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Africa

Nigeria's Amina Mohammed - UN's most powerful woman

Nigeria's environment minister Amina Mohammed is to be the deputy of the UN's chief diplomat. Strongly committed to development, she has a track record in bridging the divide between rich and poor nations.

Nigerian environment minister Amina Mohammed brings a wealth of development experience to her new role as Deputy Secretary-General at the United Nations, where she will serve under António Guterres, the incoming Secretary-General.

55-year-old Mohammed is no stranger to the UN. She worked alongside the incumbent Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a special advisor in efforts to persuade the international community to wipe out poverty and tackle climate change, while also serving three Nigerian administrations in the development field.

In her new job, Mohammed, a mother of six, will assist the Secretary-General in managing operations at the Secretariat, representing him at conferences and official functions. The Secretary-General plays a unique and critical role in international relations. In her role as deputy, Mohammed will carry out these duties and undertake  the essential task of engaging with and mediating between conflicting parties. "She is a global public servant now, responsible for the entire world. That is an image booster for Nigeria", said Femi Adesina, special advisor on media and publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari. "I am sure the president found it difficult to let her go, but it is an honor for us."

Advisor on development goals

Guterres has made achieving gender parity at the world body a priority of his tenure, which begins January 1. Women currently fill less than one in four leadership positions at the United Nations. Amina Mohammed was widely tipped to become UN deputy secretary-general after she led successful negotiations on the sustainable development goals - 17 targets which were agreed by the United Nations and which are to be met by 2030. She will succeed Jan Eliasson of Sweden.

UN Generalversammlung - Antonio Guterres, Vereidigung als Generalsekretär in New York (Reuters/L. Jackson)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) with his successor Antonio Guterres

Amina Mohammed was born in Nigeria's Kaduna State. She is of Gombe descent with a British mother and a Nigerian father. In 2006,  she received the National Honors Award of Order of the Federal Republic, one of two orders of merit established by the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1963. She was inducted in the Nigerian Women's Hall of Fame in 2007. Her decades of development work have earned her respect.

Between 2000 and 2014, she worked with three Nigerian presidents - Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan - as advisor on implementing the Millenium Developement Goals (MDGs), a series of targets for member states which included eradicating extreme poverty, increasing access to education and improving gender equality.

Niger Delta amnesty

Her mandate included designing a Virtual Poverty Fund (VPF) with innovative approaches to poverty reduction, budget coordination and monitoring as well as providing advice on  poverty, public sector reform and sustainable development.

She was also involved in the 2009 amnesty for Niger Delta oil militants in which President Yar'Adua offered an unconditional pardon, cash payments and rehabilitation to rebels who agreed to surrender their arms.

According to Deputy Minister of Environment Ibrahim Usman Jibril her work under the past three presidents has touched all 774 local governments of the country through the MDGs. "It is no surprise that she left five years ago to work with Ban Ki-moon." While serving on Post-2015 Development Planning to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mohammed helped to "bridge the divide” between developing and developed nations on the goals, with all member states eventually agreeing to the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Pictogramme der sustainable development goals (UN)

SDGs include implementation of the Paris climate agreement, the advancement of just and equal societies, sustainable development and the eradication of extreme poverty

Last year, Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari brought her back and that is when Jibril started working with Amina Mohammed as minister of environment. "She has the passion for the job", he told DW. "She is hard working, has a sense of discipline. She is open minded and a good team leader who carries everybody along with her." It was an excellent selection, said Jibril about her appointment as deputy secretary-general at the UN. "Her personality alone is enough to make a difference."

'Speak strongly about Nigeria'

Buhari tweeted positively about her choice for the new UN job and endorses her appointment whole-heartedly: "I have no doubt that in her new assignment she will continue to make us proud." Mohammed has already said that she will continue to work for the rights of the poor, especially women and the youth, ensuring that no one is left behind. "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," she said. She strongly believes in the need to have in place strong institutions in order to safeguard the rights of the citizens.

To let her go - that is a sacrifice Nigeria had to make, said Jibril. "The President wanted to give the best we have to the world. She will be useful to the entire global community and add more value by bringing her experience to it, he said about her influence in her position at the UN Secretariat. "We believe she will be in a better position to speak strongly about Nigeria and other development nations on climate change - she has seen the challenges and can now voice the problems even better to the relevant people in her new position.

Hopes are running high in the Nigerian government: "At the end of the day we will even be able to solve the crisis we have in northeastern Nigeria", said Jibril. The conflict in Nigeria's northeast provoked by Boko Haram, has resulted in widespread displacement, violations of international humanitarian and human rights and a growing humanitarian crisis over the past eight years. Long-standing environmental degradation contributes to eroding livelihoods for farmers and fishermen in the region.

 

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