Speech

Tribute to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

6 June 2017

This tribute to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin was delivered by Dr. Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director of UNFPA, during a ceremony in his honour during the Annual Session of the Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS.

Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

First, on behalf of all of us at UNFPA, allow me to thank our Board, Member States, and representatives of the UN Funds and Programmes for their moving tributes, memories and condolences. Our hearts are heavy, but also full as we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and the difference he has made not only to UNFPA, but in the lives of the millions of women and young people, especially girls, he dedicated his life to serving.

Dr. Babatunde was born in Ogun State in south-western Nigeria in 1949. And from a young age, he dreamed of being a doctor. It was a dream he more than fulfilled, and throughout his life he identified as a medical doctor, as a professor, and as a public health expert. In all these roles, he remained a steadfast advocate for the health and rights of women and girls, especially the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged, those in danger of being left behind.

As former health minister and former head of the Nigeria AIDS agency, he fought for the right to health for all and for communities and health professionals to come together to provide quality health services to those in need.

He was known to many at UNFPA and beyond as Prof, and was in fact a professor and Provost of the College of Medicine at the renowned University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

When he was appointed by the UN Secretary-General as the 4th Executive Director of UNFPA in 2010, he pledged to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, with a focus on women, adolescent girls and young people.

Dr. Babatunde never shied away from a challenge and his strong leadership, even in the face of significant adversity, helped keep sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights high on the global agenda.

He was a standout global advocate for young people and their right to information and services for their sexual and reproductive health.

He did so not just as a physician who was committed to public health, but as a man who knew the many benefits and clearly saw the connections between sexual and reproductive health and sustainable development.

A champion of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, Dr. Babatunde understood that countries could not advance while leaving half of their population behind.

I am sure most of us in this room have heard him say on more than one occasion, “There can be no development without human rights”, and he stood up for the human rights of all people, and was not afraid to take a principled stand, even if it meant losing the support of some.

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.

Our collective future, he often reminded us, depends on how we support that 10-year-old girl as she starts her journey from adolescence to adulthood.

For Dr. Babatunde, the real test of the success of the Sustainable Development Goals will be whether every 10-year-old girl of today becomes a healthy, educated and productive woman by 2030.

He vigorously championed three major transformative goals:

  • zero preventable maternal deaths,
  • zero unmet demand for family planning, and
  • the elimination of harmful practices and violence against women and girls.

Today, let us all commit to honouring his legacy by rallying around these goals for humanity.

We at UNFPA offer our deepest condolences to his wife and family, to the Government and people of Nigeria and to all who have been touched by his life and share our loss.

We pledge to continue 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.

And we are determined to stand strong and advance the ICPD agenda – even, and especially, in these challenging times.

That is what Dr. Babatunde would have wanted from us.