…No more foreign medical trips for Buhari, Senate warns State House officials
…Says N1.3bn proposed for the State House clinic in 2021 budget
…N1.3 billion is absolutely inadequate — FG
..Presidency keeps mum
…Nothing on ground to convince us they will comply – NMA
By Clifford Ndujihe, Henry Umoru, Chioma Obinna, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Gabriel Olawale
THE Senate, yesterday, warned State House officials against President Muhammadu Buhari embarking on foreign trips for medical attention.
It said rather than allow President Buhari to jet out to seek treatment abroad, the government and State House officials should put the State House Clinic in order for such purposes.
The President’s frequent treatment abroad has generated so much controversy in the polity each time he jetted out for medical attention.
The Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs, led by Senator Danjuma La’ah (PDP, Kaduna South), gave the warning when the State House Permanent Secretary, Tijjani Umar, appeared before the committee to defend his 2021 budget estimates.
Efforts made to get the Presidency’s reaction last night proved abortive, as the media office of the President kept sealed lips on the matter.
A highly placed official of the President, who did not want his name mentioned, simply replied “thanks” to the sms message sent to his GSM for his reaction to the Senate’s position.
But the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, described the issue as a political statement, saying though the Senate directive was desirable, it was yet to be seen how it would be enforced since nothing was yet on ground to make it possible.
Umar had told the committee that of the N19.7 billion allocated to State House in the 2021 budget, only N1.3 billion was proposed for the State House Clinic.
Senator La’ah in his response, explained that though the committee would approve the budget for the State House Clinic, President Buhari and other top officials of his government should no longer be flown abroad for medical treatment.
He said: “Our President is not a man to be taken out anytime anything happens to him or he is sick.
“He must attend our clinic here and we must make sure we equip our hospital to the best of our ability so that any emergency will first be taken care of here before flying out, if the need arises.
“N1.3 billion is already approved for State House clinic. I want this thing done and I want the credit to go to the whole committee that the rehabilitation and equipment of State House clinic we requested was done within the shortest time. Oversight will be done monthly to ensure the job is completed in record time.’’
Speaking with journalists after defending his budget, the Permanent Secretary promised to put necessary arrangements in place to meet the medical needs of the President and other top officials once the budget was approved.
‘N1.3b budget inadequate’
He said: “Today (yesterday), we had the privilege of appearing before the Senate committee. It is not correct to say the State House clinic is comatose, it is not.
‘’We have realigned so many things and one of the fundamental challenges we have dealt with is the sustainable supply of drugs and consumables. Don’t forget that this is derived from the budget.
“We have appealed to the committee to assist us with the presidential wing of the State House clinic.
“The N1.3 billion is absolutely inadequate when you juxtapose the amount proposed and the labour, the status of the principals that the project is going to serve and you compare with worldwide standards you see that it is nothing near what we need. It is considered a legacy project for us because we want to leave something down.”
Mere political statement — NMA
Reacting to the development yesterday, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, described the call by the Senate as a mere political statement.
Ujah also argued that even if the Upper Chamber meant its words, there was nothing on ground to convince Nigerians that those involved would comply.
The NMA president, who also described the statement as old news, told Vanguard on telephone that Nigerian doctors had been calling for it a long time ago but noted that the legislators failed to come up with a law to back it up.
“There is nothing on ground to convince us that the officials will comply with such directive. The one Senate is talking about now is just a political statement because they don’t have the powers to enforce it.
‘’You know it is just a political statement without the backing of a law. We are very sure and confident that the officials will not comply because there is nothing on ground to convince us that they will.”
He stated further that the NMA was not totally against people seeking medical treatment abroad, adding that what it was emphasizing was that no government officials should travel abroad for medical treatment with public funds.
“The call is not new to us, we have been advocating for years. The State House Clinic they are talking about is not a new hospital. Is it not the same hospital that was widely published doesn’t have syringes and needles?
“Even if money is being budgeted for the Clinic, what will it be used for? Is it for equipment or development of capacity for health workers or to buy consumables? It is not enough to put money in it but how much is released?
“Ideally before any public official should embark on a medical trip outside this country, it must be reviewed and approved by Medical Board because fundamentally, everybody has the right to seek medical treatment anywhere. What we are saying is that they should go with their own money, not government money,” he stressed.
Buhari’s medical trips since he assumed office in 2015
Since he assumed power on May 29, 2015, President Buhari has embarked on foreign medical trips five times covering a period of about 170 days (8.56 per cent) of the 1,987 days he has been in power. A peep into the trips reveals:
February 5-10, 2016: Buhari took a six-day vacation in the United Kingdom, claiming that his doctors live in England.
*June 6-19, 2016: Buhari went on a 10-day medical trip to England for an ear infection surgery. He extended his trip by three days to rest.
*January 19, 2017: Buhari went to London again on a medical vacation.
*February 5, 2017: Buhari wrote National Assembly, seeking extension of his London medical leave.
March 10, 2017: Buhari returned to Nigeria but didn’t resume work immediately at Aso Villa. Presidency said “he’s working from home.”
*May 7, 2017: Buhari embarked on trip to London for another medical vacation. He returned after 104 days.
*August 19, 2017: Buhari returned to Nigeria and it took him a while to resume work because rats had reportedly damaged furniture in his office. Presidency announces he’ll be working from home.
*May 8, 2018: Buhari went to London for a four-day “medical review.” Following his meeting in Washington, DC, with President Trump on April 30, President Buhari did not return directly to Nigeria but instead made a stop in London where, according to his staff, he received medical treatment.