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Prof Babagana Ahmad:Why I don’t support strike

Weekly Trust: You are the pioneer Medical Director of National Ear Care Centre. How was the journey?The NECC is the only ear care centre in…

Weekly Trust: You are the pioneer Medical Director of National Ear Care Centre. How was the journey?
The NECC is the only ear care centre in the country at the moment. We started from a temporary site on Katuru Road, Kaduna. The then Kaduna State governor Ahmed Makarfi showed concern and gave us a site opposite Kaduna Polytechnic to practice. At same time, we went to the 44 Army Reference Hospital to get some operating theatre space, because we found that as medical specialists we need to operate. We operated in 44 Hospital between 2003 and 2009 and we go there to operate every Tuesday on permission by the Commandant, Brigadier General Aremu and later General Agada. We maintained a very good relationship with the hospital and the Kaduna State government. In 2005,  when Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) Kaduna was moving to Shika, the present site, the Kaduna campus became vacant and the then President Olusegun Obasanjo gave it to Makarfi to expand and utilize it for the state government.  We went to ask Governor Makarfi who gladly relinquished the Psychiatric Department of the hospital to us. That hospital, which was built in 1945, happened to be the oldest general hospital in Kaduna and when ABU came into being in the 60s, it was converted to teaching hospital and allocated to the Psychiatric Department.
When it was handed to us, we turned it to a modern ENT Hospital. The building was strong, so we changed the windows, doors and the roof and equipped it with modern facilities. We added some new buildings like the administrative block and others that could not be converted to modern buildings were demolished.
The Accident and Emergency (A and E) Unit became a necessity, because accident victims, patients with acute malaria, asthma and emergencies at the middle of the night, come to the hospital and we cannot reject them. Some of the accident victims too have problems of nose or ear bleeding. So, we started the A and E to examine patients, stabilize them before we call a specialist to see them or send them to specialist hospitals. The essence is creating impact to the immediate environment. We got youth corps members and some medical officers to treat those people and the ENT specialists go there to admit, operate or give ENT patient drugs.
We also obtained accreditation for such trainings and now we train ENT nurses. We are the only training institution in the country and we have trained over 500 nurses in the states and teaching hospitals. Most of the ENT nurses in the country were trained here. Subsequently, we started training doctors and we have accreditation for the training of ENT surgeons. We need other specialists such as Audiology which is in short supply in Nigeria. They assess people’s hearing using audio meters.
How is funding like for you?
There are two things attached to funding. One, is funding adequate? And two, the one that you have been given, did you utilize it very well? Supposing out of 100 per cent, you are given 50; do you utilize the 50? In the last three years, the funding has not been satisfactory. Between 2010 and now you may be given say N50 million by envelope but the releases may not be up to that amount. You may end up getting N25 or N20 million. So, you don’t know what to tell the contractors, because they spent their money and there is no money to pay them. In 2010 we were sure that the money will come and in 2011 we started becoming jittery and I had to assemble the contractors and talk to them. I don’t know where we are going, because last year, we thought money will come but nothing came. Contractors who were able to complete their projects will not like to hand them over to you. Like this new building, the contractor finished the work and handed the keys to us and we have been using it for the past two years but he has not been paid. The A and E was given to us by the contractor but he was not paid. The contractor of the operating theatre was not paid too. The challenge of utilization lies within the locality of the hospital or a parastatal and the chief executives.
So how do you get them to continue the job?
There is what we call the ‘due process.’ Contract may be different from one point to another. This building and the equipment is below N2 billion. This includes the vehicles, generators and boreholes. You could make it more, depending on how the people in the system are. If you demand anything from the contractor before giving him a job, it means you are inflating the contract especially what people know as ten per cent. Some contractors will even be surprised if you are not asking them. One of them went ahead to do some projects for us free under corporate social responsibility.  The car park was done free by a contractor. If funding can be made adequate and can be utilized well, there will be progress. For example if this hospital can be done under N2 billion, with  N10 billion you can create one in each of the geo-political zones. 
How is the strike  by health workers affecting the sector?
At local level I always meet with medical workers, resident doctors, pharmacists, nurses and associations every January. I call union chairmen and secretaries to discuss our problems and how we can make progress. If they have grievances, they table it.  I made them part of the advisers, so they know what is happening. When we get monies for salaries, we pay if there is the need we tell them because there is communication. If there are things they suppose to benefit in terms of training, we train them. When money is not available, we tell them. So, as a leader anywhere, you must make yourself accessible to not only the people coming to see you, you should go and see them. I move from one office to another. Even if you don’t tell them any problem, you can chat up with them and appreciate their work.
