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Buhari seeks debt cancellation at UN General Assembly

..raises alarm on erosion of democracy in West Africa

President Muhammadu Buhari has called for outright debt cancellation for developing countries facing the most severe challenges particularly due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The president made this call on Friday at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) currently holding in New York.

The President called on world leaders to urgently review the eligibility criteria for debt suspension, including debt cancellation to all developing countries, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.

He urged the G-20 countries to consider expansion and extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiatives.

Read also: Buhari restates Nigeria’s call for UN Security Council reforms

“Developing countries have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic”, the President said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of a new wave of deepening debt, where vital public financial resources are allocated to external debt servicing and repayments at the expense of domestic health and financing for critical developmental needs”, he added.

Buhari commended the current initiatives by the international financial institutions and the G20 aimed at significantly mitigating the economic situation of the indebted countries and urge for more efforts in this regard.

‘‘Therefore, there is an urgent need to consider expansion and extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative “, he said.

According to a statement by his media aide Femi Adesina, Buhari also condemned the recent trend of unconstitutional takeover of power, sometimes in reaction to unilateral changes of constitutions by some leaders.

He said the act must not be tolerated by the international community. He warned that the democratic gains of the past decades in West Africa ‘‘are now being eroded’’ due to these negative trends.

He affirmed Nigeria’s support to efforts by ECOWAS, AU and the UN to address this growing challenge, saying:

‘‘As leaders of our individual Member-States, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region.’’

The President urged the international community not only to deal with the symptoms of conflict but also the immediate causes that fuel conflicts in the first place.

‘‘These include poor and undemocratic governance, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, injustice and inequalities.

‘‘There are no easy solutions to these conditions. They require long term investments and more effective international cooperation. In this connection, my delegation underscores the importance of promoting peaceful, unfettered, and inclusive participation of states in global actions towards conflict prevention.

‘‘This will facilitate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063.”

The President’s speech, delivered from the podium of the General Assembly hall, addressed other matters on the international agenda of interest to Nigeria, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Arms Trade Treaty, climate change, terrorism, anti-corruption, debt suspension, international trade, UN Security Council Reform, Palestinian Question, racial discrimination, among others.

The President also used the occasion of the speech to renew his advocacy for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, outlining steps Nigeria has taken to achieve ‘‘moderate success’’ in containing the virus and halt its deadly onslaught in the country.

‘‘Nigeria remains grateful for the assistance received from our partners and friends all over the world.

‘‘Vaccination is the key to our safe emergence from the pandemic.

‘‘We fully support the COVAX initiative from which we have benefitted. We also thank the United States of America, Turkey, India, China, European Union, and others for the vaccines provided.

‘‘Despite the acknowledgement, however, I would like to reiterate my call for a fairer and more equitable distribution of vaccines to all countries so that, together, we can fight and contain the pandemic.

‘‘The rising wave of newer and more contagious strains, makes this even more urgent. No country can afford the socio-economic implications of a prolonged shutdown. It is imperative to underscore that no one is safe until everyone is safe,’’ he said.

On the fight against terrorism, the President told the UN General Assembly that the Nigerian Security Forces have recorded considerable success.

‘‘As a result of the renewed vigour of Nigeria’s military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,’’ he said.

The President noted that while terrorism continues to dominate security discourse worldwide, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorist group, though fragmented by internal strife and weakened by our defence forces, is still active and preying on soft targets.

‘‘Nigeria will continue to work closely with UN Counter-Terrorism bodies and entities with a view to bringing this scourge to an end, ’’ he said, adding that the country would spare no effort in addressing the challenges of terrorism posed by the activities of Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, as well as banditry in the North-West and North-Central Nigeria.

On international trade, President Buhari called for reforms that will engender recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies that can deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

‘‘Nigeria reaffirms that international trade is an engine for development and sustained economic growth, as well as the global eradication of poverty.

‘‘My delegation would like to reaffirm the critical role that a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system can play in stimulating economic growth and development.

‘‘Fair and equitable trade would eventually eliminate the need for aid.

‘‘My country and indeed all African countries do not intend to stay indefinitely looking for aid. All we need is a fair and equitable system of international trade,’’ he said.

The Nigerian leader also renewed the call for the reforms of the UN Security Council, stressing that intergovernmental negotiations on the issue were taking too long.

‘‘No reform of the United Nations system is more urgent than that of the Security Council. Stakeholders around the world are asking how such power could be concentrated, with scant representation.

‘‘The intergovernmental negotiations have taken too long, some 15 years.

‘‘We must avoid going in circles. Consensus has been achieved in some of the elements of this reform, especially that of the representation of Africa on the basis of the Elzuwini consensus and the Sirte Declaration.

‘‘It is unreasonable to expect unanimity in this matter. The issue, indeed, is about justice, not unanimity. Without justice, the legitimacy (even efficacy) of our Organization is called to question.

‘‘We can and must make substantial, irreversible progress on Security Council reform in the current session,’’ he said.

President Buhari expressed deep concerns about the devastating effects of small arms and weapons, calling for accountability in the conventional arms trade.

“Nigeria remains deeply concerned over the illicit trade, transfer, and circulation of small arms and light weapons. Their excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread in many regions of the world are having devastating humanitarian and socio-economic consequences, especially on the continent of Africa.

“It is on this note that my delegation calls for the worldwide application of the Arms Trade Treaty to codify accountability in conventional arms trade, which is critical to the security of nations. This is in recognition of the need for a broad-based global partnership in the ongoing battle against trans-border crimes, including terrorism and piracy.”

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