Adewole stands ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’: The 18 torchbearers of the Nigerian Health Sector


Editor: In this piece, Andrew F. Alalade, a Neurosurgeon and current Public Relations Officer of the Medical Association of Nigerians across Great Britain (MANSAG) takes us on a trip down ministerial memory lane to highlight the key achievements and curiosities of Nigeria’s health ministers, all 18 of them, over the past 65 years, even as the health sector expectantly enters a new era of leadership under Prof. Isaac Adewole. This is one for your personal records. Andrew has done his country a great service by putting this together. 

Drum roll…………Professor Isaac F. Adewole is Nigeria’s new Minister of Health!!

Like toddlers waiting for the customary bag of sweets, Nigerians yearned with bated breath for the announcements of ministerial appointments. There have been a lot of debates regarding the qualifications and required skill-set for Nigeria’s Health Minister, and, like many others, I wished and hoped that whoever was chosen to occupy the lofty pedestal would be skilled enough to cause significant positive changes to Nigeria’s healthcare system.

Prof. Isaac Adewole becomes Nigeria’s 19th Minister of Health after he was sworn in on November 11, 2015. Photo Source:
Prof. Isaac Adewole becomes Nigeria’s 19th Minister of Health after he was sworn in on November 11, 2015. Photo Source:

If you take the time to collect data on the retinue of past Health Ministers of Nigeria, the information you glean while searching for information is bound to be both interesting and enlightening.

Several questions surfaced when I looked at the history of our health ministers. Have they been the best people for the job? Why has no one succeeded with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS)? Why have some performed better than others? Should this post be a political one?

As we look forward to what will come from the current Nigerian government, it might be instructive to take a look back at the lives and achievements of the 18 men and woman who have guided the Nigerian Health Sector over the past 65 years. Perhaps these reflections will give us a bit of understanding as to how pertinent the challenges that face the health sector are… and how leadership can shape or mar the progress of this important sphere of Nigerian public life.

Before the latest ministerial announcements, Dr Khaliru Hassan was Nigeria’s Minister of Health, as he took over from Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu in 2014. Prior to his appointment, he was the Minister of State for Health. A trained medical doctor, some of his previous appointments included being Chief Medical Director of the Sokoto State Specialist Hospital, as well as Director in charge of the Medical Services & Public Health in the Ministry of Health. According to reports, Dr Khaliru Hassan is a direct descendant of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, Usman Dan Fodio. His tenure, was, well…quiet.

Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu graduated from the University of Lagos in 1986. He subsequently went to train as an orthopaedic surgeon, and was appointed Chief Medical Director of the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital in 2003. He was later appointed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in the same hospital in 2007. His tenure as Minister of Health, although plagued by numerous strikes of health professionals, is fondly remembered for Nigeria’s successful fight against the Ebola virus disease. He resigned in October 2014 to run in the Ebonyi State gubernatorial elections.

Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin is currently the Executive Director of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and he holds the rank of Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. He was Nigeria’s Minister of Health from 17 December 2008 – 17 March 2010. Before his ministerial appointment, he was Director General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA). He graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1972, before going on to qualify for a doctorate in medicine at the University of Birmingham in 1979. His interests include public health, women’s empowerment and youth-related issues. He tweets regularly as @BabatundeUNFPA.

Prof. Adenike Grange is the only woman to be appointed as Minister of Health in Nigeria. Photo Source:
Prof. Adenike Grange is the only woman to be appointed as Minister of Health in Nigeria. Photo Source:

Prof. Osotimehin’s predecessor was Prof. Adenike Grange. She bears the singular honour of being Nigeria’s first and only female Minister of Health so far. She graduated from the University of St. Andrews Scotland in 1964. She worked for a few years in the UK before moving back to Lagos. She joined the teaching staff of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in 1971, and was appointed a Professor in 1995. Known for her vibrant interest in paediatrics, she served as a WHO adviser on the Reproductive Health Programme in Nigeria from 1993 – 1999.

