose 55 years ago.
Just days after your independence, Nigeria became the first country to contribute to peacekeeping efforts in the Congo. Your commitment to peace has continued in missions from Liberia to Haiti …from Sierra Leone to Somalia.
In the region, you host the Headquarters of ECOWAS.
In the continent, you are an active member of the African Union Peace and Security Council.
And on the global stage, Nigeria has served on the UN Security Council five times in the last five decades. This very month, Nigeria holds the Presidency of the Security Council.
Nigeria has been critical in the battle against Ebola – and a few days ago, you helped achieve an African milestone.
For the first time in history, Nigeria and the African continent reported a full year without one case of polio. We must stay vigilant, but I know you join me in applauding that testament to the power of global partnership and concerted leadership.
On issue after issue -- Africa, and indeed the world, looks to Nigeria.
You are the continent’s largest economy. You can claim a vibrant diaspora all over the world.
Nigeria’s many cultural treasures stretch back to the Benin Empire – and your literature, poetry and arts guide us to this day.
We read it in the words of literary giants like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.
We see it in the drama and excitement of productions from Nollywood.
We hear it in rhythms from juju to afrobeat to Dbanj, Davido and Wizkid!
And, on good days, we cheer it in the athletic triumphs of the Nigeria Super Eagles!
And the Super Falcons, Africa’s reigning women’s champions!
As impressive as those contributions are, I know even greater things lie ahead.
My hope starts with the success of the recent elections. Nigerians have shown the pathway to a peaceful democratic transition.
Now you are embarking on what President Buhari has called an Agenda for Change – which is also an agenda of challenge.
Today, I want to speak about the inter-linked challenges of development, peace and human rights in Nigeria and the wider world.
Nigeria’s great potential carries great responsibility. So today I am issuing a call to action. The world needs you. I need you.
Let me begin with the development challenge.
We, too, have a new change agenda in the global arena.
It is called the Sustainable Development Goals which build on the remarkable success of the Millennium Development Goals.
It is a people’s agenda -- shaped by some of Africa’s finest public servants – starting with my Special Advisor Amina Muhammad.
The agenda took years of hard work -- involved 193 countries – thousands from civil society and the private sector – and sought the views of millions of young people – including 2 million Nigerians.
Out of that process emerged 17 global goals – and three clear messages.
First, we will end global poverty by 2030.
Second, we will build a life of dignity for all.
Third, we will leave no one behind.
We know quick fixes won’t solve our problems. We need to tackle the root causes. To achieve our global goals, we must be people-centred and planet-friendly.
People-centered means poverty eradication, safe schools, good health care, decent jobs.
And it must mean empowering women and girls.
Planet-sensitive means taking on the threat of climate change and living harmoniously with nature.
In this room, we have distinguished religious leaders and custodians of Nigeria’s culture. You know climate change is not just an economic and political concern. It is a moral issue.
I commend Pope Francis on his recent encyclical as well as Muslim leaders for issuing a declaration for climate action.
Around the world, I have seen how floods, droughts, rising sea levels, increasingly severe storms and melting glaciers are causing grave harm.
I will never forget witnessing what little remains of the once mighty Lake Chad.
I have seen the damage caused by the heedless exploitation of precious ecosystems, and the despair when local communities do not share in the benefits of natural resources.
Sustainable development is about putting the economic, the social and the environmental on an equal level.
It is not one agenda instead of the other. It is not one agenda ahead of the other.
It is one integrated agenda.
We have a financing framework that was approved last month in Addis Ababa.
We have the new transformative Goals that will be adopted by world leaders next month in New York.
In December in Paris, the world’s governments have committed to approve a universal, fair, and meaningful climate change agreement.
But this agenda won’t be realized in New York or Paris. It will happen in your communities and it will take everyone.
I have a favorite Nigerian proverb – “Fine words do not produce food.”
Rhetoric has its place – but my focus is implementation – practical action.
I ask you today: Galvanize partnerships. Mobilize resources. Engage in new ways with subnational and local governments which are serving the most vulnerable.
Invest in making the goals real in people’s lives.
We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
This is not just good values – it is crucial to peace.
There may be fewer wars between countries today – but there is more insecurity.
Here in Nigeria, you have seen how development deficits – economic marginalization, lack of opportunities, and climate stress -- have greatly aggravated security challenges.
The Boko Haram insurgency emerged from the seeds of those grievances.
Thousands of lives have been lost. More than a million have been displaced. Millions more are at risk.
Innocents continue to suffer the brutality of merciless Boko Haram terror attacks.
Women and girls are not caught simply in the crossfire – they are being deliberately targeted through brutal physical and sexual assault, child and forced marriages, sexual slavery and abduction on a massive scale.
Boys, too, have suffered from kidnappings and forced recruitment.
It is chilling to even imagine the terrible trauma so many innocents have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram.
This week marks 500 days since the schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok. I once again call on those responsible to unconditionally release the Chibok girls and the many children and adults kidnapped in the North East.
I am appealing as UN Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your own daughters and sisters were abducted by others?
I am asking all those who might have information about those innocent abducted girls—help them, save them and return them to their homes.
I urge communities to work hard to reintegrate all abductees and their families, especially the women and girls into your communities and their homes.
We must not only “bring back our girls” but also “welcome back our girls” and all those abducted.
No country can tackle this threat on its own. I welcome Nigeria’s increased cooperation with countries of the region.
We know this battle will not be won by military force alone.
Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.
That leads me to the fundamental importance of the final inter-linked challenge – ensuring that all our actions rest on a strong foundation of human rights and honest institutions.
The recent election helped demonstrate a strong conviction to protect the most explicit political rights.
I believe the time is ripe for Nigeria to go much farther in ensuring respect for all civil political rights, including by the police and other security forces.
Respect for human rights has been most visibly challenged in the context of the Boko Haram threat.
Around the world, history and experience have shown that when human rights are abused in the name of counter-terrorism, it not only breaches our shared values, it undermines our shared objectives.
Rather than solving the problem, it makes it worse – feeding into the terrorist recruitment narrative and contributing to further destabilization.
Surely we can all agree: counter-terror should not be counter-productive.
The new government has come to inherit many of these challenges. And I commend President Buhari for his determination that military operations adopt a human rights-centred approach.
The United Nations – including our Office for Human Rights – is positioned to support Nigeria through training and other measures to ensure that military operations strictly comply with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.
We also stand ready to respond to the increasing humanitarian challenges associated with Boko Haram violence. I am requesting my UN team to scale up our humanitarian presence.
Finally, let me express my strong support for tackling a disease that has implications on all the challenges I mentioned today – that is the cancer of corruption.
Corruption drains the treasury of resources – and drains people’s confidence in government. Recovering stolen money is not easy, but recovering trust may be even more difficult.
The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way.
As the UN marks its seventieth anniversary, I look to Nigeria as a key partner and leader on the international stage.
In 1961, independent Nigeria’s first Head of Government came to the United Nations. Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa – the Golden Voice of Africa -- appealed to Member States to be guided not just by regional interests but, above all, by “truth”.
In the years since, Nigeria stood strong against apartheid. And in April 1994, Nigeria was one of the few members of the Security Council pushing for early action to end the genocide in Rwanda.
As we look ahead, we need Nigeria’s leadership on many issues -- from strong public health policies for women and girls … to people-centred development … to peace and security in the region and internationally.
The United Nations is with you.
Together let us ensure success for this new start for Nigeria and a better future for our world.