President Muhammadu Buhari, last Tuesday, headed out to the United Kingdom for what was officially termed routine medical check-up in London. He is expected back in Nigeria during the second week of April. This latest trip is the first by the President to the UK specifically for medicals in nearly two years– his last medical trip having been in April 2019, though he was in London January 2020 to participate in the first UK-Africa Investment Summit. It was, however, about the dozenth trip by him either specifically to see his doctors, on holidays or on some ‘private visit’ since he became Nigeria’s leader in May 2015.
The President is away, according to official statements, for some two weeks, hence the issue made by critics about his not formally transferring power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is needless. Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) permits him to not transmit a written declaration of his absence to the National Assembly; and NASS may pass a resolution to mandate the Vice President to function as Acting President only after 21 days of absence and “until the President transmits a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions as President.” Talking about legal provisions, the projected duration of Buhari’s trip is within the time constitutionally allowed for not transmitting power.
But the moral propriety of this trip is another matter.The President is gone on “routine check-up,”meaning there is no complex medical challenge at play. Perhaps to underscore the routineness of the trip, the President met several times with security service chiefs, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, as well as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, among other top functionaries before he departed the country. It freshly highlighted the shambolic state of the Nigerian healthcare system when the President would not submit himself to the system even for low level services like routine check-up despite huge sums appropriated annually for the State House Clinic.
Besides, the timing of this trip was most inauspicious. The President jetted off on medical tourism less than 48 hours before the time set by Nigerian doctors on the platform of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) to stop work nationwide over issues relating to their welfare on which they accused government of having defaulted on agreements earlier reached. In other words, it wasn’t perfect timing that the President’strip coincided with no-confidence vote being passed on his stewardship of the health sector by strategic sectoral players like resident doctors.
Inadequate funding has been the bane of the Nigerian healthcare system, with squalid clinics and hospitals, besides poorly paid and overworked medical personnel who mostly seize available opportunity to migrate abroad for better earnings. The U.K. General Medical Council, in a recent website post, indicated that there are no fewer than 8,178 medical doctors of Nigerian origin working in the UK – a figure more than 50 percent above the level recorded in 2015. The skillset drain has only worsened healthcare delivery in this country that has one doctor to about 5,000 people, going by Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) calculations, which is a far cry from the ratio of one doctor to 600 patients prescribed as the global best standard by the World Health Organisation (WHO). President Buhari promised to redress this situation in the leading up to his first coming in 2015. But six years down the line and nearly halfway into his final term, there is hardly any improvement; many would indeed argue things have headed further south.
To be sure, this is a free country and you can’t stop anyone privileged to seek medical attention abroad from doing so. Besides, there is the argument whether you can rightly dissuade a member of the elite class with a history of medical tourism before taking public office from sustaining that lifestyle simply on account of the public office he now holds. But it should be obvious still that it isn’t good optics when the leader of a country readily shops abroad for medicals – even routine check-ups – whereas millions of citizens under his watch are condemned to non-functional healthcare system locally. Many world leaders, especially outside of the continent, make it a sacred duty to get their medical needs met in their respective countries apparently because there is something about national sovereignty involved. After six years in office, President Buhari should feel humbled that the Nigerian healthcare sector can’t provide minimal services good enough for himself.