United Nations, Sept. 14, 2020
Outgoing President of the United Nations General Assembly (PGA), Ambassador Tijani Muhammad-Bande, has highlighted some critical lessons from COVID-19.
This is as the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres and Diplomats from around the world paid glowing tributes to Professor Muhammad-Bande for his exceptional leadership skills that saw him steering the ship of the world body successful through the stormy waters of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Muhammad-Bande hands over the Presidency of the UNGA Tuesday.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in New York that the pandemic had further underscored the need for concerted efforts to bridge the global technological gap.
Muhammad-Bande referenced a UN report indicating that 463 million school children, mostly from developing countries, lack access to remote learning.
The report says the number represents nearly a third of the world’s 1.5 billion school children forced to stay at home following the closure of their schools due to COVID-19.
Muhammad-Bande said the situation was particularly painful to him because inclusive quality education is one of the priorities of his presidency.
“Education, especially learning in schools, has virtually stopped for many because of lack of access to the technologies needed for remote instruction to take place.
“It, therefore, means that all has to be done to make technologies widely available to all parts of the world for critical things like education and agriculture.
“In reconstructing their educational infrastructure, countries should learn from what technology can offer.
“You must leverage technology not as an aside but as an integral element,” he said.
The second lesson from the COVID-19 crisis, according to the PGA, is the connectedness of societies, making a problem in one corner of the world a global one.
This, he said, explains why a disease that broke out in a Chinese town became a global epidemic within a few months with devastating health and socio-economic impacts.
Muhammad-Bande, who is Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said with this lesson, the world should ensure inclusion in both response to COVID-19 and recovery efforts.
“We should not joke with this notion that if a vaccine is available and one country is left out, no country is free.
“You can see the issue of climate change, how reduction in the use of fossil fuels has been positive in many parts of the world in terms of quality of air, regeneration of plants, among others.
“Again, can we find means of doing things differently? This is a critical question that must be addressed by countries in terms of policies,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Nigeria’s Amb. Tijani Muhammad-Bande was the miracle needed by the General Assembly to deliver on its mandate in the face of COVID-19.
Muhammad-Bande, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the UN and the President of the outgoing 74th session of the Assembly was celebrated for the remarkable accomplishments of the Assembly in the last one year in spite of unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic.
Guterres spoke during a get-together by ambassadors at the UN headquarters in New York to celebrate the success of the 74th session ending on Tuesday.
He said it was a miracle that the Muhammad-Bande-led Assembly was able to weather the COVID-19 storm to accomplish all that it set out to do.
“When COVID-19 hit, I thought the General Assembly needed a miracle to be able to continue its work. This miracle has a name, which is Tijani Muhammad-Bande,’’ he said.
According to him, the 193-member body is able to carry out its work through novel means that guaranteed business continuity while mitigating the spread of the disease.
He attributed the success story largely to the president’s “diplomatic skills, wisdom and calmness’’ in getting member states together and working through their differences to reach consensus.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the outgoing session churned out no fewer than 70 resolutions and other critical decisions.
Most of the resolutions came through the decision on “silence procedure’’ adopted by the world body since March when the pandemic forced diplomats to go virtual and work remotely.
Noting that the “silence procedure’’ was remarkable among the accomplishments, Guterres said it was a testament to what could be achieved through international cooperation and competent leadership.
“The `silence procedure’ needed the consensus of Member States, and although there were differences during the process, the PGA through his wisdom and diplomatic skills succeeded in getting member states together and closing the gaps,’’ he added.
NAN reports that the event held in hybrid form (virtually and in-person) under strict social distancing guidelines to prevent spread of the virus.
Speaking on behalf of the African group in the UN, the Permanent Representative of Egypt, Amb. Mohamed Edrees, said Muhammad-Bande made the continent proud.
Edrees said with his quality leadership, the Nigerian envoy justified the confidence reposed in him by the African group, which nominated him for the post.
Italy’s ambassador to the UN, Mariangela Zappia, speaking on behalf of the Western European group, described the outgoing PGA as a unifying factor.
Zappia, who also credited Muhammad-Bande’s calm manner and diplomatic skills for the success of the outgoing session, said Africa should be proud for producing a man of such intellect and wisdom.
Responding, the outgoing PGA gave the credit to the ambassadors of member states, the secretariat and staff of the organisation.
He also thanked the Secretary-General and heads of other organs of the UN for their commitment, collaboration and support to the General Assembly during his presidency.
Muhammad-Bande assumed office as the 74th PGA on Sept. 18, 2019 and is the second Nigerian to serve in that capacity after Amb. Joseph Garba, who led the body in 1989.
He will hand over the presidency to Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Amb. Volkan Bozkir, on Tuesday.