A Nigerian doctor’s first experience at the ATT PrepCom
by Hakeem Ayinde, MD
Up until one year ago, I worked with the Nigeria Police Force as a medical officer, giving care to police, their families and jail inmates. We treated many policemen who were wounded in the line of duty. In many cases, they were wounded by heavy guns and I often wondered how the criminals got those guns. It was frustrating to feel as though I could not do anything about it. Knowing I could add my medical voice and act as an advocate for my patients led me to join IPPNW. Participating in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting was my first experience with IPPNW`s Aiming For Prevention campaign.
My first insight into the activities at the ATT PrepCom meeting was through various emails sent by Maria Valenti, the coordinator for Aiming For Prevention. By the emails, she showed that even as a new member in IPPNW, I could be useful. Our aim, as noted in the emails, was to provide our expertise as physicians and emphasize the role of health professionals as contributors to the ATT and its implementation.
On Sunday, July 10, 2011, we attended a pre-meeting training for NGOs. Regional groups of NGOs had meetings, during which the Committee Chair`s draft paper was discussed. This paper was a result of proceedings from the last PrepCom meeting in February 2011. The IPPNW members met thereafter and we discussed our strategy for the week.
Monday, July 11 was the first day ever I set foot in the United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ). The accreditation process was quite fast, and I was in the Assembly of States meeting in no time. I felt like a fish out of water sitting in such an important meeting. I got more comfortable during the health panel organized by IPPNW that afternoon. I made myself useful by helping invite State delegates and other guests to the event. I was also happy to contribute, alongside Garrett Fitzgerald (development associate with IPPNW) as an informal photographer at the event.
By Tuesday, I had a better understanding of the technical details of the treaty draft, and I was ready to contribute more to the PrepCom meeting on behalf of IPPNW. First, I met with the Nigerian delegation, led by Mr. Richards Adejola, Minister from the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN in New York. The other members were Mr. Syndoph Endoni from the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN based in Geneva, and Mr. Emmanuel Oguntuyi from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This meeting was very informal and it laid the foundation for later discussions on the contents of the treaty draft.
Every day, I sat in on the general assembly meeting and it was interesting to see how States argued and counter-argued, with the momentum seeming to shift in favor of or against the provisions of the draft at various times. There was no boring moment. I was glad that my country, Nigeria, was taking a leading role in advocating for implementation of the Chair`s draft.
IPPNW members met every morning to discuss the action plan for the day, and also at the end of each day to give a summary of our activities. One of my most interesting activities occurred over lunch when I ran into Ms. Margareta Cederfelt, a Swedish Member of Parliament (MP) who was part of the Swedish delegation. We had a series of conversations onward from that day. She was happy to talk about the role of IPPNW and welcomed possible collaboration in the future.
However, the week wasn’t all about the meetings and deliberations, as Cathey Falvo, M.D. hosted IPPNW members to a wonderful dinner on Wednesday. It was an alternative arrangement, as we’d planned to dine out at a concert in Madison Square Park but had to cancel due to rain.
The PrepCom experience was a unique one for me, and I was awed by the diversity of people at the conference. I also learned a lot about the “scut-work” that goes into bringing a UN Treaty to life. One Nigerian diplomat told me: “Diplomacy is the art of diving into the water without creating a splash, and getting out without getting wet.”
I would like to thank Maria Valenti for giving me the opportunity to serve on the IPPNW team and Shannon Gearhart, M.D. for recommending me. My gratitude also goes to Omolade Oladejo, M.D. who first told me about IPPNW. I enjoyed meeting interesting personalities like Donald Mellman, M.D., and the ever-jovial Robert Mtonga, M.D.