Umar Shehu Cropped Picture

Professor Emeritus Umaru Shehu FAS, CFR, who died on Monday October 2nd, 2023, at the age of 92 was born in Yerwa (Maiduguri) on 8th December 1930. Widely regarded as one of the early shakers and movers in public health policy and practice in Northern Nigeria, his education began at the Borno Middle School from where he was good enough to be admitted to the then Kaduna College that was in transit to Zaria where it was initially named Government College but later became the now famous BAREWA COLLEGE, the iconic secondary school that produced the who is who of northern Nigeria. His classmates at the time included the late Emir of Kano Alhaji Ado Bayero, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim (the politician known famously for his mantra “politics without bitterness”) and Sir Kassim Ibrahim, the first indigenous Governor of northern Nigeria.

Professor Umaru Shehu was among the foundation students of University College Ibadan (UCI) in 1948 where he studied medicine. At that time students were only taught up to “second MB”, after which they proceeded to the UK for clinical studies. Thus Umaru Shehu graduated MB BS London in 1953 (some unverified accounts say 1956). At any rate he returned home to serve in the 1st Republic administration of Northern Nigeria and was initially posted as medical officer in hospitals in various towns. Subsequently, he was moved to the Ministry of Health Headquarters as medical officer of health, a public health assignment during which he issued the very first region-wide circular mandating routine immunization in 1965.

Professor Umaru Shehu moved to ABU as Associate Professor of Community Medicine in 1968. During his sojourn at the ABU, he was appointed Director Institute of Health by Vice Chancellor Professor Ishiya Audu of blessed memory. He was suddenly appointed Vice Chancellor University of Nigeria Nsukka without notice, which he reluctantly accepted, leaving after just one academic session before opting to join WHO. He had earlier served as temporary consultant to the body before he was appointed country representative (WR) of the world body in Nigeria. The interaction between him and the late Olikoye Ransome-Kudi who was Nigeria’s Minister of Health was highly synergistic and it brought many positive advantages to the country.

Umaru Shehu was a man of many letters, affable, humble, approachable, and amiable. His attributes are things to behold forever. He was a Foundation Fellow, and third President of The Nigerian Academy of Science. During his 80th birthday our own Professor Anya O Anya gave a lecture that was attended among others by no less than four former Heads of State namely, General Yakubu Gowan, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Abdulsalami Abubakar. That was how highly regarded he was. He served in many capacities after leaving the WHO, including Chairman National Programmer on Immunization, Chairman, Nigerian National Merit Award Governing Board, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council Bayero University Kano and University of Lagos, Chairman National Action Committee on AIDS, Chairman Institute of Human Virology, among others.

On a personal note, when I was about to lose my placement in UK for further postgraduate training, I believe it was Professor Umaru Shehu and late Dr. Hamza Zayyad (Bursar ABU) who persuaded VC Ishaya Audu to facilitate my immediate despatch to London on 31st January 1972. It is impossible not to mention this career saving gesture. Adieu Professor Emeritus Umaru Shehu.


Professor Emeritus Idris Mohammed, FAS