Professor Sadiq Suleiman Wali is 76, and he was Chief Physician to five former heads of state, namely General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, the late General Sani Abacha and General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Question: People remember you more as a former chief physician to five ex-heads of state. How did you begin your medical career?
Wali: I did my post-graduate studies in the United Kingdom and qualified as a physician. I came back to Kano State and served for about three years. I preferred academic work, so I went to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria. Kano State offered me, or rather, forced me to come and be their Commissioner for Health during the administration of Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, instead of being the physician to then-President Shehu Shagari, who then picked Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, my classmate.
Question: How did you become the personal physician to former Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari?
Wali: General Muhammadu Buhari requested that I should be his physician and I knew him very well, personally, because we were in Lagos during the January 1966 coup. Murtala, Gowon, Buhari were all around and that was how we got to know each other. So, I felt I should do it. I was also in the army, as during the civil war doctors had to be dragged into service. I was posted to Awka, the brigade where Buhari was, and I was impressed by his character, integrity and honesty. So when he became Head of State and requested for my services, I accepted.
But a year and a half after, there was a coup. I was actually in the United States together with Buhari’s family at the time. Eventually, we had to come back, and when we returned I went to then president, General Ibrahim Babangida and said, ‘I took two years leave of absence from the university, and even though it hadn’t elapsed, I could go back.’ But he said shouldn’t. So I stayed there, and for a very long time. After him came Chief Ernest Shonekan, with whom I worked for only a few months. Then came General Sani Abacha, and that was the most challenging one. I would tell each of them that I would like to go, but they would plead that I should stay.
Question: What is your view of the foreign medical travels of the president?
Wali: Foreign medical travel by Nigerian presidents and heads of state are not unusual, so also extension of stay while away on treatment. I remember when President IBB when to France for medical treatment in 1986, for a period of one month, we had to request for an extension by a whole month on the advice of the doctors.
As for President Buhari, he regularly went for checkups, except for the period of 1985 to 1988 when he was detained. As for the recent extensions requested for by the president on the recommendation of his doctors, it is important to understand the principle guiding the relationship between doctors and patients.
There are four ethical principles, namely: Autonomy, where a doctor has to explain any action he intends to take with its advantage and disadvantage, possible harms and benefits. The patient has the right to accept or reject the recommendations. Then there is Beneficence, where all actions and procedures should be of benefit to the patient. In the case of Malfeasance, it’s ‘do no harm’. Then there is Justice, when benefit to the patient and community should be assessed. If there is danger to the community, the doctor can override the wishes of the patient like Lassa fever, Ebola disease and so on. In such cases, the doctor is obliged to report to appropriate health authorities.
Question: What is your advice to Nigerians on this issue?
Wali: We should be patient, sympathize with the president, and pray for his early return home. The acting president is working very hard and governance has continued smoothly.
Question: As the former personal physician of President Buhari, what is your advice to him?
Wali: He should be patient, accept his doctor’s advice, noting the overwhelming support he enjoys.