Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has thanked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his visit to the country, saying that he is grateful the West African nation hasn’t been forgotten amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Guterres, who is visiting Nigeria for the first time as secretary-general, said he had traveled to Nigeria “to express his solidarity with victims of terrorism,” according to a statement from his office.
Buhari received Guterres at the Presidential Villa in the capital Abuja Wednesday, where he expressed gratitude for the UN’s support for the country’s fight against terrorism.
The Nigerian leader had been concerned that the war in Ukraine could distract the world’s attention to the war against terror, but said Guterres’ visit showed that “the world has not forgotten us,” according to a statement released Wednesday by Buhari’s special adviser Femi Adesina.
Nigeria is grappling with the decades-long battle against Islamist groups that have left thousands dead and millions displaced in the country’s northern region. Boko Haram fighters and its affiliates continue to carry out brutal attacks across swaths of the region in their quest for control.
Sambisa, a vast forest reserve in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, has served as a hideout and stronghold for Boko Haram operatives, whose notorious activities have caused the deaths of more than 37,000 people and displaced more than 2 million since 2011, according to data from the Council on Foreign Relations.
“When we assumed office, the North-East was the major security problem we inherited in 2015, but we have been able to make people understand that you cannot kill people and shout ‘Allahu Akbar,'” Buhari said according to Wednesday’s statement, referring to the Arabic phrase often translated as “God is greater.”
“It is either you don’t know what you are saying or you are simply stupid. God is a God of justice, so you cannot kill people and say God is great. Luckily the people understood our message and it has made a great impact,” he added.
On Tuesday, Guterres visited Borno state.
During a visit to a UN-backed reintegration center for former insurgent fighters, the UN chief said he was pleased with the willingness of surrendering terrorists to be reintegrated into society.
“I was amazed to see today, in the center, that those that have been terrorists want to integrate in and contribute to society. The policy that is in place here is a policy of reconciliation and reintegration,” he said at the center.
According to the Borno state government, more than 35,000 insurgents and their commanders have surrendered to authorities.
Guterres also spoke about his interactions with displaced persons in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), I visited Maiduguri where the United Nations is supporting the internally displaced. I was deeply moved by their stories and struggles. These include the struggles with hunger, with the World Food Programme projecting 4.1 million people in the North East of Nigeria to be food insecure in the upcoming lean season,” he said.
“But despite all they have seen and endured, the people I met remain hopeful and committed to returning to their communities and resuming their lives.”
The UN had proposed more funding for Nigeria’s humanitarian response, Guterres said.
The visit comes nearly 11 years after the bombing of a UN building in the Nigerian capital, which claimed the lives of 23 people, including UN staff, and injured more than 60.
Prior to traveling to Nigeria, Guterres visited Senegal and Niger.
In Niger, the UN boss called for more funding to aid the fight against terror in Africa’s Sahel region, where terror attacks are on the rise.
During his visit to Senegal, Guterres highlighted the impact of the war in Ukraine on the economies of developing countries.