Nigeria was notably missing at a crucial United Nations meeting where countries affected by the Boko Haram crisis sought assistance to deal with millions of displaced people.
At the meeting held on the sidelines of the general assembly, U.N. Aid Chief, Stephen O’Brien, said most of those displaced by the lingering insurgency were from Nigeria.
U.S. and European Union diplomats expressed disappointment that Nigeria did not attend the event chaired by Mr. O’Brien, Reuters news agency reported.
UN diplomats at the event also warned that the aid emergency in Lake Chad Basin risked being forgotten amid other humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.
The UN said some 2.3 million people have been forced from their homes since May 2013, and a quarter of a million of them have fled from Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad and Niger, many walking hundreds of miles.
“Droughts and floods hit the region repeatedly. Malnutrition and disease outbreaks hover at emergency levels. Some 5.5 million people do not have enough to eat,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The emergence of Boko Haram has pushed them over the edge.”
Mr. O’Brien further said U.N. appeals for 2015, to help those displaced people and refugees in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger were all less than half-funded.
While Nigeria was absent at the meeting, other Chad Basin countries made full representations.
Niger Prime Minister, Brigi Rafini, said the region was in the midst of a “genuine disaster.”
“We need massive assistance from the international community,” he said. “It is the population that has shared with these refugees and displaced people the little they have while they themselves are living in extremely vulnerable situations.”
Amid outrage Saturday, the Nigerian presidency said the meeting the Nigerian delegation missed was “not the most important meeting held in New York to address the problem of insecurity, migration and violent extremism in the Lake Chad region and the rest of the world”.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said President Muhammadu Buhari was committed to the rehabilitation and well-being of persons affected by insurgency.
Mr. Shehu said the war against terrorism, improved security across the country and measures to give succour to internally displaced persons were central to discussions Mr. Buhari had with world leaders since his arrival in New York on Thursday.
He said Mr. Buhari held discussions with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the King of Spain, Don Felipe VI and former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
“President Buhari is handling his duty as leader of the Nigerian delegation to this year’s General Assembly with the greatest possible diligence and will certainly not tolerate any tardiness on the part of the delegation in seizing every possible opportunity to advance Nigeria’s interests,” Mr. Shehu stated.
“This notwithstanding, it must be realized that it will be near impossible for any national delegation, no matter its size, to participate in all the meetings that are simultaneously happening in and around the General Assembly in New York.
“The meeting at which Nigeria was reportedly absent was not one of the official events of the United Nations for which President Muhammadu Buhari and his modest delegation are in New York.”
He said Nigeria was represented at an important side event devoted to the North-East summoned by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA on “Building Stability and Resilience in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin Countries.”
According to him, Mr. Buhari is fully conscious of his responsibility and would accept nothing short of the best for Nigerians in the meetings taking place in and around the United Nations.
“Anyone trying to create an impression of dereliction of duty, based on the Nigerian delegation’s absence at an unofficial meeting, is only being mischievous and uncharitable,” Mr. Shehu stated.