HOW JONATHAN BOWED FOR OBASANJO'S CHOICE, AS UN SG BAN NAMES NIGERIAN FOR TOP UNFPA JOB

*BUT FORMER MINISTER'S APPOINTMENT DRAWS PRAISE FROM THE US

EMPOWERED NEWSWIRE, NEW YORK


Details of how the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon finally chose the immediate past Nigerian Health Minister Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin as the new Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, UNFPA are emerging after about two months of tussle between two Nigerian candidates.

Osotimehin
Osotimehin

Besides, the UNFPA itself, in a press statement over the weekend has announced that Osotimehin will be resuming on the job on the 1st of January next year.

Informed UN sources disclosed that Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Odein Ajumogobia facilitated the choice of Osotimehin earlier last week, when he publicly endorsed Osotimehin's candidacy which has been controversial before now because the federal government had initially recommended another senior UNFPA official, Mr. Bunmi Makinwa, the head of the agency's office in Africa.

That public endorsement, UN sources say made it easier for the Secretary-General the same day the minister's statement was released in New York to propose Osotimehin's name to the UNFPA Board last Thursday and eventually announce his choice on Friday afternoon.

Speaking with reporters earlier last week in New York, Ajumogobia had confirmed that he himself was not quite certain how Osotimehin's name got on the shortlist of those the UN Secretary-General was considering. His words: "Just how that happened is not quite clear."

But he suggested that perhaps some of the donor community may have supported Osotimehin's nomination apart from the reported initial support of Nigeria's former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

According to Ajumogobia, "at some point Osotimehin became the only Nigerian candidate on the shortlist."

It was at that point that he said the federal government decided to support his candidacy, stressing that after all "Nigeria is under-represented in the higher echelon of the UN and Osotimehin is clearly qualified, as was Makinwa."

He said the federal government had initially recommended and supported Makinwa, whom he described as a personal colleague, because "if someone was already so high-up in the place, it might be counter-productive to present a new candidate."

Actually Osotimehin had earlier also expressed interest in the job, Ajumogobia disclosed, and apparently asked for federal government support, but Makinwa was considered by the Jonathan administration as the better candidate.

Asked why the federal government then stopped supporting Makinwa, whose candidacy President Goodluck Jonathan had personally presented to the UN Secretary-General in September, Ajumogobia responded saying "we did'nt back-off supporting Makinwa, but Makinwa's name was not on the final shortlist."

He added that "my job as Foreign Minister is to promote Nigeria's interests, Professor Osotimehin, my former colleague at the cabinet is clearly qualified."

Investigations also revealed that the UN Secretary-General Ban had explained to some senior Nigerian officials that he personally preferred Osotimehin when he was confronted with the choice of two Nigerians. But it was not clear whether that explanation by Ban actually assuaged the feelings of top FG functionaries who had been surprised at the action of former president Obasanjo to support someone different from the incumbent president's choice.

Even top diplomats at the Nigerian Mission to the UN in New York including the Permanent Representative, Professor Joy Ogwu are known to have expressed shock at Osotimehin's nomination, although they all later put their support behind his candidacy when it was clear that the professor was the "preferred choice."

But some other senior staff of the UN who are from Nigeria are beginning to really worry that the UN Secretary-General can reject the choice of the Nigerian president -ie a UN insider who was already high-up, to pick an outsider who the Nigerian government had refused to nominate.

One of them under the conditions of anonymity said over the weekend "that is unprecedented and the Secretary General dares not try to do what he has done to the Nigerian president with some other countries at the UN."

Besides, a UN system report from Global Fund for HIV/AIDS had raised question on Osotimehin's effective and timely management of UN resources and funds while he was Chairman of the federal government National Action Committee on AIDS, NACA.

In one of such reports, the Global Fund said to Osotimehin in a letter dated Feb 5 2005, "over one year into the implementation of the programs it is clear that programs are falling well short of achieving the projected targets."

But in a press statement released last Friday afternoon at the UN head office in New York, Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General said "following consultations with the Executive Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the appointment of Babatunde Osotimehin (Nigeria) as the agency's new Executive Director."

The statement added that "Mr. Osotimehin replaces Thoraya Obaid for a term of four years." The four years is expected to begin on January 1, 2011, according to another statement over the weekend by the UNFPA welcoming Osotimehin.

In the UNFPA statement later, the outgoing Executive Director Obaid, from Saudi Arabia said she ensure a smooth transition between herself and Osotimehin

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund said it "welcomed the United Nations Secretary-General's announcement naming Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin as Executive Director of UNFPA, to succeed Thoraya Ahmed Obaid once her tenure ends on 31 December."

"Dr. Osotimehin's qualifications and extensive experience position him well to lead the global agenda for population and development and to promote the right to sexual and reproductive health," said Ms. Obaid. "We will work closely with him to ensure a successful transition."

According to UNFPA, "Dr. Osotimehin, who will assume office on 1 January, will become the fourth Executive Director of UNFPA since it became operational in 1969."

According to the UN Spokesperson's statement "The Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to Thoraya Obaid for her services to the Organization and her commitment in championing the

cause of women's and young people's health and empowerment. The Secretary-General is particularly appreciative of the exemplary leadership displayed by Ms. Obaid in the implementation of UNFPA's mandate over the two terms she has led the Organization."

The statement added that "Mr. Osotimehin will bring a wealth of experience and passion to the

work of UNFPA coupled with extensive knowledge and understanding of the global and national framework and processes, that are critical to the work of UNFPA. He is expected to bring to UNFPA significant experience, strong leadership and proven managerial skills to further the Fund's work in

reproductive health, women's empowerment, population and development strategies."

Noting that Osotimehin previously served as Minister of Health of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the statement added that he was also the Director General of the National Agency of Nigeria for the Control of HIV and AIDS, the body which coordinates all HIV/AIDS activities in Nigeria.

However, Osotimehin's appointment has generated commendation from the US.

The United Nations Foundation, a public charity based in Washington DC, New York which was created in 1998 with entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner's historic $1 billion gift to support UN causes and activities spoke over the weekend in support of Osotimehin's appointment.

According to a statement released over the weekend by the UN Foundation president, Senator Timothy E. With "the appointment of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin as the new head for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to addressing the needs of the world's women and children.

This appointment, the foundation noted comes at a critical time for women and girls across the globe. More than 215 million women around the globe want to determine the number, spacing, and timing of their children, but lack access to reproductive health and family planning options. Poor women and adolescent girls in developing countries tend to be disproportionally denied access to these services.

Dwelling on the qualifications of Osotimehin, the foundation stated that he "has championed reproductive health and rights and global development challenges with a clear understanding of the importance of women and girls in meeting those goals. This kind of experience will be critical in helping UNFPA continue to meet its mission of making certain that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect."

The statement concluded that "We will continue to support UNFPA -- and its new leader, Dr. Osotimehin -- to ensure the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity."

Born in 1949, Mr. Osotimehin earned an MBBS from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and a Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. He is married and has five children.