|A woman buys dates at the market in the town of Bol on the outskirts of Lake Chad. Photo: OCHA/Pierre Peron|
Contrary to claims by the Nigerian presidency that a meeting at the 70th United Nations General Assembly to discuss the humanitarian crisis posed by the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group was unofficial, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today that the meeting is a “high-level” one convened as one of the most important events of the ongoing United Nations annual summit in New York.
The meeting tagged “High Level Event on the Lake Chad Basin” held Friday at the Conference Room 1 of the United Nations headquarters in New York.
It was convened by Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and held as part of the of the UN Sustainable Development Summit, which opened Friday.
“The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, is an arm of the United Nations secretariat and a meeting organised by it on an issue threatening Nigeria’s existence cannot be described as unofficial,” said a respected Nigerian diplomat who requested not to be named so as not to anger the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The diplomat believes President Buhari should request Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Joy Ogwu, to explain why her office failed to identify the meeting as one of the key ones Nigeria should have attended at the ongoing summit.
“This is definitely a diplomatic blunder,” the diplomat said. “It portrayed us as an unserious country and the President should bring culpable officials to book rather than offer tepid excuses.”
Reuters was first to report the Nigeria’s non attendance at the meeting convened to principally discuss an issue affecting Nigeria the most.
“But while the radical Islamist militants operate out of Nigeria and U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien said that is where most people have been displaced by their attacks, Nigeria did not send anyone to the United Nations event,” Reuters reported. “U.S. and European Union diplomats said they were disappointed that Nigeria did not attend the event chaired by O’Brien on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.”
The Nigerian presidency, in a statement Saturday, however, claimed that “The meeting at which Nigeria was reportedly absent was not one of the official events of the United Nations for which President Muhammadu Buhari and his modest delegation are in New York”.
But contrary to attempts by the government to downplay the importance of the meeting and portray it as low level engagement, organisers and diplomats say the gathering was one of the most important meetings concerning the destructive militancy and terrorism ravaging Nigeria and its neighbours.
Aside top UN and EU officials, as well as heads of international nongovernmental organisations who participated, the meeting was also attended by the Prime Minister of Niger, Brigi Rafini and Chad’s Foreign Minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat.
A brochure of the meeting listed “High level representation from the government of Nigeria” among the panelists expected to speak at the meeting.
Due to its importance, the meeting was also broadcast on official UN online television and radio channels.
At the meeting, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. O’Brien reminded the world to pay attention to the Lake Chad Basin, now an epicentre of “violence and terror” where children as young as six-years old have been used as suicide bombers and the scene of the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa.
“A quarter of a million people have fled across borders,” told the high-level meeting. “Many have walked hundreds of kilometres from Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad and Niger, in the most appalling conditions.”
Mr. O’Brien, appealed to countries in the region to give relief workers access to those in need and also called for urgent financial contributions to the under-funded operations.
“If we disregard the huge scale of humanitarian needs, we could all pay a high price,” he said.
Describing the people in the Lake Chad Basin, which straddles Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, as “some of the poorest and most resilient in the world,” the top UN humanitarian official said “now the region has also become an epicentre of violence and terror.”
“The emergence of Boko Haram has pushed them over the edge,” he said. “Over the past five months, a sharp increase in attacks by Boko Haram has uprooted 500,000 children, bringing the total number of children on the run in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries to over 1.4 million.”
He described the “appalling impact on women and children, who are being abducted, abused, raped, exploited, trafficked, and forced to work as porters and lookouts,” and “children as young as six years old have been used as suicide bombers.”
“With so many other humanitarian crises on the international agenda, we hear relatively little about the horrors taking place in the Lake Chad Basin,” he said. “And yet this is the scene of the fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa, with 2.3 million people forced from their homes since May 2013.”
Mr. O’Brien warned that the future of the region, where business activity is reportedly down by 80 percent, “looks even bleaker, as farmers are unable to tend their fields and trade in some areas is at a standstill.”
UN agencies like the World Food Programme, the UN refugee agency and the UN Children’s Programme (UNICEF) echoed Mr. O’Brien in presenting a grim humanitarian picture of the region and appealing for greater international support to their efforts to reach those in desperate need.
As a fallout of the meeting the Nigerian government dismissed as “unofficial”, the United States announced $6.8 million in funding for regional aid efforts.