The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (UNOCHA), has told PREMIUM TIMES that Nigeria was officially informed and properly invited to a high-level event in New York where the Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin was discussed.
This is contrary to the claims by the Nigerian presidency that the country was neither informed nor invited to the meeting where Nigeria’s neighbours and key humanitarian agencies brainstormed on how to tackle the refugee crisis caused by the conflict.
The event was organised by UN Under-Secretary-General, Stephen O’Brien, but Nigeria, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, was absent.
Reuters news agency reported last week that U.S. and European Union diplomats were disappointed that Nigeria was not represented at the meeting.
The news of the absence of the Nigerian delegation at the meeting attracted condemnation back home with many blaming it on the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint ministers.
They argued that a competent minister of foreign affairs would have ensured that the country was represented at the meeting where such an important issue was discussed.
In an email to PREMIUM TIMES, on Sunday, backed up with a list of events the President’s delegation was invited to participate, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, insisted the presidency did not get an invite to attend the meeting.
“There is no record of any invitation to the Nigerian Mission as confirmed by the Permanent Representative, Prof Joy Ogwu,” he said.
But a spokesperson for UNOCHA, Jens Laerke, who is based in Geneva, told PREMIUM TIMES over the telephone that not only was the office of the Permanent Representative of the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations officially informed and invited for the event, an invite was in fact sent to the office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, prior to the departure of the Nigerian delegation to the UNGA.
“I’m almost 100 per cent sure that Nigeria was invited. One of the reasons was that I read the original speech by O’Brien in which he acknowledged the presence of the Nigerian government,” he said.
Mr Laerke, however, asked to be allowed to double-check with his colleague in New York, who was in charge of inviting participants for the meeting. He called back four hours later after checking with his organisation’s New York office.
“I’ve just been in contact with my colleague in New York and we can assure you that the government of Nigeria was invited to the event and my colleagues in New York did what they could to ensure that they were provided with the invitation,” he said.
When asked which organ of the Nigerian government the invite was sent to, Mr Laerke responded: “Actually, the government was invited both by direct communication to the Vice President and then subsequently through the permanent representation in New York.
“My colleague told me he actually went there personally to hand over the invitation to make sure they receive the invitation. We really made an effort to make sure the government was aware of the invitation because we really want them to come.”
When asked to for documentary evidence that the Nigerian mission was actually informed, and indeed received and acknowledged the invitation, Mr Laerke demanded an official letter before that could be made available.
PREMIUM TIMES did exactly as he requested.
In an email to this newspaper on Tuesday, Mr Laerke said the New York office of UNOCHA was yet to revert to him.
“I have not obtained any reply regarding your request for access to written documentation. In the meantime, however, I have double checked the matter and I can assure you that Nigeria was invited to the event. We don’t know why they didn’t come.
“You may want to raise this with the Permanent Mission of Nigeria at the UN in New York.
Allow me to add that the Nigerian Government is a valued partner of the UN and UNOCHA,” he wrote.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Nigeria’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations but its spokesperson, Tope Elias-Fatile, declined to provide categorical answer when asked if the Mission received an invite for the Boko Haram event.
This newspaper sent Mr. Elias-Fatile an email on Monday asking him five questions, including two dealing with Nigeria’s invitation to and representation at the Boko Haram event.
Other questions dealt with President Buhari’s attendance at the session where Pope Francis addressed the UN.
But in his response, the spokesperson gave a blanket answer which did not categorically answer any of the questions.
He merely said, “Only one answer with brief explanation will suffice to all the questions:
“Mr. President arrived promptly to all events in which he was scheduled to attend, including Pope Francis’ address to the United Nations.
“Specifically, Mr. President arrived promptly at the General Assembly well ahead of Pope’s address and he listened to the address. You can verify this by any video coverage of the event.”
Efforts to seek clarification from Permanent Representative Joy Ogwu by telephone was unsuccessful.
Since Saturday, multiple calls to the Mission’s telephone numbers were answered by an automated voice prompt that kept linking the calls to what appeared a dead extension.
A separate email to the official address of the permanent mission, sent Saturday, has also not been replied.
When contacted on the insistence by the UN that Nigeria was invited to the event, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said, “Ask them to give you evidence that the invitation was delivered, and the name of the staff who received it. Prof. Joy Ogwu said there was no invitation. We need evidence before anyone can say what she said is inaccurate.”
Laolu Akande, the spokesperson for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whose office UNOCHA said it also informed of the event, could not be reached to comment for this story. His telephone was switched off the several times PREMIUM TIMES called.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...