Dr Timothy Menakaya qualified in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Bologna, Italy in 1964. He practised Medicine in Italy and the United Kingdom, before returning to Nigeria in 1966. He served as a Medical Officer in Eastern Nigeria, and later established his own hospital – Menax Hospital in Onitsha. Dr Menakaya served as the Minister of Health for nineteen months during President Obasanjo’s tenure, from 1999 to 2001.

Prof. Eyitayo Lambo was Nigeria’s Minister of Health from July 2003 – May 2007. A health economist, he obtained his first and second degrees in economics, before going on to obtain a PhD in operational research applied to Health Systems. He lectured at the universities in Ibadan, Ilorin and Edo state. He was the first economist employed by the WHO’s regional office for Africa, where he served as Regional Adviser for health sector reforms, healthcare financing and health in socioeconomic development. So far, he has been the only economist to occupy the office of Nigeria’s Health Minister. During his tenure, the NHIS was finally formally launched after so many years.


Prof. ABC Nwosu, a professor of parasitology and former Commissioner of Health in Anambra State was minister of Health before Prof. Lambo. He was a Commonwealth scholar at the Imperial College, University of London. Before his appointment as Minister, he was a political adviser to the then president, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. He is believed to be the person who recommended Prof. Dora Akinyuli for the post of NAFDAC director-general, and takes a lot of pride in his work in eradicating guinea worm infection in Anambra State. A staunch politician, he is also one of the founding fathers of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Like some other occupants of this office, Prof. I.C. Madubuike had also headed another Ministry prior to his appointment to Health. He was the Minister of Education from 1982 to 1983, after a two year stint as the Imo State Commissioner for Economic planning and Finance. He was a Principal Lecturer in African/Afro-American literature at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education, Owerri from 1977 – 1979. He had lectured as an Assistant Professor at the State University of New York and the Ohio State University in the early 1970s.

Rear Admiral Jubril Ayinla took over as Health Minister from Dr I.C. Madubuike in December 1997. He joined the National Defence Academy in 1966, and later went for training programmes in India, the UK and US. He also served as Minister of Tourism and Chief of Naval Staff.

Dr Dalhatu Tafida is Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He served as the Minister of Health between 1993 and 1995. He graduated from the University of Lagos in 1967, before his early years as a doctor at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He worked in a couple of hospitals in the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1972, and obtained a diploma in Public health during that time. After a brief period at the John Hopkins University, he went back to Nigeria and gradually climbed up the hierarchy with the Kaduna State Ministry of Health. During Alh. Shehu Shagari’s tenure as President, Dr Tafida served as his personal physician. He later ventured into politics, and contested in the 1992 presidential primaries. He served as a Senator for the Kaduna North constituency from 1999 to 2007.

Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi served as Nigeria’s Minister of Health under Chief Ernest Shonekan’s brief stint as head of the Interim National Government. A lawyer and a pharmacist, he is the only pharmacist who has occupied this office, and was elected as President of the Nigerian Academy of Pharmacy in April 2014. Some of the other posts he has occupied include – National President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, President of the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce etc. Well known in Nigeria’s public and private sectors, he is the Executive Chairman of Juli PLC (the first indigenously owned company on the Nigerian Stock Exchange).

Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti remains one of Nigeria’s most popular Health Ministers. His tenure lasted from 1985 to 1993. Rumour has it that ex-President Ibrahim Babangida had listened to a very enlightening course lecture that Prof. Ransome Kuti gave at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, years before he became President. He promptly appointed him as the country’s health minister when he became head of state. Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti did a lot of work focusing on encouraging nationwide vaccination programmes. He was one of the pioneer students at the University of Ibadan, before leaving to study medicine at Trinity College, Dublin (graduating in 1954). He worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and later at the General Hospital, Lagos before joining the staff of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. His devotion to work enabled him to rise through the ranks, becoming a professor and head of the Paediatrics department. He also set up a consultative committee comprising of several labour groups and government parastatals, with the sole objective of developing a National Health Insurance Scheme.

