By Tonnie Iredia
When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 2011, many citizens mostly activists and journalists assumed that the nation had achieved a near revolution because through the Act the days of secrecy in governance ought to be over.
Although it was expected that the Act would make Nigerians know everything about how they are governed, events have since shown that the Act in Nigeria is only a policy statement and that like all policies in the country, the gap between plans and implementation is exceedingly wide.
This seems to explain why, those in authority make it impossible for the citizenry to know what is happening in government.
With the modalities for utilizing the provisions of the FOI Act yet to be put in place, any effort to make those in power accountable to the people would remain a mirage. The nation is therefore greatly indebted to Aisha Buhari, the wife of our President for exposing so much about the Special Hospital in the Villa. Through her effort, we are better positioned to catch a glimpse of why Nigeria is virtually static.
Some days ago, our First Lady told stakeholders at a meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Nutrition, Child Advocacy and Health and Nutrition (RMNCAH), that going by her findings at the State House Clinic in the Villa, the Nigerian health sector was in a deplorable state.
Her deduction is logical because if a medical facility dedicated to looking after the first family is defective, where else is a functioning public hospital likely to be found? Recalling her personal encounter with the Centre, she revealed that the place was operating with a dysfunctional X-ray facility amidst non-availability of everything medical including basic drugs.
All she found happening in the Centre was inexplicable continuous construction of buildings as if it was a site of the Federal Housing Authority. Since then, some people in government have been in disarray trying to explain or add more fire or cover aspects of the subject. The gain has been that of the nation as more and more of what people do or fail to do or are not allowed to do are coming out.
First, it has shown that the highest decision maker concerning the hospital is not its Chief Executive and Medical Director but a civil servant described as Permanently Secretary, State House. So, what is the relationship between the Medical Centre and the Ministry of Health which also has a permanent secretary and indeed a minister?
Now that the priority of the centre is buildings, is not time to ask of the real purpose for which the centre was established? Was it supposed to cater for all comers or the first family and her immediate staff?
Because of the first lady’s exclamation the truth has now come out that the centre now caters for what has been explained as “apart from the presidency, other beneficiaries of the free services include political appointees, the military, para-military, other security agencies, members of the national assembly, and the general public.”
The reason is not farfetched; it is because the service is free. If so, who now patronizes the public hospitals in Garki, Wuse, Maitama and Asokoro and is it really true that the centre also caters for even our legislators who we hear have allowances for every item or subhead?
Second, Aisha Buhari’s critical comment has also shown that figures that are bandied around in budgets are a far cry from reality. For instance, it has now been made public that the Centre has a zero allocation in 2017 and that the claim that it had N11.01billion as appropriation for the period 2015-2017 is incorrect.
“According to the permanent secretary, State House, Jalal A. Arabi, “out of the total capital appropriation of N2.9 billion and recurrent appropriation of N465 million for the period under reference, only the sum of N969 million (representing 32.97%) for capital and N225 million (representing 48.41%) for recurrent was actually released.” Who has the balance? This question and many others are what investigative journalists have been working upon in the last two weeks.”
The media have found and are still finding many allegations that should now be explained. They have found for example that the poor state of the centre is well known to higher authorities considering that the Medical Director Dr. H.Y Munir had reportedly addressed a letter to the Chief of Staff to The President dated 3rd October, 2017 titled “Re-State House Clinic Patients Groan Over Drug Scarcity.”
Another issue concerns the failure of the clinic’s management to fumigate the centre and its environment thereby breeding mosquitoes such that patients on admission at the centre battle with mosquitoes at nights while others who visit the clinic with different ailments leave with malaria.
There is also the problem of salaries of internship doctors which are reportedly diverted into fixed deposit while another allegation suggests that doctors lure patients from the centre to their private clinics while they leave student-doctors to attend to patients under critical health conditions at the centre.
It has also been alleged that so far 21m has been deducted for the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) whereas no staff has access to the scheme interestingly, as soon the President’s wife raised alarm, the House of Representatives quickly swung into action to probe the subject.
According to media reports, the decision of the House was sequel to a motion entitled, ‘’Need to investigate the deplorable condition of the State House Clinic and the alleged deductions from the salaries and allowances of the medical staff”, moved by Rep. Henry Archibong, PDP, Akwa Ibom.
The House was also reported to have commended Mrs. Buhari for what was described as “her exemplary show of patriotism and selflessness” in exposing the rot at the clinic. The involvement of our legislators provides another angle for questions.
How effective is the House committee on health? Is it aware that what has been appropriated for the clinic is different from what is released? How far do our legislators carry out their much talked about oversight functions?
Indeed, why was the exposure of the alleged rot at the centre by Aisha Buhari for which she is being commended by the House not discovered and exposed during oversight functions? The summary is that Mrs. Buhari has admirably opened-up governance.