By Dele Sobowale
“When those in office regard the power vested in them as personal prerogative, they invariably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends….—Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s former Prime Minister.
Everybody who reads the newspapers, patronises the social media or watches independent television stations like CHANNELS or AIT is by now familiar with one ongoing national disgrace involving the Federal Ministry of Health, FMH. Anyone thinking that only one scandal potentially embarrassing to this administration exists in that vital Ministry.
Nothing can be further from the truth. Unknown to most Nigerians and others observing from abroad is the fact that one of the reasons Professor Isaac F Adewole, also known as IFA by his College of Medicine colleagues, has not resigned is the fact that he has also administered the FMH in a manner that might trigger nationwide prolonged strike by doctors in the federal service at a time when it might sabotage the President’s re-election campaign. It is no secret that Buhari’s second term is not something enthusiastically supported by me.
But, if he must go, it should not be because some of his top officials deliberately or inadvertently brought down his downfall. A national strike, which is now building up according to very reliable sources, by senior health workers early next year, close to the elections, will all but guarantee that defeat. It will be too late to make amends when the strike starts on account of having a Minister of Health who behaves as if the FMH staff are like his students in the College of Medicine.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962. US First Lady.
At the moment, one of the leading stories which refuses to go away concerns the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, a unit under the FMH. Without any reasonable doubt left, this administration has openly humiliated the Minister of Health Professor Adewole and just as brazenly sided with the Professor Usman Yusuf, the Executive Secretary, ES, of the NHIS, who comes from Katsina state and is known to be a close relation of the President. Lee Kuan Yew’s statement about leaders promoting their families and favouring their friends could not have been more deliberately demonstrated by this government. Allow me to summarise the series of events which resulted in the latest slap in the face for IFA.
On October 18, 2018, the Board of the NHIS, headed by Dr Enyantu lfenne, announced the suspension of Professor Yusuf on account of allegations of massive corruption levelled against the ES. The allegations included massive misappropriation of funds and nepotism among others. The funds said to have been mismanaged run into millions of naira. All these were reportedly happening in a government promoting itself as fighting corruption.
It needs to be added at this junction that the former US Ambassador to Nigeria, William Stuart Symington, in his book published recently, has reminded us that “What many people consider as the great corruption is stealing of money, but, what to me is the great corruption is when people are deprived of justice, when you do things without regard to the rule of law.”
The October suspension of Prof. Yusuf was not the first. He had earlier been sent on suspension by the Minister for the same reasons. That decision was reversed by the Presidency without consultations with IFA. Prof. Yusuf who was rumoured to be insubordinated to the Minister and who repeatedly boasted that nobody could touch him was returned to his office in total disregard of one of the iron laws of organisation management.
You don’t humiliate a superior officer just to please his subordinate without creating chaos in the system. But this government cares very little about institutional norms once nepotism rears its ugly head in a matter. Predictably, the man returned to his desk more defiant than ever – all in the knowledge that he is untouchable. The offenses apparently mounted and the petitions became torrential.
“The true measure of your wealth is how much you will be worth when you have lost all your money.”
Years ago, when I came close to being totally broke, as an economist, it occurred to me to develop for myself a new measurement of wealth and how to measure that elusive concept. I soon realised that ordinary accounting methods are totally useless because they only point the way to self-disgrace for people who are experiencing hard times financially.
I had to decide what I would not do to earn money under any circumstances. The tough time fortunately did not last long. But, the tough decision endures till today. Permit me to apply those measures to IFA’s predicament which to me is largely self-created.
The Minister was over-ruled by the President without regard to the processes of the system. It was contemptuous of the Minister.
Right there and then a Minister with any modicum of self-respect and one without inferiority complex should have resigned and gone home. One might ask that apart from the huge financial benefits accruing to Ministers, what held Professor Adewole back?
As a Professor of Medicine, and a former Vice Chancellor, he is already more than comfortable by Nigerian standards. He could have gone abroad and continued teaching, earning dollars in several advanced countries, or more modestly, become an Emeritus Professor here at home. Why, was he accepting the disgrace brought about by nepotism and ethnic champions? Where was the sense of self-worth? He was insulted with his own consent.
Unfortunately, once a person allows others to abuse him without raising objections, he almost always invites another attack. This time, it was the Board of the NHIS which initiated the move for suspension. But, it still required the consent of the Minister – which was given willingly.
At that point one should have asked Prof why he thought this government would change its attitude and allow the suspension to stand? Why would a politician who took a position with his mind on votes in a state change when elections are closer and risk losing those votes?
This administration might be deceiving Nigerians about fighting a war against corruption, but the vast majority of Fellow Citizens in Katsina state are not interested. Indeed, they remind me of that quip by Honore de Balzac, 1799-1850, who said “I am beginning to wonder how many fools it takes to make the term “My Fellow citizens”.
Adewole should have excused himself from partaking in that suspension order because it would only result in the embarrassment which he now again experiences. But, having signed on, he should have braised himself for the possibility of another rebuff by government and his resignation letter should have been ready to be delivered.
The real question is: why has the Minister failed to resign? That takes us back to the first part of this article. He runs the Ministry of Health as if he is a professor with a classroom full of students. Highandedness is also a sin of which he can be accused. And, it is hard to believe that the man who spent his life as a public servant in the health/education sector treats his former colleagues with disdain – now that he is a Minister.
One aspect of his intransigence is now threatening to blow up in his face and create a big problem for Buhari. Years of entitlements owed to doctors in the service of the Federal Government remain unpaid and there are indications that the some of the funds have been released to the Ministry months ago. But, till today nothing has been delivered to the workers. Efforts, including a letter from me to the Minister to explain what happened to the funds have not been acknowledged. Inquiries on my last trip to Abuja reveal that all the staff of the Ministry appear to be aware that there is a deliberate attempt to withhold the funds from the doctors for reasons best known to the leadership of the ministry.
OSHIOMOLE VERSUS SARAKI REVISITED
“He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good.”
Confucius, c551-479BC. Chinese philosopher.
Adams Aliyu Oshiomole, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, came into office yelling that Senate President Saraki will or must be impeached. He repeated it more than once. I advised him to face his monumental work of leading APC instead of adding to his problems. Saraki would not go because Aliyu said so and he courts defeat on this one. One of Adams’ fans sent me a text message boasting that Saraki would go.
Today, the APC has resigned itself to Saraki Senate Presidency until a clear majority of the Senate get tired of their President. Oshiomole, meanwhile, is fighting to save his own job. A man fighting for his political life has no time to fight for anything else. Now he is wiser than before. Good luck to him.