By Muyiwa Adetiba
India, Germany, France, UK, USA, Dubai and even South Africa. These are the favourite haunts of our elites whenever they have any ailment or any discomfort.
Almost all our elected and selected leaders fly abroad every year for treatment. Some go every six months.
Some, I hear, go every month! I have heard of a particular female minister in this cabinet who goes to the UK for dental appointment! Can you imagine the cost; just to fix a toothache? And when she can not find the time to go, flies the doctor in. What a waste. What an insensitive waste.
Last week, the Governor of Taraba State, Governor Suntai was involved in a plane crash and has been reportedly ‘flown abroad for treatment’.
Now,a private plane, whether borrowed, leased, or purchased, is an expensive way to move around. Especially if you are the governor of one of the poorer states in the country. But such is the disconnect between our leaders and the rest of us, that few eyebrows, if any, are raised concerning this man’s chosen mode of transportation.
A couple of weeks ago, the first Lady returned to the country from a medical trip amidst mindless pomp and pageantry – considering the fact that we were not informed when she was ‘flown abroad for treatment’. If we didn’t know the ‘whither’ and the ‘whence’ surrounding her departure, why should we partake in her gleeful home coming?
The term ‘flown abroad for treatment’ has become such a cliché that we don’t even think about it anymore. Yet we should; because, if anything, it is a thing of shame that our elites go abroad for any, and everything – from toothache to tummy ache; from cancer to cosmetic surgery. But more than the huge cost involved in this medical adventures, is the fact that our leaders are the ones exposing our underbelly to the outside world, and advertising our underdevelopment. Leaders who can not be treated in their countries are failures.
Last month, a young girl was shot in the head at close range. A war torn, crisis stricken Pakistan was able to save her life and stabilise her enough to be sent to the UK and I am sure her being in the UK is as much for medical reasons as it is for security reasons. My respect for Pakistan has grown because I know what would have happened if the incidence had taken place in Nigeria.
Yet, it was to stop this figurative bleeding that Babangida’s government poured millions of naira in building and equipping the National Hospital in Abuja. It was to stop this bleeding that Obasanjo’s government pledged to upgrade some of our Teaching Hospitals. They obviously had little confidence in what they built because at critical moments, their wives were ‘flown abroad for treatment’. Sadly, neither of them made it back.
Yet, Nigeria is so blessed. We have highly skilled professionals all over the world. People who are assets to any country. The good news is; most of them want to come back. ‘ the really sick people are in Africa’ one said to me. Another said ‘ if I can impart just twenty percent of what I know to my country, I will die a happy man’
But our leaders, from Gowon to Jonathan, have played lip service to Nigerians in the diaspora. The way those who have dared to come back have been treated has not encouraged the others to take the plunge. Yet, need them we do.
One way of skinning this particular cat, is to encourage our skilled medical practitioners abroad, to pool together and come to setup three or four first class hospitals. They know themselves, and if they feel they can trust the government, will come up with the ways and means in achieving this. Ambassador Kolade did a wonderful job with Nigerian professionals in the UK when he was the Nigerian Commissioner. They know and trust him. He could therefore be useful.
Another way of ensuring that the many medical trips to India etc, are halted, is to pass a law to stop political leaders and their immediate family, from being ‘flown abroad for treatment’
My proposal is to ask the Civil Society to sponsor a bill that says ‘from year 2020, seven years from now, anybody who aspires to rule us as Governor, President, or Congressman, must undertake to treat himself, and his family, in Nigerian hospitals. If he can not do that, then he should leave us alone. A few serious ailments can be exempted if we so wish. Secondly, state funds must not be used to treat anybody abroad.
It might be too late for us to benefit from this law. But I bet you, our children will because by 2019, we would have had some first class medical facilities. Then, for once, it can truly be said that ‘for their tomorrow, we gave our today’.
P.S. no political leader should be allowed to have private jets until we have a National Carrier.