Photograph — Vanguard Newspapers

On Thursday, December 15, 2015, Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s environment minister, was announced as the new Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. The announcement was made by the spokesman of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “I am pleased to announce that I will be appointing Ms Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria as my Deputy Secretary-General and Ms Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil as my Chef De Cabinet.

President Buhari has described Amina Mohammed’s appointment as a “great honour to Nigeria” and he thanked her for her untiring contribution to transforming Nigeria. He said he looked forward to a sustained collaboration between the UN and Nigeria. “It is expected that the Minister of Environment will be transitioning to her new role in March 2017,” a statement by the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said.

Mohammed served as UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Post-2015 Development Planning. She was instrumental in establishing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals. She is an Adjunct Professor in Development Practice at Columbia University, and serves on numerous international advisory boards and panels, including the UN Secretary-General’s high-level panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda. She is also the UN Secretary-General’s Global Sustainability Panel, the African Women’s Millennium Initiative, Girl Effect and the ActionAid International Right to Education Project.

Amina Mohammed worked as special adviser to the Late Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan on Millennium Development Goals for six years. In this position, she was in charge of designing and developing government projects to reduce poverty in the country then in November 2015, President Buhari appointed her as the Minister of the Environment.

In a statement delivered by Amina Mohammed on her Appointment as UN Deputy Secretary-General, “As directed by Mr President, I will continue in the meantime to lay strong foundations with various important ongoing initiatives critical to the government’s success in the Environment sector. These include our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement, the successful launch of the first sovereign Green Bond in 2017 and the Ogoniland clean-up and development of the Great Green Wall. The next phase of my continued service to the people of Nigeria at the global level will certainly build on the rich insights and lessons drawn from engaging with leaders, colleagues and stakeholders across our beloved nation.”

The cleanup of Ogoniland is an initiative spearheaded by Mohammed to clean up the oil spillage in the Niger Delta region caused by the growing level of oil spill incidents caused majorly by illegal bunkering, artificial refining, oil theft and armed militancy. The devastating impacts of oil spills on the environment, health and livelihoods of our rural and urban communities have led to land degradation, loss of lives, destruction of habitats, loss of biodiversity, incidents of diseases, poor sanitation as well as the depletion of the national revenue base. The President indicated his support for the cleanup and said it would take about 30 years for the project to be completed. But the pace of the implementation of United Nations Environmental Report (UNEP) report on the cleanup has been slow, due to some hiccups the project has experienced.

In December 2015, 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal at the Paris climate conference (COP21). The agreement laid out a global plan on actions the world would adopt to combat climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. Nigeria officially signed the agreement in September 2016 during the 71stUnited Nations General Assembly. President Muhammadu Buhari’s gave a speech during the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP-22) in Marrakech, Morocco. In his speech, he presented the plans of the government towards tackling climate change in Nigeria. Mohammed also stated that after Nigeria signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the ministry of Environment embarked on nationwide tour to assess the gravity of environmental challenges and interact with the concerned communities. What has been done regarding the Paris climate change agreement after her one year in office is just an evaluation of the ecological challenges facing Nigeria.

The UN Security Council resolution (S/RES/1325) on women, peace and security, adopted in October 2000, is taken to be a benchmark. It reaffirms the important role of women and urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations system. But despite the highly qualified seven women candidates in the UN Secretary General selection process in 2016, to succeed Ban Ki-moon at the leading UN position, neither obtained full backing of the UN Security Council. The paltry number of women among UN permanent representatives and in the United Nations administration is due mainly to a high degree of insensitivity to women’s equality of participation at all decision-making levels. Because there are only about 35 women Permanent Representatives to the UN – from among 193 Member States.

The office of the Deputy Secretary-General was created to manage the many of the administrative responsibilities of the Secretary-General, run the Secretariat operations and ensure coherence of programmes and activities but it is hoped that as the major woman player at the UN system, she will not just represent the Secretary General but half of the world’s population, which are women. As the second African woman to assume this position, how will this impact Africa?

There is an urgent need to combat climate change, reverse environmental degradation, which is costing the continent up to $68 billion annually, fight desertification and stop biodiversity loss. The money lost by the continent annually as a result of depleted soils and degraded land could be ploughed back into African economies to drive the transformation desperately needed.

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