The eleventh and second female Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay made an official visit to Nigeria for the first time from September 11-13, 2021, on the invitation of the Nigerian Government to be part of the 33rd session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB-ICC). This was a much-anticipated visit as it was the first time Nigeria and the African Continent hosted the MAB-ICC, which was delayed previously due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Oban Reserve in Cross River state, which was adopted as a Biosphere Reserve in 2020, played host to the Director-General on September 12, when she visited in the company of the Cross River Commissioner of Environment, Honorable Mfon Bassey who welcomed her on behalf of the Cross River State Governor.
At the opening ceremony of the 33rd session of the MAB-ICC on September 13, 2021, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms. Audrey Azoulay, expressed optimism that there was still time to make peace with the planet.
“The erosion of biodiversity is no longer a hypothesis, but a fact – one that can already be seen and felt in our everyday lives. Biodiversity is collapsing, at an unprecedented speed. But this collapse is not inevitable: there is still time to make peace with the planet” she said. She called on all stakeholders to harness the power of education to rebuild our relationship with nature – and stated that UNESCO is fully mobilized to ensure that the environment becomes a key curriculum component by 2025, in line with the commitment made by the 80 governments UNESCO gathered at the Berlin conference …
In declaring the 33rd session of the MAB-ICC open, H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari represented by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha reaffirmed that a healthy planet was a pre-requisite for healthy people and which, he noted, was the foundation of a healthy economy.
“Changing our behaviour, respecting the natural habitat, and living in peace and harmony with nature are paramount to a future resilient generation where biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored, and sustainably used while maintaining ecosystem services and delivering essential benefits to the people,” he emphasized.
In attendance at the opening ceremony was the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallon, who called on everyone to rise and take responsibility to restore human-nature safe space by taking responsible steps to conserve biodiversity and restore lost resources.
This, according to him, “brings to mind the current ‘UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’ which aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean and in line with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
A bilateral meeting was held between the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari and Ms. Audrey Azoulay in the company of the Nigerian Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Hajo Sani, the Director and Officer in Charge of the UNESCO Regional Office Abuja, Dimitri Sanga and the Chair of MAB-ICC and Director General Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria, Prof. Adeshola Adepoju during which issues of mutual interest were discussed. The team also paid a courtesy visit to the first lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Aisha Buhari.
The Director-General’s visit ended at the National Center for Women Development in Abuja. The host, Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen noted that Nigerian women are resilient and tough and can be found in all fields of endeavor. She concluded by calling on UNESCO to assist the Nigerian women through political emancipation and education of the girl-child.
Ms. Audrey Azoulay commended the Minister of Women of Affairs for her good work and reminded her that Gender equity and equality were one of UNESCO’s Priority areas: “We must support women’s education, women in science and women development. Adolescent girls are taken out for exploitation and for a different agenda that we do not know about. Women need to help one another” she said.