78th UNGA: Africa’s Coups, Nigeria’s Vision, And Tinubu’s First Impression By Oluwole Onemola

“Carpe Diem: Seize the day!”

As the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) begins on Tuesday, 19th September, leaders from around the world will gather in New York City for a crucial General Debate. This moment is historic as it signifies the halfway point in the world’s collective pursuit of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were established in 2015 to guide the global development agenda after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

During this assembly, leaders will share their perspectives and lay out their respective priorities for the next year. While much of the discussion will revolve around the progress that has been made towards the attainment of the 2030 SDGs deadline, a sobering concern will loom on the sidelines of the 78th Session – namely, the state of democracy in Africa.

To put this in context, from the coup in Niger Republic in July to another in Gabon in August, to the disputed coup report in the Republic of the Congo just yesterday — two days before the commencement of the General Assembly — since 2020, Central and Western Africa has witnessed a series of military interventions that have led to the subversion of democracy. This is why, undoubtedly, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, African leaders will receive a barrage of questions about the state of democracy on the continent.

As President Bola Ahmed Tinubu prepares to deliver his inaugural address at this global gathering, which is expected to have nearly 150 world leaders from the 193 UN member states in attendance this year, given the turmoil on the continent, Nigeria has a unique opportunity to re-establish our leadership in Africa.

Taking a cue from ‘From Soft Life to Soft Power,’ Chukwudi Ukonne’s article in The Republic on Nigeria’s regional and global influence, if we examine what Nigeria brings to the table in the context of our relationship with the rest of the world, we have a remarkable set of assets that include: the continent’s largest economy, one of Africa’s top four militaries, abundant natural resources, and a history of national political stability since returning to democracy in 1999. These strengths put us in a unique position to present a fresh vision of African leadership.

Furthermore, from the cultural impact of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books; to Davido having a FIFA World Cup single; to Wizkid and Burna Boy winning Grammys; to one of the newer kids on the block, Rema, reaching 1 billion streams on Spotify; all the way to Nollywood becoming the fastest-growing film industry in the world, our creative industry has ignited a cultural renaissance that continues to export our positive national values beyond our borders.

In addition to this, our diaspora population, with their remarkable achievements globally, and our substantial population that has the potential to influence continental trade—especially with the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)—as a nation, we are uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role on the world stage if we can successfully harness and convert our unintentional ‘soft power’ into deliberate ‘smart power’.

To leverage the advantages that we have, both in President Tinubu’s address and on the sidelines of the General Assembly, the Nigerian delegation must push to project our stance as the leading nation on the continent—and thereafter take the necessary steps to forge stronger partnerships across Africa. This approach would go beyond our traditional diplomatic methods and will require a concerted effort—even after the General Assembly—that will constantly reiterate our national interests in the context of the African situation in order to bolster our global influence.

Furthermore, in all our interactions, in addition to the 4D foreign policy vision of this administration, Nigeria should refocus on its long term advocacy for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all African nations and be seen to lead all efforts to create the necessary conditions that are conducive for self-reliance and the rapid economic development of all African countries.

We must also look beyond ECOWAS and begin to reassert our influence in the African Union by pushing for more collaborations with other regional economic communities across Africa with a view to establishing a new formalised framework that will benefit Africa as a whole — with Nigeria as the centerpiece of this strategy. This framework should be developed in response to the situation on the continent; it should include the economic development of the African people, the cultivation of stronger institutions, and the preservation of the ‘spirit of democracy’ as fundamental principles that must be re-adopted by all African nations.

By leading the efforts to re-institutionalise democratic values on the continent, while projecting Nigeria’s leadership to the world and to a continent that is seeking effective governance, prosperity, and democratic resilience, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has the opportunity to chart a new course for Nigeria and Africa.

However, as we project leadership in Africa, we must also work to address any internal political contradictions. This means that while we pursue democracy across the continent, we must take the lead in strengthening our own national institutions to showcase leadership by example.

With the turmoil on the continent, the chaos may just be Nigeria’s ladder to reassert its geopolitical leadership. However, as it is often said, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Therefore, carpe diem! Nigeria must take this inaugural address as our chance to seize the day!

With that being said, I rest my case.

—Oluwole Onemola writes on domestic and foreign policy. His X handle is @Onemola.—

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