“…The common saying, which is absolutely true, is, ‘health is wealth.’ There is another noteworthy saying, which runs as follows: ‘if wealth is lost, nothing is lost, but if health is lost, all is lost.’ I am sure that it will be generally agreed that other things being equal, the healthier the man is, the more productive economically he becomes.”
– Obafemi Awolowo, 1970
Let the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and his aides be clear about this point: there could never be an acceptable explanation for his irksome endless medical trips to the United Kingdom or another country for that matter. Such excursions are unpardonable six years after the inception of a regime that promised to change the way things are done in Nigeria.
On Tuesday, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina was on Channels Television’s Politics Today pontificating away about how it makes perfect sense for his principal to see the same team of doctors he has seen for about 40 years “as long as you can afford it.” With due respect to this respected journalist, he is wrong, and I will explain.
To start with, his “as long as you can afford it” summation oozes to the heavens of high-grade insensitivity of people in government just as it could be a subtle encouragement for Nigerians to run the rat race of seeking medical trips abroad.
The first question to ask since Buhari can afford this treatment is: “So, what happens to the multitude of Nigerians who cannot afford to pay N500 to register in hospitals in Nigeria, let alone travel abroad on medical tourism? Yet, these are the people who queued up in lines, defying rain, and shine to vote for the President in 2015 and again, in 2019! These are the people whose welfare and wellbeing he swore to take charge of. Are statements like, “as long as you can afford it” mindful of the unabating helplessness of this multitude?
The second thing is when you say a President can seek medical attention anywhere in the world because he can afford it, do you forget that he is the number one servant of the people of Nigeria? Do you forget that since the day he took office as President, he became the property of Nigerians to whom he is and should remain accountable until he leaves office? So, with that in mind, does Buhari spend his personal funds on these trips or does the country pick his bills? Regardless of what the answer to this poser may be, a leader whose country’s health sector is in the shambles like Nigeria’s is, should lead by example, patronise doctors and hospitals at home just in the same way he has asked Nigerians to eat rice produced in Nigeria and consume other Nigerian-made products. Any other explanation is simply hypocritical or a cofounding misunderstanding of the symbolism inherent in the President’s action or inaction in the areas he has pledged transformation.
The point is that transformational leaders don’t take actions, which do not add to the development of their countries, just because it is convenient. Such leadership is about what a leader is willing to sacrifice at personal inconvenience just for a greater country. Transformational leadership isn’t just about the title; it is more about the judicious use of the opportunity and scarce resources to show positive action and examples. A country like India did not become the second-largest exporter of textiles without the conscious sacrifices of nationalists like Mahatma Gandhi and one-time Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who wore what their country produced in identification with the poor.
There could be the argument that the President’s health is not comparable to food and clothing like the examples above and this is exactly the point. Realising as the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once said, that every Nigerian needs a sound body and mind to be at his productive best, the Buhari regime should have done its best to improve Nigeria’s health sector, restore confidence in it and build it to the extent that the President’s so-called familiar doctors could at best be invited to Nigeria to consult with him if the need ever arises!
But there is even no chance for that, not in the medical facility within the Presidential residence, not at the National Hospital, Abuja, or any of the tens of federal medical facilities that exist in the country. When Adesina was asked if the Aso Rock Hospital cannot treat the President on Tuesday, rather than give a straight answer, he deflected and went on to say that the facility was downgraded to something less than a clinic “one or two years ago,” without giving us an idea of why that happened. Put differently, under the Buhari regime, a health facility he inherited was “downgraded” from a clinic to a medical centre without any remediation. If such a degradation in status can occur until Buhari’s watch, imagine the fate of those of the already downtrodden Nigerians in far-flung places outside the zoom of presidential cameras.
There could be the argument that healthcare delivery in the country is a concurrent function of the federal and state governments and that is correct. It would also be correct to argue that the highest percentage of Nigerians are in the states and local government areas, such that sub-national governments should bear the blame for the widespread poor health care delivery, but there is a place for the galvanisation and inspiration and national action by a President who sees the very urgent need to deliver better services to the people and understands the cumulative effect of health initiatives by governments on his own performance. Understanding this should motivate the national government to call all governors, across party lines to act in the interest of the people of Nigeria. Pretty much the kind of initiative taken by the Obasanjo administration in the early parts of this republic and much more needed at this juncture.
In the absence of this, Nigeria is currently saddled with a comatose health sector struggling with unprecedented brain drain, (resulting in increasingly gross poor staffing), an unmotivated and ever agitating workforce, lack of access and where access is available, poor health care delivery, poor and obsolete equipment in addition to an ever-suspicious work environment where professionals are in eternal suspicion of one another. These are the conditions ordinary Nigerians face while seeking healthcare amid a deluge of other challenges that threaten their livelihoods. Then, amid all of these, someone justifies the President’s medical expedition “as long as he can afford it.”
While it should be the wish of every Nigerian that the President is in good health, his office demands him to seek the welfare of the people ahead of his own. And if the nature of self is so strong that a leader subordinates the needs of the people, the government should be sensitive to the deprivations that the people suffer, work assiduously to ameliorate it, and do not flaunt the capacity to seek alternatives in the faces of the people.
Making a success of the presidency of Nigeria, where a vast majority of the people are poor, uneducated, lack access to basic amenities and whose only one lifeline-hope is fast becoming a pipeline dream requires extraordinary vision, unwavering dedication, selflessness, self-discipline, and sensitivity to the needs of the tens of millions of people. Everyone around the President must understand this.
– Twitter: @niranadedokun
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