By Prudence Arobani
The UN and the international community paid glowing tributes to late Executive Director of UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, at a special event to mark the first anniversary of his death.
The event was jointly organised by the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme, UNFPA and UN Office for Project Services at the UN headquarters, to commemorate Osotimehin’s life and work.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Osotimehin, Nigeria’s former Minister of Health and first Director-General of the National Agency for Control of AIDS, died on June 4, 2017.
Speakers at the event said Osotimehin was a visionary leader and a tireless champion of the UNFPA mandate, who inspired all to emulate his example in improving the lives of countless women and girls around the world.
President of the Board, Amb. Jagdish Koonjul, said Osotimehin was a visionary leader, a champion of women rights and a kind-hearted person, who was always speaking for the downtrodden.
“Osotimehin always said himself that ‘it is not just giving women rights but really empowering them and letting them have equal chances just like men’.
“So today is a day when we commemorate his death anniversary and celebrate his life and achievements,’’ Koonjul said.
Also, Dr Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director, recalled fond memories of Osotimehin, saying he never shied away from a challenge.
“Even in the face of significant adversity, you could count on him to fight the good fight.
“Medicine and public health were Dr Babatunde’s calling, his efforts kept sexual and reproductive health and rights high on the global agenda.
“He successfully rallied support for the inclusion of related targets in the sustainable development goals.
“Prof., as we fondly called him, was an optimist; he believed in the power of young people to transform our world.
“He saw today’s 1.8 billion adolescent youths not as a problem to be solved. For him, young people formed a big part of the solution.
“He advocated tirelessly for their rights to information and services for their sexual and reproductive health and insisted on their right to be involved and to be present wherever decisions that affected them were made,’’ Kanem said.
While noting the wounds the death of former Provost, University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan, Nigeria had caused them, he nonetheless, said Osotimehin left behind a team that could carry on with the excellent works.
“The measure of a leader is the legacy he leaves behind and that is why I’m so immensely proud of the united staff of UNFPA.
“Dr Babatunde left in UNFPA a committed organisation, one with an ambition and three-fold aim to drive our teamwork over the next 12 years and we will help to transform the lives of women and girls.
“This is by making family planning universally accessible, by ending preventable death in pregnancy and childbirth and by making our contributions to stop the senseless sexual and gender-based violence that afflicts women and girls the world over.’’
Nigeria’s delegation, led by Mr Alexander Ajayi, Minister, Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the UN, while delivering the African Group’s statement, said Osotimehin’s death still left on Africa a deep sense of personal loss.
“The pains we suffered were not so much about his colourful disposition while alive or his ability to imprint a profound sense of affection on the minds of those who came across him.
“But his extreme sense of passion, devotion and commitment to the interests of women and girls in the scheme of global policies and programmes,’’ Ajayi said.
The African Group, however, urged the UN to remember the African region in appointments to equal status as the one exited by Osotimehin.
It said there were many capable African technocrats to fill the vacuum.
It also said Osotimehin’s commitment to the welfare of women and girls, through UNFPA’s development and implementation of innovative lifesaving policies and programmes during his stewardship would remain unassailable for many years to come.
“To the African Group, it is unmistakably true that ‘Prof.’ was a man of unparalleled duty; a duty that was founded on the capacity to perform and deliver in a measure that matches objectives with outcomes and transform the policy space to accommodate the voices of the unheard.
“We in the African Group remember the passage of our man of innumerable passion for global quality healthcare programme and call on all delegates to join us in remembering this illustrious son of Africa.’’