My experience at the United Nations General Assembly

Pelumi Olugbenga was recently at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In this piece, he shares his experience participating in deliberations at the UN General Assembly.


“If you can dream it, then you can achieve it”. – Walt Disney

A few weeks ago, I applied online to attend the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Peace Sustainability as a Speaker/Youth Representative/Observer.

For you to apply and stand a chance of being selected, you must meet certain requirements such as being a Founder, Manager or Leader of a duly registered social enterprise, civil society or advocacy organization or any other active player in the citizen sector involved in peace building. You will equally be required to upload your up-to-date C.V (résumé) as well as your biography and achievements in the citizen sector. All your submissions in the course of your application will be thoroughly verified by either or both the Office of the President of the United Nations General Assembly and the UN-NGLS.

After exchanging a couple of mails with the organisers about my organisation, I was eventually selected for the programme albeit very close to its commencement. Due to the short notification, I had to deal with certain challenges which initially made my attendance of the programme almost impossible.

As fate would ultimately have it, everything astonishingly worked pretty well – huge thanks to my mentors who guided and supported me. My flight which arrived New York 1am on the 24th of April,2018 (the first day of the programme) was a very nostalgic one as my excitement equally came with the anxiety of being late for the programme due to what is known as jet lag.

Nevertheless, being my third academic/business trip to the United States in less than 8months – jet lag failed to get the better of me.

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The first day of the programme required that you pick up a United Nations pass (already made available for all approved participants) from the UN Plaza before you then proceed to security screening and subsequently to the United Nations General Assembly hall.

The General Assembly hall during a High Level Meeting is usually filled with Presidents from different countries, Diplomats as well as Ambassadors of Permanent Missions to the United Nations and other top United Nations officials.

At the commencement of the High Level Meeting, the Secretary – General of the United Nations – His Excellency, Antonio Guterres addressed the Assembly. The Secretary General underscored the prevention of conflicts as the best way of maintaining peace in the world.

Mr Guterres equally stressed the importance of the joint study carried out by the United Nations and the World Bank Group.

“The Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict” is a joint United Nations–World Bank Group study that originates from the conviction that the international community’s attention must urgently be refocused on prevention.

A scaled-up system for preventive action would save between US$5 billion and $70 billion per year, which could be reinvested in reducing poverty and improving the wellbeing of populations.

The study aims to improve the way in which domestic development processes interact with security, diplomacy, mediation, and other efforts to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. It stresses the importance of grievances related to exclusion—from access to power, natural resources, security and justice, for example—that are at the root of many violent conflicts today.

Based on a review of cases in which prevention has been successful, the study makes recommendations for countries facing emerging risks of violent conflict as well as the international community.

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Development policies and programmes must be a core part of preventive efforts; when risks are high or building up, inclusive solutions through dialogue, adapted macroeconomic policies, institutional reform, and redistributive policies are required.

“Life is too short to be average, to be ordinary or to even settle for less. The greatest of men are those who dream big and work hard to achieve phenomenal feats. The phenomenal is not unattainable as those who achieve it are no higher or lesser humans than others. Success is equally no guesswork and neither does it happens by accident. Rather, it is a product of hunger, hard work, strategy and tested principles. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives. I strongly believe in a relentless pursuit of excellence & greatness. All these make me defy my young age to achieve record breaking feats. If there is anything life has taught me, it is that no dream is too big for anybody. Our level of success in life can only be limited by the fears and limits we create in our minds.” – Pelumi Olugbenga

Inclusion is key, and preventive action needs to adopt a more people-centred approach that includes mainstreaming citizen engagement. Enhancing the participation of women and youth in decision making, as well as long-term policies to address the aspirations of women and young people, are fundamental to sustaining peace.

After the Secretary General addressed the Assembly, the President of the General Assembly – His Excellency, Miroslav Lajcack made his submissions. Mr Miroslav aligned himself with the position of the Secretary General and equally called on member states to focus more on prevention of conflicts. The remarks of the world’s top diplomats were followed by addresses made by Presidents from different countries, Ambassadors of regional bodies such as the European Union, the nonaligned movement, the MIKTA countries amongst others. The very best of diplomacy and international relations were brought to bare.

