A mighty Iroko in the Nigerian health sector has fallen: A tribute to the late Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

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“I shall not mourn you! Not at all. You were a blessing. Your footprints are large but your humanity much larger. First, I shall thank you for all you have done, not only for me but for so many others. Then I shall celebrate you for what is left of my life and work. A global legacy, that’s what you are, were, and will always be.
~ Boluwatife Lola-Dare, friend and co-worker

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, former Minister of Health and former Executive Director of UNFPA, passed away on June 5, at his home in New York. He was 68 years old.

Late Osotimehin at a health facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Photo Courtesy: unfpa.org

His death came as a shock to both the Nigerian and the global health community. He was known during his career as an avid advocate for the rights of women, the youth, and children, and as a person his humility, diplomatic spirit and willingness to dialogue earned him many friends.

“Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin was a true champion of the rights of people and in empowering them, in particular the most vulnerable women, youth and adolescents. He truly believed that investing in their rights was at the center of any successful sustainable development strategy, plans or project. It has been my honor and privilege to learn from him, from his experience and humanity.” ~ Susana Edjang, Member, Addis Ababa Team

His diplomatic nature was aptly expressed in the way he handled criticisms. When he was the Minister of Health, in the early days of Nigeria Health Watch, he reached out to us after we had criticised the absence of credible policy around communicable diseases.  Rather than become defensive, he instead arranged to meet with us to share what his thoughts and plans in the area were.

“Always charming, diplomatic and urbane. I met him first at the AIDS conference in Barcelona when he had just been appointed to head NACA. His appointment had ruffled some feathers but he was warm towards everyone, calling a meeting of all Nigerians at the conference representing different countries. He was astute in building alliances and relationships which probably accounted for his becoming the first Nigerian Minister of Health to go on to a major UN job after his tenure. ~ Dr. Ike Anya, Board of Trustees, Nigeria Health Watch

He became Provost at the University of Ibadan in 1990. In 2004 he was appointed as the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS. Dr. Sani Aliyu, NACA’s current DG, commended  Osotimehin’s efforts as DG.

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.” ~ Dr. Sani Aliyu, DG, NACA

Osotimehin was appointed Minister of Health on 17 December 2008. During his tenure, he united all 36 states to build a national health plan focused on primary health care. In 2009, he pointed out that Nigeria had yet to comply with the Abuja Declaration which stipulated that 15% of each African country’s budget should be devoted to health care. At the time, Nigeria was only spending between 8% and 9%.

Photo courtesy: thecable.ng

He also pointed out that medical institutions were required by law to treat accident and gunshot victims, highlighting the fact that refusal to give treatment could be punished by a jail term. In December, 2009, he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to eliminate poliomyelitis and other childhood killer diseases.

Prof. Isaac Adewole, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, in a press statement released on Monday, said, “We mourn the passage of a complete gentleman, committed physician, astute administrator and lover of women and girls. He promoted reproductive health and rights to the last minute.”

Osotimehin went on to become Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund in November 2010, after his cabinet was dissolved by former President Goodluck Jonathan. He was reappointed in 2014. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement said of Osotimehin, “The world has lost a great champion of health and well-being for all.”

“Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are among the most important, and often sensitive, on the international agenda; Dr. Babatunde’s calm yet ardent efforts helped families get the sexual and reproductive health services they need, and helped the world advance the landmark 1994 Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development. His voice was invaluable over the years, including his time as Nigeria’s Minister of Health, in pressing for family planning, women’s education, children’s health and action on HIV/AIDS as vital ingredients in human progress. – Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

There is a Yoruba adage that goes, “Ajanaku sun bi oke” which means, “Kings don’t die, they sleep like a mountain.” Osotimehin, your legacy will live on in the hearts of all whom you have touched. You made the world a better place. Sleep well.

 

Nigeria Health Watch commiserates with the family and friends of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. May your hearts find rest in the life that he lived.

Discussion8 Comments

  1. This is a big loss to the Nigeria health sector in particular and the entire development world in general. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, we can not forget you in a hurry because you have given us so much to remember. I pray that you find eternal rest in the bosom of the lord.

  2. Prof (Dr) Aderemi Ajibewa

    Professor Babatunde Osotimehin was an astute administrator per excellence, a complete humble gentleman, patriotic Nigerian with organisational ability.

    • Prof (Dr) Aderemi Ajibewa

      I have known Late Professor Babatunde Osotimehin as far back as 1990 when he was appointed Provost at the University of Ibadan, while I was then lecturing at the International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife. Despite our age and background differences, we continue exchanging ideas while he was appointed DG NACA in 2004 and I then recently employed at the ECOWAS Commission. The relationship became more stronger with ECOWAS engagements with UNFPA at the African Union Summit and at the UN General Assembly where we usually have extensive discussions on transformation leadership in the continent etc. A very patriotic Nigerian.

  3. Nigeria is a country of paradoxes. The contribution of Professor Babatunde Osotimehin to humanity was more loudly acknowledged by the world than by his own country – Nigeria. Yet, he was one of Nigeria’s finest Provost of her foremost college of medicine (UCH) , NACA DG when HIV/AIDS was on rampage and one of the brilliant brains that ever headed the Federal Health Ministry. His appointment to UNFPA was only in 2010 and his second four tenure began only in 2014. Nigeria never celebrate her greatest patriots. The UN and the world wept more for him than his Nigeria country. Change must for a fact begin with the Nigeria Government. The people , like Babatunde are continuously doing their best to salvage the image of the Country. Imagine the number of Countries queuing up right now to take over from where Professor Babatunde left, yet the Country that held the position up until Monday June 5, 2017 did not even know what they lost in both the person and the position. What a paradox.

  4. Professor F.A.Durosinmi-Etti

    Professor Babatunde Osotimehin – a worthy friend, colleague and Patriot. We will surely miss you. May your great soul rest in Peace.

  5. Dr. Fatai Wole Bello

    “When beggars die, there are no comet seen, heaven themselves blaze forth the death of princes and princesses”

    Prof. Osotimehin was the Prince of Nigeria and later International health, the platform which he strode like a colossus. I met him as DG NACA in 2008 when I was engaged as the Executive Secretary of CCM Nigeria, the coordinating body in Nigeria for the Global Fund to fight HIV, TB and Malaria. It was therefore compelling to collaborate and synergize our efforts. He was one major pillar of encouragement at those challenging early days when the secretariat of CCM only existed in abstract and Nigeria grants were being canceled. He was readily available to provide both moral and logistic supports to drive the system. The present day CCM Nigeria wouldn’t have existed but for his initial supports. Prof. Osotimehin was truly a phenomenon who took Public Health to a different level.

    And to all the living:
    “The boast of power, the pomp of heraldry, all that wealth and all that beauty ever gave, await alike the inevitable end. The path of glory leads but to the grave”

    Like the flash of lightning, he passeth to his grave leaving all of us in shock. May his gentle soul find peace in the bosom of the merciful Lord.

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