Professors Muhammad Pate and Umar Pate

Pate: Two Professors of Global Excellence
By Yushau A. Shuaib

“Are you aware of the increasing political gang-up against Professor Pate?!” A caller using a foreign number thundered down the phone line before the call suddenly dropped off.

While I expected the caller to return the call, I wondered which of the respected academics from Northern Nigeria he was referring to.

I am aware of two professors who bear Pate as a surname. They are both solid intellectuals and leaders in their respective fields, who have reached the heights of their careers and attained global recognition.

One of them, Umar Pate, is a professor of Media and Society, while the other, Muhammad Pate, is a professor of Public Health. They have both produced exceptional scholarship, with footprints of excellence, not only in the academy as producers of knowledge but also as administrators in the public service to humanity, whether locally or internationally or across the two spheres.

While Umar is the son of a local Fulani chieftain in Adamawa State and bears the traditional title of Kaigama, Muhammad is the son of a Fulani herdsman in Bauchi State and holds the title of Chigarin Misau in the state.

They both obtained their first degrees in Nigeria. Umar graduated in Mass Communication from the University of Maiduguri and was offered an automatic teaching job in the Department following his National Youth Service. On the other hand, Muhammad graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University Medical School in Zaria, after which he started work in the institution’s teaching hospital, before moving to Gambia to the British Medical Research Council Laboratories.

Umar Pate, who became a professor of Mass Communication at the age of 36, was also a senior lecturer at the Bayero University Kano (BUK), where he spearheaded the outstanding transformation of the Department of Mass Communication into a full-scale Faculty of Communication and served as its pioneer Dean.

He also established a modern radio station, set the pace for the creation of a modern television station, and secured the department a huge grant from the MacArthur Foundation for the smooth running of the broadcast services on the BUK campus. He was equally Dean of the Postgraduate Studies programme of the Kano-based university before his appointment as the Vice Chancellor of Federal University Kashere, Gombe State.

Meanwhile, after serving as a catalyst for the attainment of significant impacts, through far-reaching health sector reform programmes in Africa and other continents, as a World Bank health specialist, Muhammad was appointed chief executive officer of the National Primary Healthcare Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) at the peak of the polio epidemic crisis in Nigeria. Within a short period of his appointment, his strategic engagement with traditional rulers in helping to demand for vaccines and other primary healthcare services in their respective domains laid the foundation of an aggressive emergency polio eradication response. This was implemented through emergency operation centres (EOCs) that contained, and later eradicated, polio transmission in the country.

Muhammad Pate also led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into Nigeria and guided their approach of direct engagement with the State Primary Healthcare Agencies. It was therefore not surprising that he was subsequently appointed as Health Minister by the Nigerian government, before he later resigned and took up the position of a professor in Duke University’s Global Health Institute, in the USA.

Umar Pate as President of the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) is an advocate of social accountability through the practice of investigative journalism and a leading light in capacity building through the modification of the journalism curriculum in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, to address emerging trends in the industry. His scholarship is highly cited, locally and internationally, in the areas of crisis communication, political communication, communication policies, media freedom, development communication, health communication, peace and conflict communication, among others.

Umar Pate has served the UN system in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Cameroons, and was on the Board of Directors of the International Network of UNESCO Professors in Communication (ORBICOM), in addition to being a consultant to several multilateral organisations, including USAID, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank, and Ford Foundation, etc.

On the other hand, Professor Muhammad Pate has taught comparative health systems to postgraduate students at the Duke University Global Health Institute. Also, his record of service includes being the global director of Health, Nutrition and Population (HNP) at the World Bank, a director of the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), and a professor of public health leadership at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. His technical expertise was felt when he led the World Banks COVID-19 global health response, during which he represented the Bank on various boards, including those of GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance), the Global Fund, and UNAIDS.

Without any form of equivocation, the lives of the two Pates are synonymous with hard work and excellence across the intellectual spheres and service to humanity, which is enhanced by the testaments of witnesses to their selflessness, senses of contentment, tolerance, and easy reciprocation of good.

“Beep… Beep… Beep…!” my phone rang again, displaying the same foreign number.

The call came through without breaking this time, and I realised the caller was an old acquaintance, who admitted to having been the one who called earlier. I then quickly asked which of Professor Pates he was referring to, in apprehension of the line breaking off again, before the message was complete.

The caller said he was referring to Professor Muhammad Pate, who had just resigned as the chief executive of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance so that he could return to Nigeria and make positive contributions to the health sector under the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, even as a formal announcement is yet to be made.

GAVI, formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, is a public-private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunization in poor countries. It remains the main donor-funder of vaccination in low- and middle-income countries, which a budget in excess of $7 billion.

The caller added that he was aware of the subterranean and at times open campaigns of some politicians to discredit his nomination for a possible federal appointment because he was not on the ground during the political campaigns.

It is interesting that despite Pate being appointed as CEO of GAVI with an enviable package of remunerations in February 2023, following a year-long recruitment process, he appears to have chosen the yeoman’s job of public service in Nigeria. This points to a quality beyond self-seeking that is almost alien to much of human nature. Pate was expected to have officially resumed in GAVI on the 3rd of August, when he announced what many consider his shocking resignation, as he was noted to have said that he has taken an incredibly difficult decision to accept a request to return and contribute to his home country, Nigeria.

While I cannot confirm the authenticity of the alleged gang-up and conspiracy against Professor Muhammad Pate, although one has stumbled upon a few not-so-complimentary commentaries about his imminent federal appointment on social media, it is necessary to urge President Tinubu to keep on the front burner the crucial task of national rebuilding that incumbent upon him in his search for and recruitment of those to help him achieve his mandate of a re-engineered country.

The President needs beyond finding appropriate ways of rewarding those who worked for his election persons with track records of significant service and leadership experience, alongside technical expertise in relevant fields, who can help in salvaging Nigeria from the very bad place in which it is presently.

Nigeria deserves the very best of qualified male and female persons who can manage critical sectors of governance such as health, the economy, security, and education, among others. Appointments should therefore be on merit and not as patronage to feather the nests of political godfatherism.

As the two eminent Pates Umar and Muhammad go about deepening their intellectual and public engagements, I wish them more wins, and years of rewarding work and excellence. May the spirit of excellence that they are bearers of, define the Nigeria that we are all striving for.

Yushau A. Shuaib is the author of Award-Winning Crisis Communication Strategies., [email protected]