Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the conditions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of Boko Haram insurgency, as pathetic.
The president, who put the population of displaced children at over one million, solicited the assistance of United Nations and the international community to reverse the devastation wrought by insurgency.
“The condition of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country is pathetic. We have at least a million children who neither know their parents nor where they come from,” he said when he had audience with the visiting president of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Ms Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, at State House, Abuja, yesterday.
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari said damage to infrastructure, particularly in the North-east, has been horrendous: “Bridges have been blown up, schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, and other buildings have been destroyed. All these will be rehabilitated, and every form of international help is welcome.”
On the recharge of Lake Chad through inter-basin water transfer from Congo River, President Buhari said climate change was real to the region, noting that no fewer than 30 million people are negatively affected by the shrinking lake, with at least half of them being Nigerians.
He stressed the role the international community needed to play in the endeavour, since recharging the lake was beyond the financial power of the affected countries.
The UNGA president commended Nigeria for being a key part of the United Nations system, saying the country was well respected in the global body.
“Nigeria is a major troops’ contributor to peace keeping operations and a major part of the human rights architecture,” Garces said.
She lauded Buhari’s leadership of ECOWAS and the Lake Chad Basin Commission, and pledged to call the attention of the international community to the “hurting effects” of the Lake Chad problem, and other issues raised by the Nigerian leader.
Garces also lauded Nigeria for rehabilitating the UN building in Abuja, which was destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents during an attack in August, 2011.
Speaking when he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, Garcés promised that the UN would intensify developmental efforts in the West African region.
She described the shrinking of the Lake Chad as one of the major climate change disasters on the continent of Africa.
She said the Lake Chad is so important that it is connected with the livelihood of 30 million people.
“It is a huge thing. And as a geographer, I can tell you. When I look at the maps of Lake Chad, and to look that in less than 40 years, this lake went from twenty-four thousand something square kilometres to two thousand, this is one of the major climate change disasters in this continent.
“It is like you can touch what climate change does to people, how much it destroys livelihoods, how much it can have security implications, food security implications, development implications.
“So, that is a very touching example of how we need to tackle development and security together.”
She said it was important to look at the challenges in the Lake Chad areas as multi-dimensional and from a holistic approach.
“And these are not only fancy words. What I mean here is that the security efforts, this Joint Task Force work, together with the support with the UN, has to be accompanied by a very strong affirmative action in terms of development, in terms of inclusion, looking at the excellent initiatives of this country to resettle and accommodate the internally displaced people, how to address the refugee crisis, and how to improve the quality of education, access to health services; I think it is a one single package. It is one single package where I think that there is co-responsibility from the International community as well.”
In his remarks, Onyeama called for the support of the UN in recharging the Lake Chad, which he said has created severe challenges for the people, Nigeria and the region.
“We are looking to have the support of the UN and your support in particular, to address this challenge. One of the mechanisms we have identified is to recharge the Lake and it is going to be capital intensive efforts and something in the order of 40 to 50 billion dollars estimated and clearly, we are going to leverage on the international community because this is a huge resources and we look for your support.”
Onyeama noted that Nigeria believed in multilateralism and that the challenge of today could best be addressed through multilateralism.
“As the president of a global institution, the UN has a unique place to help in finding solution to a lot of challenges we face in Africa.
“We will like to congratulate you in promoting a global compact on migration and refugee. It is a topic that we live everyday here in this country.”