Dr Emmanuel Nsan was the Health Minister during President Buhari’s first tenure. In 1985, he set up a committee tasked with reviewing the National Health System. This committee, headed by Mr Lijadu expectedly came up with the verdict that a Health Insurance Scheme was urgently needed.

Admiral Patrick Koshoni served at different times as Minister of Health, Transport & Aviation, Employment and Labour & Productivity. He joined the Nigerian Navy in June 1962, and had his cadetship training at the National Defence Training Academy in India. He also served as the Chief of Naval Staff from October 1986 – January 1990. During his time as the Health Minister, sometime in 1984, he tried unsuccessfully to set up a national health insurance scheme. The National Council on Health which he chaired, inaugurated a committee (led by Prof. Diejomoah) to do some background work on implementing the scheme.

Some of the biggest health sector challenges facing Minister Adewole as he takes on the mantle of leadership. Image Credit: Nigeria Health Watch
Some of the biggest health sector challenges facing Honorable Minister Isaac Adewole as he takes on the mantle of leadership in Nigeria’s Health Sector. Image Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Alhaji Aminu Kano was Nigeria’s Minister of Health from 1967 to 1974. He earned his teaching degrees from Katsina College and University of London (along with Sir Tafawa Balewa), before going on to resume at a teaching post at the Bauchi Training College. He was appointed by General Yakubu to oversee the Health Ministry.

Dr M. A. Majekodunmi is remembered as the health minister during Sir Tafawa Balewa’s time in office. ‘Majek’ as he was called by close friends, studied Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. I came across a book some years ago where I read that the young Majek impressed Rev. Ransome Kuti during a visit home on holiday. This lasting impression prompted the Reverend to send his own son (Dr Olikoye Ransome Kuti) to read Medicine too. Dr Majekodunmi occupied the post of Health Minister from 1960 to 1966, and played prominent roles in setting up the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos. He set up the Halevi Committee in a bid to formulate a health insurance scheme for Nigerians.

Chief Ayo Rosiji was educated as a Civil engineer at the Yaba Higher College, before going on to the University of London to study Law.  A prominent politician, he was one of the founding fathers of the renowned Action Group. Many people do not know this, but Chief Ayo Rosiji (as Health Minister) presided over the official opening of the University College Hospital, Ibadan in November 1957.

Dr Michael Okpara is fondly remembered as Nigeria’s youngest Premier (he was Premier of the Eastern Republic during the 1st Republic, 1959 – 1966), and was Minister of Health in the 1950s. Dr Michael Okpara and Chief Dennis Osadebay were the only two Regional premiers that survived the 1966 revolt were several political leaders were killed. He won a scholarship to study Medicine at the Yaba Higher College in Lagos, but later left to complete his studies at the Nigerian School of Medicine. He worked for a few years as a government medical officer before going into politics. Known for his strong beliefs in agricultural revolutionary reforms, the Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture in Umudike, Abia State is named after him.


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Discussion2 Comments

  1. I congratulate, my former V.C of University of Ibadan now Hon. Minister of Health Prof Isaac Adewole. I wish him a nice time in office to bring hope to the hopeless through an effective execution of the long awaited NHIS across board.

    I also pray for wisdom from above for him to tackle the much needed harmonious relationship between the various professionals in the health sector, for the sake of Nigerians who we claim to serve.

    • Engr.Akanji,Adeyemi Tope

      Thank you Honourable Minister of Health,Prof. Isaac Adewole for your historic visit to the University of Nigeria,Teaching Hospital(UNTH),Ituku/Ozalla,Enugu on Monday,the 1st of August,2016.
      This august visit in August I believe is not accidental but has a lot of spiritual connotations. May God continue to lift you higher.
      Engr.Akanji,Adeyemi,Head,Electrical Unit,UNTH,Ituku/Ozalla,Enugu,Enugu State.

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