By Prudence Arobani
Mr António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), a friend and colleague of the late Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has described the deceased as a giant in the world medical practice.
Erstwhile Provost of College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and Minister of Health, Osotimehin, 68, died on June 4 at his home in West Harrison, New York, and he will be buried on July 21.
The burial arrangements include Day of Tributes by friends and colleagues at Prof. T.O. Ogunlesi Hall, Opposite University College Hospital (UCH) Main Gate, Ibadan, on July 19.
Osotimehin will also be lying-in-state at Trenchard Hall of University of Ibadan on July 20 and later at Prof. T.O. Ogunlesi Hall, Opposite UCH Main Gate, Ibadan, same day.
Before the burial on July 21, there will be a funeral service at All Soul’s Church, Old Bodija, Ibadan.
At the Night of Tribute for him at the UN headquarters in New York earlier, friends and colleagues of the late Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, said that although Osotimehin is dead, his legacy would live on.
Guterres said “Osotimehin was devoted to the cause of women and girls, always insisting that no one would suffer from harmful traditional practices.
“He would ensure that there would be no more female genital mutilation, no more prenatal sex selection, no more child brides and no more maternal deaths.
“Osotimehin will be with us every time we champion the rights of individuals and families of all kinds.
“He will live in our hearts as long as we carry on his fight for justice for a better world for all people.
“Let us honour his memory with the actions he would have wanted us to take; actions for the sake of others and especially women and girls.’’
In his tribute, the President of UN General Assembly Peter Thomson, said Osotimehin impacted positively on the lives of millions of people around the world.
“As a professor, he cultivated the next generation of top-class doctors, as the Minister of Health, he served Nigeria with dedication and as the Executive Director of UNFPA; he was a steadfast champion of the rights of all.
“Every person he knew, he respected. Everyone he did not know, he fought for their rights. Thus was that human being we have just lost.
“Here at the United Nations, we will never forget how fearlessly, how forcefully, and how tirelessly he fought for the dignity of women and girls all around the world,’’ he said.
Similarly, Dr Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director of UNFPA, in her personal tribute, said “our hearts are heavy, but also full as we reflect on the life and legacy of Osotimehin.
“He saw the world’s 1.8 billion young people as its greatest hope for the future; not as a challenge to be solved but a solution and as drivers of innovation, prosperity and peace.
“Today, let us all commit to honouring his legacy by rallying around these goals for humanity. We at UNFPA pledge to continue to carry the torch he has passed to all of us.
“We will continue to stand up for the human rights and dignity of everyone, particularly the most vulnerable adolescent girls, even, and especially, in these challenging times; that is what Osotimehin would have wanted from us,’’ Kanem said.
The U.S. Mission to the UN, in its tribute, also said “we are grateful for Osotimehin’s many years of service and dedication to improving global health whose leadership makes a difference in the lives of so many around the world.’’
In the same vein, Prof. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Nigeria’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, said more than 100 countries sent condolence messages to Nigerian Government barely 24 hours after his death.
“Nigeria is gladdened by the statements by all about celebrating him and continuing the work he did, which did not die with him.
“We can only affirm that with the same commitment, we will carry on the work that has been done by him,’’ he said.
The Nigerian community in the Diaspora on the platform of Organisation for the Advancement of Nigerians also paid tribute to Osotimehin’s, applauding his impacts on global public healthcare.
In honour of the deceased, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin Lecture has been instituted and former Minister of Environment and current UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed delivered an inaugural lecture in London on July 10.
“It is a honour to be asked to give this inaugural lecture to celebrate the memory and legacy of my friend, my brother, Osotimehin.
“He was a true global leader, always bold in advocating for public health and the rights and empowerment of women and young people.
“It is, therefore, fitting that this first memorial lecture focuses on family planning as a pillar in achieving the demographic dividend.
“Let us honour the legacy of Osotimehin by fulfilling our promise to the millions of women, girls, men and boys who want the chance to choose whether and when to have children, the chance to plan their futures and fulfil their potential.
“Let us uphold Osotimehin’s grand vision in his memory and intensify our efforts to ensure universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for every woman, man, adolescent girl and young person,’’ Mohammed said in the lecture.
In his view, Dr Babajide Osotimehin, the deceased’s son, said he looked forward to seeing the world carry on the legacy of his father from where he stopped.
“I pray that as time goes on, people carry on that work and take it to new heights and that all the aspects of his work grow in leaps and bounds as the years come.
“And that he’s fondly remembered that he inspired the younger people around the world to go into advocacy and public health to help women and girls around the world, especially those without a voice,’’ he said.
As head of UNFPA, Osotimehin spearheaded efforts to advance the breakthrough action plan adopted by 179 countries at the 1994 UN population conference in Cairo.
The conference recognised for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and to choose whether to become pregnant.
He, as well, championed UN goals of preventing maternal deaths in childbirth, meeting all demands for family planning and eliminating harmful practices against women and girls.
UNFPA called his death a devastating loss for the agency and for the people, especially women, girls and youth that he dedicated his life to serving.
Born on Feb. 6, 1949, Osotimehin completed medical studies at the University of Ibadan in 1972 and received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham, England in 1979.
In 1980, he returned to Nigeria and became professor of Clinical Pathology, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and from 1990 to 1994, he was the Provost, College of Medicine of the university.
Ostotimehin’s interests included youth and gender within the context of reproductive health and rights.