Edward Kallon, the outgoing UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, is moving on after five years in the past. In this blog, Mr. Kallon reflects on the many challenges facing Africa’s most populous nation, the impact the UN has made on his watch, and the prospects for a prosperous, sustainable future.
“When I arrived in 2016, I set out to go beyond the traditional engagements with governments, the diplomatic and business communities, and engage and interact with the people, and their diverse cultures and traditions. It has been an incredible journey, with milestones and legacies to build on.
In the last five years, as I applied myself to realizing this vision for the UN, I have enjoyed tremendous support and goodwill from the government and people at the federal, state, and local government levels. For this, I remain forever grateful, as this would not have been possible without their continuous support and guidance.
Nigeria: an opportunity and a risk to the African region
Nigeria, being the most populous country in Africa and the fastest growing economy in the region, provides great opportunities for economic growth and development, not only in the country but in the entire African region.
On the flip side, these opportunities also come with challenges. Nigeria is at a crossroads, with multiple, complex challenges which have implications for peace, development, and stability across the continent and beyond.
Consequently, Nigeria represents both an opportunity and a risk to the region at large and must address five critical risk factors to ensure peace, security and stability in the country: social cohesion, equality and non-discrimination; internal security; economic stability; justice and rule of law; and displacement and migration.
Nigeria is facing a number of megatrends, including multidimensional poverty; governance and human rights deficits; climate change; sluggish economic growth at a time of high population growth; the limited involvement of women in civil society and politics; youth unemployment; and pockets of conflict, banditry, criminality and terrorism driven by ethno-religious differences, and a rise in hate speech.
Farmer-herder conflicts have become part of broader tensions between various actors, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons continues to threaten national security, and Nigeria accounts for 70 per cent of the approximately 500 million illegal arms believed to be circulating in West Africa.
The United Nations response
The UN’s partnership with the Government of Nigeria has been fruitful over the years and I leave with singular pride in the success we have had in raising international awareness of the impact of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram on innocent civilians, and joint efforts to bring hope to people affected by the insurgency.
Together, we averted a famine in 2017, tackled cholera outbreaks, alleviated human suffering by providing humanitarian assistance to over five million people in north-east Nigeria every year, mobilized over $3.2 billion for the humanitarian response in north-east
Nigeria from 2017 to date, and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact the Boko Haram insurgency has had on millions of people. Through the Nigeria One-UN Basket Fund, which raised $73.3 million for the pandemic response, the UN procured around 40 per cent of Nigeria’s COVID-19 medical supplies.
The 41 million Nigerians aged between 18 and 29 constitute some 40 per cent of the country’s population, and close to 20 per cent of all the young people in Africa.
To unlock this demographic dividend, Nigeria must empower its youth to play constructive, unifying and innovative roles, and fully include them in the country’s development process. The youth must have equal access to economic opportunities and decent livelihoods. They are the present and future of Nigeria, and there is a need to make them the nation’s strength in achieving sustainable development.
I am glad that the United Nations is supporting the government’s efforts through many interventions – including Generation Unlimited, a new public-private-youth partnership platform that will equip 20 million young Nigerians with skills and opportunities for economic empowerment and social impact – and the Nigeria Jubilee Fellows Programme (NJFP), a youth empowerment partnership initiative between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), that seeks to connect 20,000 talented graduates with local job opportunities.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In the midst of these challenges, I see light at the end of the tunnel, with the surrendering of Boko Haram fighters, which is a moment and opportunity we must support; the development of a compact to enhance partnership and political buy-in with the Government; the scaling up of the activities of the North East Development Commission; and the scaling up of stabilization activities.
Nigeria must continue on a growth trajectory, which must be accelerated with major investments in social capital. The ongoing counter-insurgency effort of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) must be complemented with dialogue and a peace building process.
There are so many prospects, if Nigeria continues working on opportunities such as the promotion and implementation of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, by prioritizing prevention always, development where feasible and humanitarian assistance when needed.
Nigeria must continue tapping into regional efforts, initiated by the United Nations and other stakeholders, to address the root causes of insecurity; as well as strengthening public-private partnerships, private sector engagement, and north-south and south-south cooperation and impact investment.
Passion, humility and patience
As I complete my five-year tenure in Nigeria, it has been a complex, challenging and interesting period in the service of humanity in the country at large, which I accomplished with passion, humility and patience.
Going forward, I want to encourage the Government of Nigeria to pursue a whole of government and whole of society approach, as a pathway to surmounting the recurrent security challenges the country is currently facing.
2030 is around the corner, so is imperative to accelerate investment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and build a sustainable future that benefits all Nigerians.
UN Resident Coordinator
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