On the first day of the programme, different countries and regional bodies organised side events in form of dialogue sessions and forums. Of course, being a passionate and patriotic Nigerian, I attended and participated in the side event organised by Nigerian diplomats.

The Nigerian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in conjunction with its Canadian counterpart organised a side event on the first day of the High Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Peace Sustainability at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The meeting was a platform to bring in to the fore : diverse ideas for preventing violent conflict and sustaining peace on road to 2020.

I had the honour to engage with a Nigerian Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations – His Excellency, Ambassador Samson Itegboje. I understood the Nigerian foreign policy much better while equally bringing on board my own ideas and perspectives geared toward nation building as well as the overall development of Nigeria.

The event further accentuated my believe that Nigeria has all it takes to become the greatest nation on earth. I equally participated in the African Regional Dialogue on Indigenous People organised by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In the second and surprisingly third day (the programme was extended by a day) of the High Level Meeting, more countries addressed the Assembly and more eye opening side events were held. I met so many people of Nigerian ancestry at the United Nations who were there as either delegates or staff of the United Nations.

Pelumi with Ambassador Samson Itegboje

Consequently, I must of course appreciate the love shown to me by His Excellency, Ambassador Samson Itegboje, Sister Morenike, Brother Jaji, Dr Gbujie Daniel, and others who made my life changing experience at the United Nations an equally fun and memorable one. I deeply appreciate you all and I’m no doubt convinced that our common hopes and shared dreams will see the light of a fulfilling day.

Above all, sustainable peace in our world is a sine qua non. This explains why we as a people must collectively contribute to the United Nations peace building efforts. Without peace, development cannot take place anywhere and without development, life will be meaningless.

Just as leaders of various countries during the High Level Meeting on Peace Building called for reforms in the United Nations Security Council, there is equally a need for the leadership of the United Nations itself to further improve on its already commendable efforts in the areas of inclusion, democratic governance and engagement.

The young people, very importantly, should also be further keyed into pivotal United Nations projects. This will ensure future continuity and sustainability.

To my dear readers, your biggest battle is with yourself. You face a strong challenge to convince yourself that you can become the very best in the world. I could never have imagined it just two years ago that a university undergraduate student like myself would sit at the United Nations General Assembly listening to world leaders and participating in different events with some of the best brains across the world.

If there is anything I’ve learned so far in life, it is the need to dream big and set great goals. Never settle for less and be willing to work tremendously hard for the best. No one equally owes you anything in life – it is your responsibility to create the future you want for yourself.

Thus, do not feel entitled. As you also move ahead in life, failure and setbacks will seek to dampen your spirit. In the two months leading to my trip to the United Nations General Assembly, I had about four(4) applications for fully funded programs rejected and I was surprisingly denied a visa to attend the 2018 Commonwealth Peoples Forum in London.

As fate would have it, I no doubt planned less for the UNGA program but it worked perfectly well. Hence, your attempt to achieve will sometimes be met by obstacles of greater proportion but never give up.

Keep pushing forward. Fall down 8times, get up 9times – that extra time can make a huge difference. If I had given up a month ago following the rejection of four fully funded applications and refusal of a visa, the United Nations experience would have eluded me. As you move forward in life, respect everybody and be good to all and always remember to NEVER GIVE UP.

Long live to a peaceful and prosperous world!

My best wishes.


Pelumi Olugbenga is a 400 level student of History and International Studies at the Lagos State University (LASU), Nigeria. Pelumi is equally a 2017 Hesselbein Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Pelumi serves as the Country Manager of the Nigerian – American Coalition (an organization based in the United States) as well as the Founder of the Save The Future Project. Pelumi has participated in different global programmes including the 2017 World Bank Group Youth Summit for Technology and Innovation that held in Washington DC. Pelumi is interested in Policy and International Development. He can be reached on pelumiolugbenga@gmail.com

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