Not a few Nigerians, I’m sure, were surprised that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, does not know about the sorry state of our health sector. This is because the situation is an open secret. In fact it’s no secret at all because every alive and aware Nigerian, knows that we have a health-care system that’s nothing to write home about.
This is why in 2015, we looked forward to an APC-led government that will focus great attention on improving healthcare, and providing the necessary infrastructure to make medical tourism totally unnecessary. Indeed it was one of President Buhari’s campaign promises to end medical tourism. But as we saw in the last five years, the president himself became the face of medical tourism.
So back to Boss Mustapha, who made this admission while parleying with our lawmakers at the Senate chambers on Thursday. I, personally, don’t think it’s possible for someone in his position not to know about the deplorable state of our public hospitals and clinics nationwide. Even on Monday this week, the lead story on our cover page was ‘State House clinic ‘unfit’ to treat Abba Kyari’. It has kicker that says ‘Despite gulping 13bn in 5 years.’ So how can the SGF not know?
Add to this the fact that all categories of Nigerians have been travelling around the world, even to fellow Third World countries, in search of medical care in the last twenty years. If our health sector was up to standard, why would they go to so much trouble in the search for cure?
I know of many people who sold their farms and plots of land to raise money for medical treatment outside our shores. So it’s not a question of being able to afford it or displaying a status symbol. It’s because the medical services needed just aren’t readily available here.
And of course we’ve heard about the countless rural dwellers, in our border towns, who simply preferred to cross into Niger Republic or to Cameroon, in search of free medical care because they didn’t have such in their Nigerian villages. This paper has done a series of reports on these incidents in the past.
While it’s true that we have truly talented and well qualified medical personnel in this country, it is also true that they are constrained by lack of equipment and outdated facilities give their best here. This situation makes it hard for them to rise to the challenges of modern health care needs.
And it’s not because we can’t afford to provide these equipment or upgrade our facilities to modern standards, it’s simply because the funds budgeted for health sector was always squandered by those entrusted with it. Otherwise how can the State House Clinic alone get over N13bn in five years and still has nothing to show for it? And if such a fate can befall this particular medical edifice, which is supposed to cater for the president and his family, as well as other top government functionaries, what do you think can happen to the monies budgeted for general hospitals, teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and other public health facilities?
It’s unfortunate that though we hoped for succour, in this administration, our health sector is not better off than during the 16 years of PDP mismanagement and the several decades of military misrule. And nothing shows that deep down the key actors are no different, than our senators’ attitude to the monies contributed by wealthy Nigerians and corporate bodies to combat Coronavirus.
At the meeting with the SGF on Thursday, the Senate President seemed more concerned with where the monies are kept than planning how to quickly disburse them for the purpose for which they were raised. If the funds are really meant to combat COVID 19, then surely the priority should be to quickly plan how to purchase test kits, protective gear for medical personnel, respirators for patients and all the stuff desperately needed to fight the pandemic. Worrying about where funds are kept suggests that there is no hurry in deploying them for use.
I hope the Dangotes and the Otedolas, the Rabius and Elumelus, as well as the corporate bodies who parted with their hard-earned billions in the name of the scourge are all looking. They should be ready to raise hell if the money is kept in accounts rather than used for the purpose of combating the deadly virus. Meanwhile it is my hope that now that the SGF, Boss Mustapha, has seen the reality of our health sector, he’ll use all his powers to see that a revolution takes place there. Pandemic or not our healthcare facilities should provide Nigerians with what they need to cure and heal everyday diseases like malaria, vital organ failures and numerous childhood ailments that are killing us in hundreds of thousands, annually. When we boast about being the most populous country in Africa or having the largest TV network on the continent, I find both claims truly laughable because these aren’t the things that matter. Until we can provide ourselves with things we really need to survive, like good and affordable healthcare, we really have nothing to show.