President Ahmed Tinubu on Monday joined other eminent Nigerians to mourn the death of Emeritus Professor, Umar Shehu who died in Maiduguri aged 92.
Umar died after a brief illness in the tender hands of his medical students and one of the hospitals he nurtured – University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital – to become a centre of excellence.
In his condolence message, President Tinubu expressed shock and sadness over the passing into glory of a foremost Nigerian educationist and one of the pioneer medical doctors from Northern Nigeria.
The president, in a statement on Monday by his spokesman, Chief Ajuri Ngelale, described Emeritus Professor Shehu’s death as a big blow to the country.
He said his death had closed a glorious chapter of illustrious service to Nigeria, Nigerians, and humanity as a whole.
“Emeritus Professor Shehu was a giant, even among that legendary generation of pioneering indigenous professionals in our country, and the story of his life is saturated with many first, golden steps across the realms of medical practice, school administration and humanitarian services.
“The renowned Professor of Medicine has always served Nigeria meritoriously and bestowed on all Nigerians a sense of pride with his indelible breakthroughs and innovative approaches to the administration of health and medical education around the world. Nigeria was indeed blessed to have him as both a patriotic son and as a worthy global representative in his fields of endeavour,” the president stated.
President Tinubu shared his condolences with the people and government of Borno State, the deceased statesman’s family, the Nigerian medical community, and so many others who were grieving around the world over the colossal loss of this Nigerian icon, mentor, father, son and dedicated professional.
The president also prayed for the repose of the soul of the deceased academic and statesman.
Shehu’s death is felt by the nation – Shettima
Also Vice President Kashim Shettima said the depth of the loss felt by the nation after the death of Professor Umar is deep.
“We have lost a colossus, a pillar of society, one of the intellectual torch bearers,” he said.
Shettima, who attended the burial of the late professor said the life of Professor Shehu was a life well spent in the service to humanity.
“Our prayers is that may God grant his soul eternal rest, and reward him with Aljannat firdaus, and May Allah console his family, Shehu of Borno and the good people of the state and give them the fortitude to bear the loss”.
Dr Bulama Mali Gubio, official of Borno Elders Forum, said in a statement: “We lost Prof Emeritus Umaru Shehu this morning”, describing his death as “The fall of the biggest ancestry tree of our modern society.
“We regret to announce the demise of our founding father of both Kanem Borno Historical and Cultural Foundation (KBHCF) as well as the Borno Elders Forum (BEF), Professor Emeritus Umaru Shehu, CFR.
“Himself, Dr Shettima Ali Monguno and Maina Ibrahim Damchida were founding fathers of the BEF, all the three have now left us. He was the last of the titans. May Allah have mercy upon them.’’
Also, former President Muhammadu joined in the mourning of the eminent Professor of medicine and until his death, Chairman of the board of the Nigerian Institute of Virology.
In a condolence message to the family, government and people of Borno State and the entire nation, Buhari said the deceased epitomized the best spirit of human beings.
“Through his many years of medical practice, he saved the lives of so many people. He played pivotal roles in shaping many of the progressive policies in the health sector in the country. May Allah bless his soul,” the former president said.
A champion of polio-virus, smallpox eradication
Emeritus Professor Umar would be remembered on how he fought against polio vaccines misconception in 2003, when five northern states boycotted the oral polio vaccine due to fears that it was unsafe.
As a well-respected specialist with over 40 years of experience in disease prevention and eradication, he waded in and certified the Oral Polio Vaccine as ‘safe and effective’.
This saw the resumption of administering the vaccine on children in the affected states.
He also took up the challenge of ensuring that children were fully protected from the cause of lifelong paralysis.
He spearheaded the fight, interfaced with religious and traditional leaders as well as the mass media, a role that reversed the false impression about polio-vaccine being used as a birth control mechanism.
By October, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared and placed Nigeria on the list of polio-free countries in the world.
