By Ochereome Nnanna
A DEADBEAT dad is an irresponsible father; one who does not play his due roles in the upbringing of his children. As a Nigerian, what does government do for you? I opened my eyes and saw the Nigeria of the middle 1960s. In my community (Abiriba), we had a hospital where majority of the doctors were expatriates. I remember a beautiful British lady doctor who was so beloved by the ordinary people that they gave her the local name: “Oyediya.” When the civil war started and she had to leave the country, she drove round the town to wave a tearful goodbye to the ordinary villagers.
Akahaba Joint Hospital, pioneered by the Great Dr. Akanu Ibiam, was serene with flowers, grassy lawns, whistling pines and palm trees. The buildings were painted with brilliant colours. It looked like “London” in the eyes of the locals. Many children who went there to be treated insisted on being hospitalised because of delicious food and care the nurses dispensed. I never heard that anyone was detained for inability to pay bills. Go there now and take a look. We had a waterworks that provided public pipe-borne water which we lined up to fetch. There were 10 primary schools and two colleges. Unlike our fellow countrymen in the West who were enjoying free education, we in the East paid to get education that towered in standard and quality output above the rest. But there were generous scholarship opportunities for gifted students. In summary, government worked for us.
Information at my disposal indicates that government worked even more for the few Northerners who dared to go to school. They were not only given free education, some of them even got paid generous allowances at higher levels of education. Today, all those things are gone. The funniest thing (if I may use that word) is that despite the fact that the whole country descended on us in the East and destroyed everything we had during the civil war, the level of systemic despoliation in the Western and Northern parts of the country are as bad as they are in the East (and even worse in many specific instances) even though not a single shot was fired in those regions.
Despite that the oil money mined in the East has been poured into the West and North with the East generally sidelined in the distribution of power, positions and developmental goodies, the North remains the poorest and most backward part of the country. They are behind in every aspect of human development. They talk of “American wonder,” what of this “Nigerian wonder?” We live in an unusual society where a PhD holder was VP to a Grade II Teacher President in 1979 to 1983. Today, a Professor of Law is VP to a man whose School Certificate remains in doubt. Ghanaians call Nigeria a country where the blind lead the sighted; they are correct.
Everybody is forced to operate his own government. We give ourselves water. Those who build houses must perforate the earth and drill a borehole or they buy water from Mallams. Everybody must buy a generator or sleep in the heat and darkness tormented by the smoke and noise of his neighbours’ generators. Everybody must look for a private school and pay through the nose to educate their children because government is no longer able to provide quality education through the same public schools that groomed those currently in power. Benue people are being slaughtered by Fulani herdsmen, who cares. Yet, they are not even allowed to defend themselves. What about public hospitals? Don’t make me laugh.
Penultimate weekend, I witnessed firsthand what ordinary Nigerians go through when doctors go on their annual strikes. In terms of health, I am blest in many ways. We hardly fall sick in my family. The grace of God is more than sufficient for us. Apart from routine malaria, occasional food-poisoning and such banal afflictions, we are generally okay, and we have access to fairly good private hospitals.
But on Saturday, 21st April 2018, I was among a group of my tennis club members who travelled to Owerri for the burial of a member’s father in-law. After interment, the reception went smoothly until the usual dances round the square by the deceased’s family. One of them happened to be a uniformed officer and she permitted her orderly to release sporadic shots into the air – with live bullets! Suddenly, one of the bullets fell through the roof of the canopy, landed on the plastic table in front of us and shattered to smithereens, spreading gunpowder and bullet pellets in all directions.
A shrapnel caught a member from Kwara State on the chin. Another landed on another member from Delta State on the head. In a flash, the white clothes of the Delta man turned crimson and we had to rush him to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, fearing the worst. The place was virtually dead: doctors were on strike! We rushed to two other hospitals, including the famous Aladinma Hospital; no doctor on duty. It seems that the hospital is more of a mortuary, because there were up to 30 ambulances of different fanciful specifications waiting for business beside the mortuary. Just look at that: the hospital where the living is catered for was virtually dead but the morgue where the dead is catered for was virtually alive! That is today’s Nigeria for you!
Eventually, we found a good private hospital with a doctor (the proprietor) on duty and our friend was in good hands. The story had a happy ending: the bullet wound was a mere skin shot. As I write, there is a Facebook post about a friend and veteran security journalist, Ben Okezie, who was stabbed by hoodlums in Abuja when his car developed a fault at night. He lost a lot of blood because of the same doctors’ strike. Luckily, his life was saved in a private infirmary.
That is what we face down here. But look at the situation that obtains for those who begged us for our votes and we gave. Despite promising he would never seek medical attention abroad during the campaigns in 2015 (he had actually called for the impeachment of President Umaru Yar’Adua when the latter fell terminally ill ), President Muhammadu Buhari has been treated three times in foreign hospitals. He refuses to tell us how much he spent from our treasury. And this was despite the N3.87 billion (which is more than allocations to all the Federal Government-owned tertiary hospitals put together) for the State House Clinic. The First Lady, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, was to raise the alarm that the Clinic did not have even mere syringes and paracetamol! As usual, nobody has been brought to account.
Apart from Buhari, his “hard-working millionaire businessman” son, Yusuf, rammed a N56 million power bike into a tree and got himself seriously injured. He was sneaked abroad at night. We knew when he returned but we did not know when he was rushed out.
Even before the Buhari family took up tenancy in Aso Rock, two former First Ladies – Stella Obasanjo and Patience Jonathan were treated for “tummy-tuck” in foreign hospitals. Stella died but Patience barely survived. President Yar’ Adua died in a foreign hospital. Why not close down the State House Clinic? Is it just there to swallow our money, like the Makurdi snake, every year?
If you have a deadbeat dad, there is nothing you can do. He is your father. But if it is a mere bad government, then, you can do something. If you don’t, then you are the deadbeat.