By Sola Ogundipe, Clifford Ndujihe & Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA — THE House of Representatives, yesterday, resolved to set up an Ad-hoc committee to investigate former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari’s N11.1 billion State House Clinic budgets between 2015-2017.
The House unanimously agreed to carry out the investigation, 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 also commended the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, for bringing the issue to Public glare.
In his submission on the motion, the lawmaker, who said the clinic has, over the years, been receiving annual budgetary allocations to procure equipment to function optimally, noted that in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Appropriation Acts, the Clinic was allocated the sums of N3.94 billion, N3.87 billion and N3.2 billion respectively, for upgrading and provision of necessary drugs and equipment.
Within the 36 months, what the 16 teaching hospitals collectively got for capital projects were: 2015: N1.424 billion; 2016: 3.333 billion and 2017: N1.943 billion.
Archibong observed that in spite of the huge budgetary allocations, the Clinic lacks necessary facilities such as syringes, drugs and equipment needed to save lives.
Recall that this deplorable condition of the clinic made the First Lady, Aisha Buhari to complain publicly during a stakeholders’ meeting, lamenting her inability to access even the simplest drugs at the State House Clinic.
Noting that the clinic was established to take care of the health needs of the President and Vice President, their family members as well as members of staff of the presidential Villa, he lamented that if this pathetic situation could happen under the nose of the presidency, “you can imagine what will happen elsewhere. It is a shame on this nation.
“This is unacceptable. Less than three years of this government, this amount has been spent. It is unacceptable that the Permanent Secretary and the Minister (Minister of Health) have not resigned. It cannot happen in other smaller countries. Is this the change we have been waiting for? This is a question.”
The House, however, resolved to set up an Ad-hoc committee to investigate the deplorable condition of the State House Clinic and the alleged deductions from the salaries and allowances of the medical staff and report back within three weeks for further legislative action.
Recall that the Permanent Secretary attached to the State House, Mr Jalal Arabi, when the first story on this issue was published in one of the dailies had said that since the clinic renders free services, no matter how much was spent on supply, drugs would finish and there would be a problem if there is no allocation.
Asked how much has so far been released to the clinic this year, he responded: “Honesty, I can’t say offhand, but it’s really paltry and I don’t want to blame anybody. It is because of the situation we find ourselves in terms of revenue generation. But no matter how much is released, so long you don’t commercialise it (the clinic) or there’s a way you generate money to replenish whatever given out, it would finish.”
Arabi added that: “If you leave your gate wide open, like we do at the State House Medical Centre, patients would come, and if they come, you prescribe drugs and give them based on availability. So long as you don’t charge a kobo, they’re coming in and out and you’re giving them drugs, certainly, one day, the drugs will finish. And if they finish, and you don’t have appropriation to replenish the drugs, what do you do?”
Asked if he meant there was no appropriation, he responded: “No! No! No! There are appropriations, but whatever is appropriated is released based on the release you get from the Ministry of Finance. If it’s released, you buy (drugs) according to what has been released to you.
And if the drugs finish, you’ve to wait until another appropriation since we don’t charge kobo. It’s free medical services. And you dispense with what you have. Unless of course there’s a change of policy that you start charging like other hospitals are doing, then one can be accused of not stocking drugs or consumables.”
‘Clinic should be commercialised’
The permanent secretary suggested that the clinic should be commercialised to be able to render satisfactory services.
According to him, there is now a policy mandating those interested in the services of the State House Medical Centre to transfer their National Health Insurance Sche-me profile to the centre.
He added: “There was a time the NHIS policy was jettisoned at the State House Medical Centre in which case you find patients enrolled in NHIS, but have chosen different providers. Because of proximity, they’d rather come to the State House Medical Centre to do it more or less taking free medication when, as a matter of fact, what ought to have come to the State House Medical Centre if they’d utilised the NHIS policy goes elsewhere and you can’t chase it. In the end, the drugs will finish and if you don’t have appropriation, I can’t violate the law.”
The permanent secretary denied the allegation of diverting funds meant for drugs’ procurement to the maintenance of the hospital’s building, challenging those behind it to provide a proof.
Humongous budget for State House Clinic
Since 2015, humongous sums of funds have been budgeted for the State House Medical Centre far above figures allocated to each of the 16 major teaching hospitals in the country.
According to BudgIT, a budget research non-governmental organisation and Vanguard’s checks, total investment in drugs, supplies, construction and medical equipment at the State House Medical Centre in the last three years are as follows: 2017: N290.455 million; 2016: N2.8 billion and 2015: N137.9 million. None of the 16 teaching hospitals got more funds than the state house clinic in the last 36 months.
In fact, in 2016, the Federal Government spent more on capital projects at the State House Medical Centre than it did in the 16 teaching hospitals. The Villa Clinic’s N3.87 billion is more than N500 million higher than the N3.33 billion appropriated for all the teaching hospitals.
As a percentage of the total annual budget, the 2017 health budget is one of the lowest in the last decade. In 2015, the health sector budget of N259,751,742,847 was 3.82 per cent of the total budget, rising to 4.11 per cent at N250,062,891, 075 in 2016 and increasing marginally to 4.17 per cent at N304,109,961, 401 in 2017.
