By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah, Winifred Ogbebo and DOYIN OJOSIPE, Abuja
A cerebral physician and Nigeria’s former minister of health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin is dead. He died at the age of 68, as the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The late Osotimehin, a renowned gender and youth health advocate, died in New York. He had a distinguished career as medical doctor and teacher before he served as a cabinet minister in Nigeria, and later at the UN.
He had served variously as the director-general, Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), and project manager for the World-Bank assisted HIV/AIDS programme development project before assuming office as the head of UNFPA.
The report of his demise threw most Nigerians into mourning as most expressed shock at the sudden occurrence.
Distraught Nigerians have continued to offer their condolence.
In his condolence message, the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo who expressed shock, said he was profoundly saddened.
A statement by his spokesman, Laolu Akande said the Acting President extend his condolences to the family of the late minister.
“On behalf of the people and Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Prof. Osinbajo extends heartfelt condolences to his wife, children and entire family over the passage of their beloved father, grandfather and also an illustrious Nigerian”, Akande stated.
He said the acting president also commiserated with the staff of the UNFPA and the entire United Nations system “on the demise of a very remarkable international public servant, who served passionately, diligently and worked tirelessly at the global and national stages to reduce maternal mortality and promote universal access to reproductive health.
“The late Osotimehin, who also had a distinguished career as medical doctor and teacher before he served as a cabinet minister in Nigeria, and later at the UN, will be long remembered for his many significant developmental contributions at home and in the international community, according to Acting President Osinbajo”.
The presidential aide added that, while Osotimehin is being mourned internationally, Osinbajo urged the Osotimehin family, friends and associates to take solace in the fact that “his notable service and worthy contributions especially towards improving women and children’s health across the world are widely acclaimed, deeply appreciated, and would be long remembered and honoured”.
Meanwhile, the federal government also expressed shock over the sudden demise of the late Osotimehin.
A press release by the Ministry of Health noted that Osotimehin was an accomplished physician, former Provost, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and former Director General of the National Agency for Control of Aids (NACA).
“The late Osotimehin will be remembered for his role and global contributions to increased access to Family Planning as well as Sexual and Adolescent Health especially in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs)”, the statement made available to LEADERSHIP noted.
The minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, said though Osotimehin lived a vibrant and fulfilled life, it cannot be over emphasized that Nigeria has lost a rare gem.
His words: “Professor Osotimehin whom I fondly called the ‘Big Boss’ during his lifetime will definitely be missed for his dedication, humility, mentorship and patriotism.
“While in office as the honorable minister, Prof. Osotimehin was at the forefront of the advocacy for improved reproductive health care in the country”.
NACA Mourns Osotimehin
Also, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) has expressed sadness over the death of its former director general, Prof Babatunde Osotimehin, who passed away in the early hours of yesterday.
Osotimehin was the first director general of NACA until 2009.
A statement signed by the director general of NACA, Dr Sani Aliyu, to this effect noted: “NACA is saddened by the death of a distinguished scholar, researcher and former director general of the agency, Prof Babatunde Osotimehin, who passed away early this morning in New York.
“During his period as DG NACA, he successfully transformed the organisation from a committee to a federal government agency,. He will be fondly remembered for his outstanding contributions to the HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria.
“As we mourn this huge loss to Nigeria, the management and staff of NACA and the entire HIV/AIDS advocates join the family in mourning a departed icon in the country.”
Meanwhile, Wife of the Senate President, Mrs Toyin Saraki has expressed sadness over the passing away of the executive director of UNFPA, Prof Babatunde Osotimehin.
She said, the late prof would always be remembered for all he did for Nigeria and humanity.
Mrs Saraki said, “In all the time since I have known Professor Babatunde, right from his time leading NACA, then as a health minister, and up until his term at UNFPA, I have always found him to be an indefatigably diplomatic and committed ally in our mutual goal of improving the conditions and outcomes of pregnant mothers, their newborns, children, adolescents, and their communities.
“This is indeed a shocking loss, and our hearts and prayers go out to the Osotimehin family, and the development family that is UNFPA. I offer my sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues”.
Osotimehin’s Life In Brief
Babatunde Osotimehin was a global leader of public health, women’s empowerment and young people, particularly focused on promoting human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as population and development. After his appointment as UNFPA Executive Director, effective 2011, he spearheaded efforts by the international community to advance the milestone consensus of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994.
Upon moving into his second term in 2015, Mr. Osotimehin introduced new reforms that increased the effectiveness and efficiency of UNFPA and outlined a more robust vision for improving the lives of women, adolescents and youth around the world. His leadership and advocacy with governments and other key stakeholders continued to focus on youth and voluntary family planning. He also, until his death, steered UNFPA’s humanitarian action and efforts around eliminating gender-based violence and other harmful practices.
Mr. Osotimehin’s professional background was in health and medicine. He had extensive knowledge of the global and national frameworks and processes that were critical to UNFPA’s work. He previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Health and as the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of HIV and AIDS, which coordinates all HIV/AIDS work in Nigeria.
The UNFPA Executive Director served in various advisory boards and councils. Mr. Osotimehin chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Demographic Dividend. He was also a Global Agenda Trustee for the Forum’s Global Challenge on Economic Growth and Social Inclusion, and co-chairs the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group.
Mr. Osotimehin completed his medical studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1972 and received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1979. He was named Professor at the University of Ibadan in 1980 and headed the Department of Clinical Pathology before being elected Provost of the College of Medicine in 1990. He served as chair and member of several academic and health organisations, including as Chair of the National Action Committee on AIDS, between 2002 and 2007.
Mr. Osotimehin received the Nigerian national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger, in December 2005.
He was married and had five children.