Three Things Nigeria Must Focus on After COVID-19 (Part 2)
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria has exposed certain critical dysfunctions in the Nigeria society. Now it has become abundantly clear to all that no serious attention has been paid to the development of the health sector in Nigeria in the last few years. This is particularly striking considering the fact that Nigeria has had two presidents in the last 16 years whose performances were hobbled by serious health challenges.
Umaru Musa Yar’adua, for example, died as a result of healthcare complications less than three years into his reign in Aso Rock. Muhammadu Buhari, the current president spent close to six months in 2017 in a foreign hospital attending to a health concern he never disclosed to the public. Over the past five years, Buhari has made countless runs to foreign hospitals treating all manner of ailments ranging from ear infections to other medical conditions observers believe to be more critical.
One would have thought that a sick president with a limitless supply of money at his disposal would make revamping the nation’s health infrastructure and rebuilding the sector holistically a great priority, at least for the sake of his condition. Sadly, Nigeria is cursed with selfish, shameless and unthinking leaders who lack the capacity to ask critical questions and take common-sense decisions. Does it make sense for the president of a sovereign nation to jump onto the plane every now and again to a foreign hospital in search of basic medications? Apart from Nigeria and a few other equally troubled African countries, can anyone point to any self-respecting nation whose leaders frequent overseas hospitals?
Buhari in 2015 spoke against medical tourism when vying for the presidency. He offered to subject himself to the same medical personnel and facilities as the average Nigeria, promised to fix the health sector and make it competitive with its counterparts from other parts of the world. Well, like everything Buhari said when running for the office, the commitment was soon abandoned as soon as he was declared winner of the March 28 presidential election.
While it is already a big scandal that the Nigerian president frequents foreign medical facilities for his health concerns; what many now consider atrocious is the realisation that despite the humongous sums voted annually for the State House Clinic set up to cater exclusively for the health needs of the president, the vice president and members of their immediate families, the facility according to media reports does not have the most common drugs. Equally curious is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s coldness in commencing investigations to determine where the billions allocated and released for the maintenance of State House Hospital went into.
At any rate, the biggest victim of the corruption in running the State House Clinic and other medical facilities in the country are the elites, those who probably stole the funds in the first place. The president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, for example came down with COVID-19 around March. Till date, very little is known of his condition. Is he alive? Is he in the country? Where is he receiving care? No one knows anything except members of the cabal that allegedly hijacked and cornered the Buhari administration.
At the moment, no senior official of government can jump onto the plane and fly to Europe or America for medical or any reasons matter of fact. If anything happens to them, they will now subject themselves to the very healthcare system to neglected, refused to fund and left to die over the decades. I would not join the rank of those wishing death on the politicians and bureaucrats for being unfair to the country they represent but I would simply remind them that there is no misdeed without a punishment.
Is it not a “miracle” that our sky-loving president has been restricted to a certain corner of his office in Abuja since February? Many cynical experts have indeed suggested that the huge amount of money that would have been spent flying him aboard for all manner of conferences and useless meetings be turned over to the agencies in charge of distributing palliatives so that they can add a few more cartoons of noodles for vulnerable Nigerians.
The president is not the only guilty person here. Since election in 2015, Okezie Ikpeazu, the governor of Abia state has never spent one complete calendar month in the state. If he is not in China today, he is in Australia the next day, New Zealand or America, doing what? No prize for guessing correctly: he is looking for foreign investors. Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna loves to go to Dubai to “chill.” In the past few months, neither of the governors nor their colleagues has found a jet to board in search of bodily pleasures. Many have expressed concern about the mental and emotional health of the president and governors who have been forced by circumstances to “stay at home.”
At the end of the day, the COVID-19 tragedy has again pointed us to a few national priorities which we must begin at once to address.
The first of these priorities shall be the health sector. Now, this is not a question of erecting empty buildings and designating them “world class hospitals.” It is also not time to embark on raising structures at inflated fees as Rochas Okorocha did in Imo state before abandoning them. This is a time to pay holistic attention to the health sector, make necessary budgetary provisions, employ competent professionals and adopt creative models of funding and administration akin to the National Health Service in the UK. Most communities in Nigeria are without something as basic as primary health centres. The most active department in most general hospitals are the mortuary departments as weeds overtake the rest of the complex. All of these must be re-examined and the right things done to fix the sector. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it is the folly of being careless when it comes to the nation’s health sector.
Social safety nets
The second area of priority must be the development of a functional social safety net for vulnerable Nigerians. Data is key here and a comprehensive effort at collating the data of the unemployed, families with special needs and communities where the living standards are abysmal must begin at once. The allegations of favouritism and dysfunction that have greeted the distribution of the current palliatives announced by the federal government are borne out of distrust about the modalities employed for the distribution. Nigeria must begin to appreciate the place of accurate and reliable data for national development. A dynamic data telling us the number of unemployed persons and those who cannot fend for themselves and need support to go from one day to the next would be a great place to start.
Restructure the country
The third important priority in my estimation should be the need to begin a holistic process of restructuring the country. The current mechanism is not working and with too much powers and finances vested in the federal government, the states are stifled and many have remained stagnant. You will observe that many state governors have been unusually silent since the pandemic started. They are not silent because they don’t understand the gravity of the situation. They are quiet because they have convinced themselves that “it is not their business.”
In their calculation, the entire responsibility of preventing the spread of the virus, providing support to families and interfacing with the healthcare professionals and multinational agencies are FG’s alone to bear. It won’t be long before the error in that line of thought begins to manifest- perhaps the rest of the world would have moved on by then.
Now is the time to restructure Nigeria so that we can have more responsible governors who generate wealth and enable development in their states and regions.