Umar was also one of the global experts who participated in the smallpox eradication campaign, which was officially declared eradicated globally in 1980.
Northern Governors Forum mourns
Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and governor of Gombe State, Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya, in a condolence message, described the death of Shehu as a huge void in the realms of knowledge and leadership in Nigeria.
“Professor Emeritus Umaru Shehu was not just a name but a repository of wisdom, a beacon of knowledge, and an embodiment of dedication to his people and country.
“A towering figure in academia, Professor Shehu’s contributions as the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science and his distinguished position as Professor Emeritus of Community Health at the University of Maiduguri has indeed enriched our nation’s intellectual heritage. His global recognition as the Editor-in-Chief of the British Medical Journal was proof of his exceptional capabilities.
“Professor Umaru Shehu was not just a renowned Nigerian professor of medicine, he was a genuine icon and a great role model.’’
Nigeria has lost a great medical statesman – Pate
The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, described the passing on of Professor Emeritus Umaru Shehu, yesterday as a great loss to Nigeria for his tireless lifetime efforts to improve public health.
Pate in a statement issued by the Federal Ministry of Health, described Professor Shehu as an invaluable asset who dedicated his scholarship and professional life to the advancement of population health outcomes.
He said, “Professor Umar Shehu has been an inspiration to many generations of physicians and public health practitioners, whom he taught and mentored over a distinguished lifetime.”
The minister recalled the leadership role late Professor Shehu played in the fight to eradicate smallpox and wild polio virus in the country, a performance he said the country will always remember.
He said Prof Shehu was never tired of giving advice or travelling to engage on important health issues despite his advancing age.
“We have indeed lost today our elder medical statesman, a great scholar, and a fantastic human being, Prof Emeritus Umaru Shehu. May Allah grant his soul aljannah firdaus Amin. We extend deepest condolences to his family,” the minister said.
Shehu’s exit in the hands of his students a lesson to leaders
The spokesman for the University of Maiduguri, Professor Danjuma Gambo, said the emeritus professor was a distinguished scholar who was noted for his diligence, high sense of discipline, and respect for all.
Gambo said Shehu was a lecturer, Provost of the Medical School and the Sole Administrator of the University, and would be remembered for standing his ground to contribute to building a formidable tertiary health institution, the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
“He didn’t know that he would come back and exit the world through the institution, and in the hands of his students. This is supposed to teach leaders a lot of lessons that when you can do your best, you should do your best not because of anything because you never can tell how the end would be.
“So, for him and his entire generation is a selfless service to humanity. He didn’t build the hospital for himself but it turned out to be the best in the northeast and one of the best in the entire country,” he said.
Professor Umaru Shehu was born on December 8, 1930, in Maiduguri, Borno State of Nigeria. He attended Elementary School, Maiduguri from 1935-1940; Middle School Maiduguri, from 1941-1943; Kaduna College, Kaduna, from 1944-1947; University College, Ibadan, from 1948-1953; and was at the University of Liverpool between 1953-1956 and 1966-1967.
Professor Shehu holds MBBS (London), IRCF (London), MRCS (England), DPH (Liverpool), FMCPH, MFCM, FFCM (UK), FFCM (Nigeria), FAS, FWACP, DFMC (Nigeria).
He served as the first HOD, Dept of Community medicine, ABU Zaria; former Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; former Sole Administrator of the University of Maiduguri; former Pro-chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council Bayero University, Kano and University of Lagos.
He successfully taught and mentored generations of medical practitioners, both in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom, and served at different times as the Country Coordinator of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Nigeria and Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, the funeral (Janaiza) prayer of the late Shehu was held at 6:04pm at his Old GRA residence in Maiduguri, before he was buried according to Islamic rite at Gwange cemetery.
The funeral prayer was attended by the Vice President of Nigeria, Kashim Shettima, the deputy governor of Borno State, Umar Usman Kadafur, former Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, Minister of Agriculture, Senator MT Monguno and Senator Kaka Shehu Lawan among thousands of sympathisers.