04 May 2022

Secretary-General's opening remarks at press encounter with President of Muhammadu Buhari Nigeria

António Guterres

Thank you very much Mr. President for your warm and generous welcome.

I am profoundly grateful to the government of Nigeria and to all those who helped make this visit possible at the end of the period linked to the Eid, and for allowing me to share in this special time.

This is a visit of solidarity with all Nigerians, but particularly with the victims of terrorism that I yesterday met in Borno.

I had also hoped that it would be part of my annual solidarity visit for Ramadan in which I would join the fast.

For the last two years, COVID-19 has prevented me from carrying on this annual tradition, which dates back to my time as High Commissioner for Refugees and now as Secretary-General.

And this year, as you know, I was forced to postpone my trip to Nigeria to undertake an urgent mission to Ukraine and the Russian Federation to seek an end to that conflict and the immense suffering it has caused. 

But Ramadan’s timeless message of renewal and hope is one that I carried in my heart throughout my mission.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Borno State, and I must confess that I arrived in Borno the impression caused by so many years in which I was hearing stories about how dramatic the situation was, how terrible the suffering of the people, how impossible to control the terrorist activities. A sense of despair.

But the Borno I met yesterday was the Borno of hope. And I saw an enlightened policy, aiming not only at defeating militarily the terrorists, but addressing the root causes of terrorism.

I saw the Governor committed to re-establish the confidence between the people and the government, committed to provide the people in their different villages around the state the capacity to protect themselves, committed to create the conditions for the return of the displaced, and also for the reintegration of those that have abandoned Boko Haram, that have finally discovered that terrorism is a crime against humanity, a crime against God’s will, and that now need support to reintegrate in the society. And that support I could witness in the visit I made.

That is why yesterday, I appealed strongly to the international community to fully support what is being done in Borno State to make sure that the hope that I saw can be transformed into a reality of peace and prosperity for everybody

I believe Nigeria and its people have a big role to play in shaping solutions to the global crises engulfing our world. 

Nigeria is a pillar of continental and global cooperation – and a steadfast partner of the United Nations.

From its vital support for peacekeeping … to its leadership in fighting for fairness for developing countries … to being the home country of my dear friend, the United Nations’ Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.  

Above all, Nigeria is a country where Africa’s promise and potential come to vivid life.

I saw this first-hand in my meetings today with women and young people, whose vision and commitment were deeply inspiring.
I also met with religious and cultural leaders representing Nigeria’s beating multi-ethnic heart, and business leaders pushing Nigeria’s economy forward.

But I also went to see first-hand some of the enormous challenges facing this country.

Violence continues to cast a shadow of death over so many Nigerians, and has sparked a crisis of displacement across the country and the neighbourhood.

Yesterday, I came out of Borno with the sense that Nigeria is able to defeat this threat.

We are very active in support of the humanitarian efforts of the Nigerian government, and that is why we have called for an additional $351 million as part of the overall $1.1 billion for the humanitarian response plan for Nigeria.

But despite all they have seen and endured, the people I met remain hopeful and committed to returning to their communities and resuming their lives.

To that end, I welcome the establishment of the Presidential Committee on the Repatriation, Returns and Resettlement of Displaced Persons in the North-East.

This spirit of hope amidst hardship – and solidarity in struggle – was also at the centre of my discussions with His Excellency the President today.

We discussed the importance of laying the groundwork to ensure peaceful and democratic elections next year – and the full participation of Nigeria’s women and young people in all areas.

We also discussed the government’s measures to address security challenges across the country.

I want to extend my deepest condolences to the victims of the appalling attacks in the Plateau State two-and-a-half weeks ago.

It’s is another tragic reminder of terrorism’s scourge across West Africa and the Sahel.

And another reason why the United Nations is committed to supporting national and regional efforts to combat terrorism, violent extremism, organized crime and their root causes, such as poverty, exclusion and food insecurity.

This includes the UN’s Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.

I thanked President Buhari for his unwavering support of the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

We also discussed the other challenges that of course Nigeria is facing today.

Nigeria was, like all African countries, victim of the unequal recovery from COVID-19.

Despite the government’s ambitious goal to vaccinate 40 per cent of the population by the end of last year, only about 6.4 per cent have been vaccinated so far.