Last year, there was some requests at the national level which made some senior workers to go on strike. But my own was to call them because I didn’t have anything local. They went to the extent of locking the gates – not by our local staff, but by their colleagues from other hospitals. So, I called my staff and said ‘look, you are locking the gates for who?’ They said ‘no it is a national strike’ and that it is their colleagues from other places. So I told them ‘you don’t have any business manning the gates. The gates are being manned by other professionals called security, so you are crossing your boundary. Why not just withdraw your service?’ For instance, if I am a doctor I won’t give service, I won’t see people in the clinic and won’t operate. If you are a lab man, don’t process the specimen, but you don’t need to go and lock the gate. Locking the gate is a great disservice. So I told them that we have outsourced security and they are professionals. In fact, some of them are retired military personnel. Let them do their work.
But they say strike is now the only language the government understands…
I remember calling the striking workers for a side talk and said let’s be honest with ourselves. You are fighting the wrong target. Your problems with government have been listed. Tell me, among the patients coming here, who among them is coming from a minister or may be a permanent secretary, governor, LG chairman or the president? None. Only the common people   come to us. So, if we are seeing people who are poor like   teachers, civil servants, market women, tailors, bus drivers…these are people coming to the hospital to seek for our care. We should know that the society has been polarized into two: the low class and the high class. The high class doesn’t come to your hospital. So, use your sense. It is your neighbours, your friends or even children who come to the hospital. Supposing your child went to school and was injured while playing, they brought him here and you lock the gates against him. That is not a good style. The best style is to address the issue.
I don’t support strike for the single reason that it doesn’t target the people who cause the problems.
How do we address the issue?
This is a political dispensation; for instance, senior staff, medical and health workers, pharmacists, nurses, doctors, lecturers in the universities and polytechnics, colleges of education, all of them are grumbling. These are card carriers who can vote. They should proffer a political solution!  They don’t need to fight people.
 Let us harness our thoughts; lets harness our votes and proffer a political solution. You don’t need to go on strike when you are in a democracy. People like ASUU, NMA are unionists and they are supposed to be politically minded. Let us be thinking that can we have observer groups, can we have a credible election? Can we have somebody who is credible to be elected? Can we protect our votes? That is what we should be thinking of, not strikes. Strike is not a solution.
As the chief executive, do you still have the time to do surgeries?
When I came here as the chief executive, there was no surgery taking place. I also told you that I spent five years operating every Tuesday because by then I was the only consultant. Then later somebody came and we became two. So, I was operating every week at 44 Army Reference Hospital for five years, we were not stable then. When we came here, for us to get accreditation for training of doctors, we needed some required number of consultants and surgeons. I will not be able to operate every week because sometimes you will be needed for so, so and so budgetary things, you may be pursing certain things in a particular office outside Kaduna. If I am around, I do operate. Otherwise, if you don’t operate, you lose your skills
What will you be doing next now that you have come to the end of your stay here?
I will be going back to the university. I will not even think twice, because the university is a good environment to speak out your mind. Looking for jobs at any particular level above MDs or the chief executive of MDAs  is either too risky, or it will bring you down as someone who is not intelligent. If you go beyond the level of chief executive of an MDA and work in the ministry or other places, you will find out that there are certain things that you cannot do or say though you may have the ability because there are some structures or procedures which you have to follow which may not translate into any impact. I am interested in the impact that you will make.
What will you say are your achievements?
I don’t want to blow my own trumpet. You have gone round and have seen for yourself. The National Ear Care Centre is the youngest parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Health. It started in 1999 and now we are in 2013. When we started it was on paper and temporary site, now we are at our permanent site. When we started there was only one nursing school which was unaccredited, now it has been accredited and has trained more than 500 people working in hospitals in Nigeria. We had training of doctors West African College of Surgeons. We have trained some consultants and we have 18 residents on training now. We have operated over 10, 000 patients now, we have seen over 60, 000 patients. The school of audiology has started training. In terms of facilities and infrastructure, to have a permanent site and get accreditation shows that the place functions.

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