By Tonnie Iredia
One vital aspect of Nigeria’s public affairs that is not transparently part of the transformation agenda of government is health care delivery. No one in authority appears to be genuinely interested in it. Indeed, not much happens even in the basic area of primary health care because the local government councils to which the subject is assigned merely pocket the little that their state governors allow them to have of their monthly allocations.
At the state level, those in charge of governance are not conversant with the shape of our public hospitals because they and their families are registered patients of foreign hospitals. Many political leaders at the federal level are similarly so disposed. Consequently, our politicians pay lip service to the nation’s health care delivery system- a feature that has been so for rather too long a time.
As a child, I grew up to know of the popular “General” Hospital in Benin City which was inherited from the colonial administration. Somewhere along the line, a large sign board with the inscription “Specialist” Hospital was erected at the gate of the hospital to signify a change of name from “General” to “Specialist”.
The explanation for the change of name was that the hospital having begun to recruit experts in different fields had to be appropriately redesignated. Later, the sign board changed again as a new title “State Hospitals Management Board” was designed. Much later, the name was changed to “Central” Hospital. All through the transformation, the only change was the name.
The institution remained essentially a prescription writing centre with no drugs, beddings or other basic implements. Even the mortuary which should have been active on account of the several deaths occasioned by the poor health system in the city was hardly functional.
The story was the same in many other parts of the country. The situation was so bad that the poor state of our hospitals as mere consulting clinics was usually high among the factors which the military put forward to justify their incessant coups.
Unfortunately, civilian governors have since then not been able to place health care delivery as a priority. The late Rev. Fr. Moses Adasu, a catholic priest who surprisingly won election as Governor of Benue State in 1992 had threatened to convert Government House Makurdi to the State Hospital but was unable to do so because his tenure was cut short by the military. Today’s Governors would not think of such a thing.
Instead each of them would seek to transform his state by building a “New Government House” for himself and a “Presidential lodge” should Mr. President comes on a visit. A typical state governor can easily be hailed as ‘Action Governor” if in addition, he refurbishes a few major roads in the state capital at twice the real cost.
No leader thinks of hospitals because there is a conventional preference – ‘oversea’ treatment. This explains why Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State has been in Germany instead of Jalingo since October last year when he was involved in a plane crash. Similarly, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State is reportedly receiving medical treatment in a London hospital.
Due to increasing public outcry on absentee leaders, it is no longer easy to know where they are and for what reasons. It is nosy journalists like this writer that use speculations to draw attention to their movements. For example whereas the aides of Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State would say that the Governor who has been away from Calabar for awhile is merely on “accumulated” leave, the rumour is that he is undergoing medical treatment abroad .
A confirmation that our political leaders do not see anything wrong with the trend is the solidarity visit which a delegation of the Governors’ forum paid to one of their own – Governor Chime – not in Enugu but in London. According to media reports, the delegation which included the Chairman of the Forum, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state also had Governors Gabriel Suswam of Benue and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom states respectively.
Although political opponents are more concerned about the politics of the medical travels of Nigerian leaders, such as the length of stay etc, the real concern should be why Nigerian doctors and hospitals are not good enough for those in power.
Again the official statements on the health travels of the leaders are sometimes merely comical. Hence only a skillful person can decode a few of the recent trips of our first lady. Last year, Senate President David Mark made a trip to Israel for medical treatment for an undisclosed ailment.
His media assistant later described it as ‘minor’. Obviously, a nation whose leaders patronize foreign hospitals especially for minor ailments is in dire need of a standard hospital. David Mark himself underscored this point when he called on President Jonathan not long ago to declare emergency in our health sector.
Mark who spoke at an interactive session of Senators and the partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) in Abuja noted that government was committed to the reduction of child and maternal deaths, as Nigeria contributes only 2% to world population and yet accounts for 10% of the global maternal deaths
It is however not easy to know if the nation is rich enough to better handle its health care delivery system because of the difference between budgets and actual release of funds. Regrettably, we are yet to hear the response of our heath minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu to the request by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), for information on how much has been spent on maternal health care delivery system and prevention in the country in the last five years. It is however good to hear that President Jonathan has promised to provide Nigerians with world-class health facilities.
The President reportedly made the promise through his Vice last week while inaugurating a 150-bed China-Aided Federal Staff Hospital at Jabi, Abuja. Painfully, the President called the institution the Nigerian-Chinese National Hospital. Can we as a nation not afford one standard hospital without outside help? Again, when will the plan to stop our leaders from ‘oversea’ medical treatment take-off?