I have consistently sounded the alarm and called on wealthier countries and pharmaceutical companies to step-up their donations, invest in local vaccine production, and support our fight to counter vaccine misinformation and vaccine injustice.

With many competing health priorities in Nigeria, I do believe that [COVID-19] vaccinations must be integrated with all other vital vaccinations and interventions.

Then, Nigeria is feeling the effects of a warming planet – from droughts, floods and rising temperatures, to crucial ecosystems like Lake Chad at risk of drying up and disappearing altogether.

Holding global warming to the necessary 1.5 degrees means cutting global emissions by 45 per cent this decade.

But present Nationally Determined Contributions worldwide put us on track to a 14 per cent rise in emissions.

This is a disaster in the making for all countries, including Nigeria, which is already in the danger zone of high climate vulnerability.

Developing countries need a massive boost in technical and financial support to spark a just transition to renewable energy and green jobs.

They also need help to build resilience against the impacts already battering them.

This includes scaled-up support for the massive Great Green Wall initiative to keep desertification in check, and create decent jobs and thriving regional economic corridors that benefit all people.

All development banks and the private sector must urgently work with governments to design and deliver bankable projects.

We need to see 50 per cent of climate finance going to adaptation, and reformed eligibility systems so vulnerable nations can access it.

Developed countries must now deliver on their $100 billion climate finance commitment to developing countries this year.

I have asked the World Meteorological Organization to develop an action plan to ensure that every person on earth is protected by early warning systems within five years.

One-third of the world’s people are unprotected by early warning systems – including 60 per cent of Africans. We must change this.

And then there is the challenge of a lack of access to resources.  

This prevents developing countries from investing in job-creation, expanded social protection, food security, universal healthcare, quality education and digital connectivity.

I have been calling for an effective fight around the world against tax evasion, money laundering and illicit financial flows that spread corruption and divert vital resources from the needy.

The success of Nigeria’s Economic Sustainability Plan and its efforts to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area – while overcoming the inflation and investing in the Sustainable Development Goals – all depend on increased access to external resources and the effective mobilization of national ones.

At the same time, our analysis indicates that the war in Ukraine is only making things worse, setting in motion a three-dimensional crisis that is devastating global food, energy and financial systems for the developing countries.

That’s why, in the earliest days of this war, I established the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, involving all UN agencies and international financial institutions. The Steering Committee is chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General that you know very well, Amina Mohammed.

The Group has developed concrete recommendations in three areas.

One – we need to ensure a steady flow of food and energy through open markets by lifting all unnecessary export restrictions, directing surpluses and reserves to those in need, and keeping a lid on food prices to calm market volatility.

But let me be clear. There is really no true solution to the problem of global food security without bringing back the agricultural production of Ukraine and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus into world markets, despite the war. I am determined to do everything to facilitate a dialogue that can help achieve this objective.

Two – on energy, countries must resist hoarding, and release strategic stockpiles and additional reserves to countries in need, while accelerating the deployment of renewable energy.

And three – international financial institutions need to urgently increase liquidity and fiscal space, and improve existing debt-relief mechanisms, so governments can not only avoid default, but they can invest in their people, especially in universal social protection at this moment of rising prices.

The United Nations presented concrete proposals during the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, ranging from the mobilization of the various funds and instruments that already exist - but are not sufficiently implemented - to a much stronger use and redistribution of special drawing rights, as well as effective debt relief measures.

I have said several times that we need to reform the global financial system. It was designed by the rich, for the rich. But as we face a situation that requires urgent action, we must make greater use of all available mechanisms for the benefit of developing countries, including middle-income countries, especially in Africa.

We need to put recovery within reach for all countries – and all people – equally.

Finally, I want to thank the Government and people of Nigeria for not only hosting the United Nations – but for rebuilding and reopening the United Nations House in Abuja in 2019 following the terrorist attacks in 2011. It was a very generous and a very effective, and I would say beautiful contribution. The building is indeed remarkable.

Just as Nigeria has stood with the United Nations, the United Nations stands in solidarity with Nigeria across the board.

We look forward to strengthening our partnership and advancing peace, security and development across the country, the region and and the world.

Mr. President. Thank you very much.