The World Health Organisation, WHO, recommends an annual minimum spending of N6,908 per annum on health of each Nigerian but the 2017 figure works out at N1,688 per annum.
Nigeria’s health sector is currently rated poorly and the inadequate health budget and poor health capital budget, among other challenges facing the sector.
Federal Teaching Hospitals deliver a higher level of care to patients and are responsible for training new generations of physicians and are meant to be frontrunners in medical research and technology.
However, due to inadequate funding, most of these hospitals are functioning below par with abandoned projects, poor healthcare delivery, disgruntled personnel and non-availability of drugs manifesting even as health watchers have repeatedly noted that the Nigerian economy cannot function efficiently if the health of its populace is not guaranteed.
In virtually all the Federal Teaching Hospitals, equipment is obsolete and treatment of chronic ailments such as cancer is a challenge as the broken down radiotherapy machines and other critical diagnostic equipment cannot be replaced due to lack of funding.
Access to healthcare services is challenging at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The neglect of the health sector is fuelling patronage of alternative healthcare abroad and the brain drain syndrome, amongst others and until the right investment is made, the country’s health sector may not improve.
Although Nigeria is signatory to the 2001 Abuja Declaration, that stipulates minimum of 15 per cent allocation benchmark of the national budget to health, the country has repeatedly failed to meet this target in the last 16 years.
According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, Nigeria has the second highest under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world. About 2,300 children under 5 and 145 women of child-bearing age die every year in the country.
Major teaching hospitals
The 16 major teaching hospitals in the country’ are University College Hospital, UCH; Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH; Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, ABUTH; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH; University of Benin Teaching Hospital, UBTH; Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, OAUTH; University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, UITH; University of Jos Teaching Hospital, JUTH; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, UPTH; University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, UCTH; University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UMTH; Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, UDFUTH; Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital, AKUTH; Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, NAUTH; University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, UATH; and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital, ATBUTH.
Reactions Comrade Debo Adeniran
Reacting to the state of the Aso Rock clinic and the huge amount allocated to it annually, Comrade Debo Adeniran Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) said: “That is a confirmation of the deceitful governance to the extent that those who are supposed to supervise activities in the State House have only shrieked from their duty and the president himself seems too busy with other matters and the one at the bridge of his nose, he is not identifying it as a priority.
“So, if he cannot effectively supervise what is happening in his backyard, how do you expect that he is going to do better in other areas away from where he stays or where his office is located?
“It is an indication that the president has too much in his hands that he can cope with. We, CACOL, have asked him to relieve himself of the duty of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, and he should concentrate on the business of supervising all other MDAs so that he can pay adequate attention to all of those things that are being done under his authority. He would be accountable to the people and the accountability would be thorough and convincing.
Dr. Junaid Mohammed, Medical Doctor and Second Republic parliamentarian in his reaction said: “The first major reaction came from those who are customers of the Aso Rock Clinic, that is the First Lady herself and the fact that the first person that they have to account to is the First Lady and if she comes out to condemn them and nobody has contested what she has said, I have no doubt but to believe what she has said.
“So far, she has never been caught out lying even when what she says is not convenient.
“I am not surprised the way Aso Clinic turned out to be. That hospital should not have been set up the way it was established by the Babangida regime. None of the rules of procedure of setting up this kind of establishment were followed.
“The hospital has never been badly run as it is currently being run under the current management. I sincerely hope that the Buhari administration should take the trouble to consider whether we really need the Aso Rock Clinic and I truly believe we need it and then make sure that it is properly funded.
“The absence of basic consumables shows that those who are running the clinic have their own priorities and even though they are medical doctors, have no loyalty to the healthcare delivery system in this country. So, we must investigate this and make sure that Aso Rock Clinic is treated as a normal federal medical centre and its funding should be rationalised.
“We should also note that not every doctor is good in running a facility because running a facility is management and from my experience, running a hospital is management.
There should be thorough investigation
Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)
“If the First Lady has put that particular reason in the front burner of national discourse, it then must be thoroughly investigated so that we don’t continue to lose money either by act of commission or omission.
“The First Lady must be familiar with the Aso Rock Clinic and if it is said that N3.2 billion was allocated to Aso Rock Clinic, then it means that something needs to be investigated and a lot of things have to be unravelled if we are indeed serious about our fight against corruption.
So, flash light must be beamed on the Aso Rock Clinic so that we know where the money that has been allocated to the clinic is or the people that should make things happen in that clinic should be thoroughly looked into.”
Buhari should overhaul his cabinet
Mr. Joe Ambakaderimo, Convener, South-South Reawakening Group
“The comment by the First Lady really shows how unfortunate things have become now.
“It means that nothing has changed if people who are working in the villa can be that callous and it is very unfortunate that this can happen under the Buhari regime. We want to call for an overhaul of the federal cabinet; time is running out for the president to rejig his cabinet to save himself from embarrassment.
“He is a lone ranger in his fight against corruption and it is very clear now that he is alone.The president means well for Nigeria.”