By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor
ACCORDING to American Poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 -1882), “The first wealth is health.” Taken further, a healthy man is a wealthy man, so says a saying. By analogy, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
Looking at Nigeria’s state of health, can the country be said to be a wealthy nation 21 years after the return of democratic rule?
On this day, exactly 21 years ago, Nigerians were in festive mood. From across the world, all routes led to the Eagle Square, Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. Reason: The Fourth Republic was being sired. The military that had superintended the affairs of the nation for 16 years was handing over to a democratically elected government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose Administration started on a promising note.
Ever since, May 29 of every year had been celebrated in the country with fanfare, first as Democracy Day until last year when President Muhammadu Buhari made June 12 Democracy Day in honour of Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential poll. The intense battle for the revalidation of Abiola’s June 12 mandate led to the return of democratic rule in 1999.
In spite of President Buhari’s position on June 12, a host of governors still celebrated May 29 last year because it was the anniversary of their ascension to power. The exceptions probably were the governors of Anambra, Bayelsa, Kogi, Ekiti, Osun, Edo and Ondo, whose swearing-in dates had been altered on account electoral litigation.
Today, 29 of the governors have an attachment to May 29. They are in their fifth year or first year in office.
However, there will be no celebrations this year. Instead of the usual festivities in many government houses across the country there will be social-distancing, a new phrase introduced into the world’s lexicon by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the globe.
Nigeria is one of the countries severely hit by the disease in Africa with no fewer than 9,000 people affected at press time with 254 deaths. Since March, the country has been under one form of lock-down or the other with schools, religious and social activities put on hold. If the Federal Government and state governments had not been paying lip service to healthcare funding, Nigeria would have been at a vantage position to combat the coronavirus disease.
Since 1999, budget provision for Nigeria’s health sector has substantially remained below the World Health Organisation, WHO’s recommendation of 13 per cent or the Abuja 2001 Declaration by the African Union of 15 per cent.
In the last 12 years, the Federal Government allocated N3.346 trillion (4.48 per cent) of its N74.70 trillion budgets to Health. In 2019, the Federal Government, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja allocated N1.119 trillion (6.17 per cent) of their collective N18.134 trillion budgets to Health, according to Vanguard checks.
Matters are made worse by incomplete release of the budgetary funds and the bulk of funds released go for recurrent expenditure (salaries and emoluments) instead of capital projects.
As Nigeria marks 21 years of her return to civil rule, we serve you interesting stories on the state of our healthcare and the state of the states on this score. We also bring you Buharinomics – the state of the economy in the last five years of the Buhari Administration.