Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari, is not accustomed to being economical with the truth. She demonstrated this once more in her fulmination against the abysmal condition of the State House Clinic, Abuja, where she had sought medical remedy recently. She revealed that its X-ray machine was not functional, just as there were no ordinary syringes available. As help could not come from the hospital, she told her bewildered audience at a forum on Monday, another hospital set up by foreigners came to her rescue.
The clinic in the Presidential Villa is meant to cater for the health of President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and their families; and other staff of the Presidency and their families. For this reason, it is generously provided with funds in the budget annually. The House of Representatives claims that N10.98 billion was allocated to the clinic between 2015 and 2017.
Aisha spoke at the opening of a two-day stakeholders’ workshop on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition, organised by her pet project – Future Assured. Instructively, her salvo did not spare the Chief Medical Director of the clinic, Hussain Munir, a consultant cardiologist, who was present.
The President has been suffering from an undisclosed ill health that has taken him to London on medical vacations this year – first for 50 days and then 103 days. This sparked much national anxiety. It first began with an ear problem, as Nigerians were told. In all of this, Aso Rock clinic was there just for a window-dressing.
Against this background, the First Lady wondered why massive construction of buildings should be of priority over the provision of basic facilities at the clinic to make it a life-saving and first-class healthcare centre. A clinic where there are no syringes, drugs, equipment and other consumables is a charade.
Her narrative runs thus: “(A) few weeks ago, I was sick as well. They advised me to take the first flight out to London, (but) I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us… Along the line, I insisted they call Aso Clinic to find out if the X-ray machine was working; they said it was not working. They didn’t know I am the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that very time.”
Indeed, the situation is lamentable. In the 2016 budget, the National Assembly approved N2.8 billion out of a N3.8 billion proposal sent to it. In the 2014 Appropriation Act with the heading: State House Headquarters: the purchase of health/medical equipment, received N105.7 million with the code: 23010122. This was followed by N17.5 million for construction/ provision of hospitals/health centres; purchase of mammography machine at N41.08 million; purchase of X-ray machine at N34.1 million – all with code numbers different from that of the N105.7 million for medical equipment. These seem like duplications.
Since money provided for its operations is inversely proportional to services rendered, Aisha has, therefore, demanded a probe of its funds utilisation. This is apt. Her revelation of the underbelly of the clinic came on the heels of an Abuja-based newspaper report that its patients bemoaned lack of drugs and equipment.
It prompted a riposte from the Permanent Secretary in the State House, Jalal Arabi, that it had “some of the best equipment in the country.” But Aisha’s comment bared it all. She was also right with her concern that if this could happen to her in a hospital in Nigeria’s seat of power, what goes on in the wider society could be unimaginable.
This should rank as one of the worst embarrassments confronting the Buhari Presidency, which he must address. With Nigeria’s petro-dollars, put at N70 trillion between 1999 and 2014 by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in June this year, the country has no reason not to have world-class heath facilities for the first family and the citizenry at large.
The immediate past United States President, Barack Obama, once said he had the best healthcare in the world. He was not joking. The White House medical clinic has four doctors; nurses and doctors assistants that treat the first family and the vice-president and family. A retinue of medical personnel with equipment for an onboard operating room on Air Force One (presidential plane) accompanied Obama on all his trips abroad. In addition, unparallel treatment at military hospitals was available to the first family. Every US president enjoys this.
In the United Kingdom, with King Edward VII’s Hospital, Queen Elizabeth II does not fly around the world searching for healthcare. She had a knee surgery there not too long ago; as did Prince Charles with his hernia case. But any Nigerian leader with any of these ailments would have taken the next available flight to either the UK, US, Germany, France, India or Saudi Arabia. Besides Buhari, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and first ladies, Stella Obasanjo and Patience Jonathan, did same.
Aisha’s lamentation signals a wake-up call for a radical overhaul of the country’s healthcare delivery system. Lack of it has continued to guarantee Nigeria one of the worst global indices in child and maternal mortality, tuberculosis, polio and malaria, among other health burdens. It is also at the heart of medical doctors’ perennial strikes; and the $1 billion spent annually in health tourism by Nigerians, according to the Minister of State for Health, Osagie Ehinare. If health is indeed wealth, and the country’s leaders cannot deliver it, Aisha’s pet project – Future Assured – is therefore, a non-starter.