By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Chioma Obinna
LAGOS — President Muhammadu Buhari’s gesture to settle the medical bills of a blind member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, yesterday, stoked a political fire-fight after former Vice President Atiku Abubakar taunted him for sacrificing the country’s medical capacity through repeated medical tourism.
Atiku, in a riposte to Buhari’s gesture, had tackled him for putting electoral considerations in a humanitarian deed.
The former vice-president’s assertions were immediately tackled by President Buhari’s camp which flayed Atiku for going to London in 2007 to seek relief for what it called a simple leg injury.
The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA on its part, blamed federal officials for not doing much over the years to stem the flow of medical tourism, saying the problem was worsening, with scarce Nigerian funds being used to develop the health institutions of other countries.
The face-off between the two camps followed Buhari’s promise to take care of the cost of medical treatment of a 28-year-old serving member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, Okenala Ahmed, who is visually-impaired.
While commending Buhari for his gesture in a tweet yesterday, Atiku, nevertheless, criticized the President for spending much on his medical vacations, saying the amount spent would have covered the cost of setting up the kind of facility to handle Ahmed’s condition.
“I commend @NGRPresident @MBuhari for paying medical bills of a blind corps member five months to the 2019 election, but I remind him that if he had invested the public funds he spends on his London medicals on public healthcare, he wouldn’t need to do this,” Atiku wrote in his official twitter handle yesterday.
His assertion, however, got an immediate response from Buhari’s Special Assistant on New Media, Bashir Ahmed, who in his tweet said: “Just remember sir, on March 11, 2007, Nigeria’s VP, a leading contender in April 2007’s presidential election, Alhaji Atiku, Abuja, interrupted his campaign to go to London to treat a ‘not very serious injury’ on his knee.”
The APC was also dismissive of the former vice-president’s claims, saying Atiku with his foreign content should not be speaking on the issue.
APC National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, in a reaction, told Vanguard: “It is not people like Atiku that are not local content who should be speaking on matters like this. ‘’We know how he went to London when he fell from a treadmill,” he said yesterday.
Government has failed to put premium on health – NMA
Responding to the development, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, through its National President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, lamented that governments over time had failed to put enough premium on the health sector, lamenting that medical tourism had been compounded by the government while funding the adventures of its officials abroad.
He said: “As it stands now because of the meagre allocation to health, we cannot be able to take care of Nigerians properly. We do not have the proper equipment and personnel to manage the health of Nigerians appropriately too.
“We have called on the government to put more premium on the health of the citizens. Medical tourism as it is, is bad enough. We expect the government to put money in the health sector and improve infrastructure and their environment. Nigerian medical personnel are some of the best anywhere in the world.
“It is the political leaders that ought to put the premium on health. We have consistently frowned at medical tourism that is taking money from outside this country to other countries. We believe that if such funds are domiciled here, we will have better health and the masses will be the greatest beneficiaries of the money is retained in the system.
“It is wrong for the government to give money to people to go outside the country for treatment because if our health system is working perfectly why should we give people money to go for treatment outside the country.
“To make matters worse, most of the health institutions are hospitals they are going to are private hospitals. , how much is the government supporting private health institutions in Nigeria?
“When we visited the president we told the president that as a matter of urgency there is the need for us to set up a health bank through which practitioners can import equipment and other things needed and can take it as single digit loans and pay back in five years.
“This was done in India that they are now controlling the health industry in the world and they are continuing with that. We have told the government to also have a good working environment for our personnel to be able to work properly. For instance, ensuring clean running water should not be luxury; adequate lightning and number of medical personnel are abysmally low.
“Medical personnel are over-worked and living in a condition that cannot allow them to give the best. We also want to encourage the government to urgently improve the coverage for health insurance scheme because out of pocket payment will not help our health facilities or industry in this country. It is when we have proper health insurance we can have adequate treatment at any time.
“We will continue to have poor health indices and will not improve, and brain drain will continue to lead to more deaths of Nigerians. And not all of us have opportunities to go abroad for treatment. As a sovereign nation, we need to protect our territory, and the government must do the needful.”