UNITED NATIONS—There were some who anticipated that Nigerian Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande would be the president of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
Over the weekend, media outlets reported that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was dispatching a high-level delegation to the U.N. headquarters to act as campaign surrogates on Muhammad-Bande’s behalf.
That may have worked.
Another explanation could be Muhammad-Bande’s career-long service as a diplomat, who once chaired the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and led the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
It could also be his commitment to education as represented by his three degrees in political science: a B.S. from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, an M.A. from Boston University in the United States, and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in Canada.
In any case, when sessions reconvene in September, Muhammad-Bande, will preside over the meetings, summits and next year’s celebrations marking the U.N.’s diamond anniversary.
In his acceptance speech yesterday, Muhammad-Bande highlighted his priorities, which included addressing gender parity, poverty eradication, zero hunger, peace and security, quality education, climate action and reducing the trust deficit among nations.
“The general assembly must play its role and bridge the gap and promote correct action to address all international issues that deserve attention,” Muhammad-Bande said.
The outgoing UNGA president Maria Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador recognized her successor for his outstanding career both as scholar and diplomat and ensured that she and her team would be at his disposal for a smooth transition.
Under-Secretary Bience Gawanas, congratulated Muhammad-Bande and pledged her full support from the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.
It was 55 years ago when Ghanaian diplomat Alex Quaison-Sackey made history as the first black president of the general assembly. Liberian diplomat Angie Brooks was the first black woman to serve in the position when she took office in 1970. And Major General Joseph Nanven Garba, elected in 1989, became the first Nigerian to preside over the UNGA.
Muhammad-Bande’s compatriot, Fatima K. Mohammed, who serves as the African Union Ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that his election is a moment of pride for Nigeria and Africa.
Muhammad-Bande, who follows a rich legacy of several other leaders from the continent who served in the role, said moving forward that he wants to make the United Nations more effective, efficient and accountable to the people it serves.
“We must continue to invest in sustaining peace and conflict prevention, given that organizations try to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,’” said Muhammad-Bande, quoting the preamble to the United Nations.
The president-elect mentioned how the member states have fallen short of the expectations of the U.N.’s founding fathers when it comes to preventing conflict and mass atrocities. “We have to assume collective responsibility to make the world a better, safer and more peaceful one.”