By Akpandem James, Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Budget and National Planning.
The Federal Government has welcomed the Sahel Initiative by the United Nations aimed at tackling development challenges of countries in the Sahel Region of Africa, noting that security challenges ravaging the region have taken much of the resources that would have been channeled to development programmes.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, while receiving the Special Adviser in the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nation in charge of the Sahel Region, Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, in Abuja, said Government considers the UN Sahel project a very important initiative.
He said it was gratifying to note that the United Nations is giving serious attention to the development of the Sahel and pledged Nigerian’s willingness to work alongside the other nine countries in the region to address the challenges of developing the region.
Senator Udoma told the UN team that the more attention Nigeria and other afflicted countries in the region have from international bodies to resolve security challenges, the faster these countries can mobilize funds to deal with other issues challenging the rapid development of the area.
The UN Special Adviser had told the Minister that the UN is particularly interested in what is happening in the Sahel Region, especially countries around the Lake Chad, and is concerned that the security challenges in the area are impeding economic development and increasing humanitarian challenges.
Worried by this state of affairs, Mr Thiaw said the Secretary General specifically requested the setting up of a special programme to deal with the challenges of the region; pointing out that although the UN and the African Union (AU) have routinely mobilised funds to tackle some of the challenges in the region, much of the funds go into security interventions rather than development programmes.
Pointing out that there are lots of potentials in the region, the UN special envoy said it was time the narrative in the region changed from the Land of Conflicts to the Land of Opportunities, “because there is a huge window of opportunities that exist in the Sahel.”
He stated that though arid in nature, the Sahel region holds a large body of water that could make it one of the largest fishing grounds in the world. “The potentials are there in the Sahel and there is a possibility that the largest fishing grounds could be found in the Sahel”, he emphasized.
Explaining the import of the initiative, Mr Thiaw said it is to scale up efforts to accelerate shared prosperity and lasting peace in the region, pointing out that the support plan which covers between 2018 and 2030 will help implement identified priorities to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063.
According to him, the support plan aims to improve coordination and strengthen collaboration with all partners in the region, including national and regional institutions, bilateral and multilateral organizations, the private sector and civil society organizations, to work towards operationalising and implementing the Security Council resolutions on the Sahel.
The Support Plan is build around six priority areas namely;
1. Cross-border cooperation
2. Prevention and sustaining peace
3. Inclusive growth
4. Climate action
5. Renewable energy
6. Women and youth empowerment
Mr Thiaw said two of the national programmes already development by the Initiative is focused on Agriculture and Energy, especially Wind and Solar energy, a proposal of which he said would be presented at the IMF/World bank Meetings slated for October in Bali, Indonesia,; the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, early next year and the European Economic Council, among others, for assistance consideration.
He invited Nigeria to be one of the co-Chairs on a special session on the Sahel, which will be one of the major side events at the IMF/WB Meetings, due to hold in the second week of October in Bali, Indonesia.
The countries covered by the Initiative are: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.