BY SIMON EBEGBULEM & GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE, BENIN
A stone throw from King’s Square, in the heart of Benin, is the Benin Central Hospital, a medical facility built by the colonial masters 115 years ago. The hospital, conspicuously located on the Sapele Road, was at inception named Benin General Hospital before it was changed to Specialists Hospital and later Central Hospital in the 1980s. Just like its name, the ownership was transferred from British Government to the Western Governments, Midwest and Edo State government.
Though modern structures have been added to the colonial buildings left behind by the imperialists, the colonial buildings are the most noticeable in the hospital.
Expectedly, many of the structures had long seen their best days and are now decrepit. The structures, till today house the major departments of the hospital such as Out-Patient Department (OPD), the wards, Maternity and Gynaecology, Dentistry, Pharmacy, laboratories, Accident and Emergency among others.
Piqued by the lack of development in the hospital more than 100 years after it was established, former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, moved to give the hospital, that had become the largest medical facility owned by the state government, a facelift.
Oshiomhole’s decision came after his Principal Private Secretary, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde was murdered in May 2012. Oshiomhole was angry when he learnt that shortly after he was shot, Olaitan was rushed to the Central hospital but there was no life-saving facility to resuscitate him before he gave up the ghost.
Apart from Oyerinde’s incident, Oshiomhole equally vowed to equip the new hospital with cancer screening equipment so that other Edo people will not suffer the same fate as his late wife Clara who died of cancer. He commenced the building of the new structure which was conceptualized as a modern accident and emergency centre with state of the art diagnostic equipment and private wards for specialized medical care.
Edo people generally applauded Oshiomhole’s vision especially with the commissioning of the magnificent edifice in November 2016 by President Mohammadu Buhari. Though the new Central hospital is yet to take off because of the difficulty in sourcing for foreign exchange by the contractor, even after government had paid 75 per cent of the contract sum, the former administration expressed optimism that the hospital would be ready by October this year.
However, the latest declaration by Governor Obaseki that he would privatize the hospital is already generating criticisms as Edo people argued that privatizing it will kill the objective of building the hospital which is to provide affordable health care for the people. The governor had explained that the idea of privatizing it was to ensure that a reliable and competent private sector will run the hospital so as to provide efficient health care delivery to the people.
Kicking against the governor’s plan, majority of the people of the state argued that the government should have arranged with the manufacturers of the state of the art hospital equipment to maintain them rather than outright privatization which according to a top Benin Chief will make the hospital too expensive for the common man to afford.
Another concern raised by a group known as the Edo Coalition for Good Health and Healthy Living (ECGHHL), in a statement signed by Dr Isaac Osato, queried, “Will the old and new structures which are located side by side maintain the name central hospital? Will the new structure be for the rich and the old one for the poor? We are saying this because the health workers have been advocating for improved emoluments for many years and many have left the system for greener pastures. Now the governor is talking about privatizing the new hospital, will the staff in the new structure be paid higher wages to the detriment of those who have made sacrifices to remain in the system despite their poor pay?
This has serious implications for industrial harmony because the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the other unions in the hospital under the auspices of Joint Action Committee (JAC) will confront the government and that will create unrest to the detriment of same people you intend to protect. When you privatize the new and abandon the old which was built in 1902, there will definitely be disparity and it is not in the interest of the poor people which was why Oshiomhole built the hospital.
As it is now, the Benin Central hospital has only one general surgeon, no X-ray services and eye clinics because the structures housing these units were demolished to give way for the construction of the new hospital.
And today most facilities at the old hospital are in comatose and that is why people who lose their loved ones in the hospital engage both doctors and nurses in a fight on daily basis. So we are appealing to the state government to hold a public hearing on the issue before privatizing the new hospital since the money expended in its construction was public funds”.
At a media briefing days after Obaseki announced the planned partnership with a private firm, state chairman of the party, Dan Orbih, said it was shocking that Obaseki was looking for private partner to equip the hospital after contract had been awarded by the Oshiomhole government to equip the hospital.
He pointed out that former Governor Oshiomhole publicly admitted that he awarded contract to equip the hospital but brought President to Benin to commission an empty hall and not a hospital. He alleged that the hospital might have served some personal interests.
He alleged that a total sum of N1.67 billion was appropriated for the hospital in the 2014 Edo State budget, N3.5 billion in 2015 and N5.1 billion in 2016. In all, he said a total sum of N10.27 billion was appropriated to the Accident and Emergency ward of the hospital in three years and that the Obaseki government also provided the sum of N500 million for the hospital in the 2017 Edo State budget. Orbih noted that it was inconceivable that a private firm that did not contribute fund in the construction of the hospital was being invited to manage the hospital.
He said, “what is the financial equity contribution of the faceless partners in Edo State Central hospital ward? The cost for the construction of the Calabar Specialist Hospital with a comprehensive package of secondary, gynaecology, obstetrics, pediatrics, internal medicine, general surgery, orthopaedics laboratory services, basic neology and basic cardiology, dermatology, urology and eye surgery was N6.4 billion.
“The state government’s capital outlay was set at N3.2 billion while the balance of the financial requirement would be sourced by the concessionaire, UCL HealthCare Services Limited, as its equity contribution to the project in true spirit of Public Private Partnership (PPP).
“The Ibom Specialist Hospital in Akwa Ibom State will cost N12.75 billion with 303 bed facilities, VIP and VVIP Ward, 1.5 Tesla MRI 640 slides CT Scan, Digital Mammography, Endoscopy Surgery, open heart and transplant surgeries, highly sophisticated intensive care unit, Paperless and Pneumatic delivery Services, Fully automated labs and dialysis units, Medical Gas Plants and Helipad for Emergency Evacuation.”
He also faulted assertions by the former and serving governors over the plan to equip the hospital.
“In an interview this week, Oshiomhole said forex scarcity delayed the supply of equipment. I guess the duo of Oshiomhole and Obaseki did not harmonise their thoughts before speaking to the public,” the opposition leader said.
Oshiomhole in reacting to the criticisms of the PDP said “Initially the PDP said I did not build any hospital, that it was a fraud. So if I did not build a hospital what is it that the governor wants to privatize that they are complaining about? So it tells you again part of the contradictions and mischief of PDP.
What I discussed with the governor even before I left office was that having used public funds to build a five star hospital and equip it with the state of the art equipment, we have to discuss the issue of management, as it cannot be run like a civil service. It has to be managed by professionals and so the issue of how to manage the hospital is a viable question of the governor and his team to address. If a hospital is to be sold it cannot be sold secretly.
“So if the governor says that he is going to look along the line of PPP and ensure smooth and effective health care services, I don’t think anybody should begrudge the governor. Today people fly to India, if you can save the cost of ticket alone, the cost of the person that accompanies the patient, and you find those facilities available in Benin, I will think that the average Edo person will be happy.
Nobody can claim to love the people more than the man the people have elected to help them manage their common will. The PDP has been rejected and they will continue to be rejected and they cannot be the one purporting to speak for the good people of Edo state because the good people of Edo state know that Governor Obaseki will never betray them”.