By Kingsley Omomobi
It is no longer news that Nigeria with several battalions of its troops spread across the world especially in troubled spots like Darfur, Liberia, Sierra Leone, is the fourth largest troop contributing nation in the world.
It also no news that with the multitude of these soldiers putting their lives on the line for peace and security in several countries under the auspices of the United Nations, and with regards to internal security operations to contain violent crisis in Nigeria, there are no adequate and reliable medical facilitiesÂ to provide treatment whenever there is reason for medical attention.
This situation has resulted in many officers and soldiers who sustained injuries in the line of peace enforcement or in internal security operations in the Niger Delta, the Jos crisis or even the Boko Haram crisis, among a few, having to be evacuated to countries like Ghana, Kenya, Egypt and India for treatment that is commensurate to such injuries.
Also, a situation whereby funds needed for such evacuation and treatments which are usually very expensive, takes time to secure, following bureaucratic bottlenecks, in many cases, have led to many soldiers and officers, losing their limbs for good, having their arms amputated and getting blind and deaf among other injuries.
The case of about 27 soldiers who suffered severe life threatening injuries during ECOMOG operations in Liberia in the 1990â€™s, the drama concerning their evacuation to Egypt for treatment, the bureaucratic bottlenecks regarding the movement and payment of their allowances and their subsequent trial, dismissal and re-instatement which affected the image of the Nigerian Army negatively, is one of the many fallouts of lack of adequate medical facilities for troops.
Having highlighted these shortcomings of the military medical system in the army, the fact also need to be emphasized that the best hospitals in the world, be it in the Americaâ€™s, Europe or Africa, are built and managed by the military in these countries. That is why when an American President takes ill for instance, he is flown to a US military hospital for treatment. Same applies to the Israelis.
It is against this background that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Abdurahman Bello Dambazau, who feels the country, is not only losing millions of dollars treating scores of wounded Nigerian soldiers abroad but also jeopardizing the health status of families of soldiers and soldiers at home with the near comatose medical system in the Nigerian Army of today that, decided to take the bull by the horn and do what no other Chief of Army Staff has done in the history of the army.
Other Army Chiefs before him would concentrate on professionalizing the force, ensuring a combat ready army and training and retraining while ensuring better welfare for troops. But General Dambazau has gone far much further to not only better the lot of the Nigerian Army, he has put in place a legacy that will touch millions of lives of both the civil populace and even top government functionaries and the elites thereby saving Nigeria huge sums in terms of money that would have gone into foreign banks.
The legacy in question, one that would not only shock the majority of the military fraternity but the nation, is the reconstruction of the first Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Kaduna and its transformation to a world standard military facility with a Presidential Wing and a helicopter landing pad for heads of states.
The Massive hospital structure made up of three blocks of detached buildings divided into blocks A, B, and C as well as a separate Radiology block is being constructed through direct labour provided by Nigerian Army Engineers, with Messrs Buoshishi serving as consultants and it has such renown experts like General Electric Corporation of America providing technical assistance.
At first sight of the hospital project which is about 75% complete, one would think it is a World bank assisted project complete with all the paraphernalia and might of a world financial institution, hence the rapidity with which technical experts from both abroad and within have been able to work assiduously to make sure that both equipment and services needed, go smoothly for the hospital to take shape.
But alas, it is the doggedness, determination and total commitment of the Chief of Army Staff himself towards ensuring that the hospital see the light of day, that has led to the magnificent edifice nearing completion after just 10 months.
For a gigantic project of such magnitude which is valued conservatively at N12billion and for which work completion and medical equipment to international standard may bring the total cost to about N5billion or so, Vanguard was shocked to learn that there were no budgetary provision by government towards such an important facility.
Investigations by Vanguard revealed that between the 1980â€™s and now, since the Nigeria Army Reference hospital, Kaduna was built in 1944, there have been five contract awards by federal governmentâ€™s through the ministry of Defence for the rehabilitation of the old hospital structures which had degenerated and sort of gone into oblivion.
On each occasion, both the Kaduna hospital and the Reference Hospital at Yaba in Lagos have both been neglected because funds for the rehabilitation were diverted to other uses and nobody bothered about the impact of such neglect.
But because General Dambazau didnâ€™t want to be undaunted by funding and the bottleneck of bureaucracy which might hamper the project, he went into a partnership with a banking institution (EKO BANK), for funding assistance, got the Army Engineers up and running and contacted Messrs Boushishi for the consultancy which subsequently led to mobilization to site on the 18th of July 2009.
During a facility visit to the hospital, Vanguard gathered that the fund being expended in the construction of the hospital, would be recouped through a cashless operation which would see the bank with offices within the hospital, taking charge of all financial transactions while medical attention is being carried out on patients for a period of time. Speaking during the visit, Medical Director of the reference hospital, Brig-General S. A. Ameh stated that the hospital is designed to accommodate 200 beds but due to the necessity of having a Presidential Wing, the number of beds had to be reduced to 190 beds.
According to him, â€œThe first block of single story building is to accommodate the clinic, administrative wing, industrial kitchen/restaurant, offices, pharmacy, NHIS, record office, cash point and conference hall.
The second block comprises the wards, theatres and the Presidential Wing while the third block is the amenity blockâ€.
â€œThis block comprises a theatre, laboratories and the intensive care unit. Each of the blocks has a lift and a ram in case of power problem and there is an executive lift for the Presidential wing as well.