Turai’s abandoned cancer centre – The Nation

Government and the ex-first lady should explore ways of redeeming it for public good

The International Cancer Centre (ICC) in Abuja, conceived by former first lady, Mrs Turai Yar’Adua, sometime in 2009, but now abandoned, is a metaphor for some of the ailments in our country. But first, we acknowledge that it is edifying that as a first lady, Turai, whose husband was afflicted by undisclosed debilitating ailments, had the presence of mind to start a health- related project that if completed, would add value to public good.

To achieve that objective, however, Mrs. Yar’Adua had to use her influence as first lady to corral a prime land along the Musa Yar’Adua Expressway from the government which her husband headed. Again, peddling her husband’s influence, she garnered humongous donations and pledges from government contractors, businessmen and influential members of the public at a fund raising ceremony, to the tune of N68 billion.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have the opportunity to complete the project before her husband died. With the enormous public influence as first lady gone, the project has since atrophied. We would not be surprised if it turns out that those who pledged huge sums at the launch of the project, to impress and scurry her friendship and favour, turned their back and ignored her, once the glamour of office was gone.

That is the irony of public power, and unfortunately, those who take advantage of it never learn from the experience of their predecessors. But the ICC is just one of several worthwhile private projects funded iniquitously. Perhaps one of the most famous of such projects is President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library (POOPL), in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

Like Turai’s ICC, in order to actualise POOPL, Obasanjo, as President, corralled the Ogun State government to donate public land, while his agents entrapped public and private funds, with the presidential ‘bazooka’ in sight, for those who could dare to resist. Today POOPL is treated as a private asset. Unfortunately, such is the model for public service and public good in our country. Now, with Turai unable to finish the ICC, a project that could bring enormous value to cancer patients in Nigeria, while she had public influence, should the project be left to die?

We think it shouldn’t, more so with the glaring inadequacies of cancer treatment centres across the country. But will it be fair to put pressure on government to use public funds to complete the project, which the initiator conceived as private? Again, that will be a double whammy for the tax-payer, if we consider the circumstances of the betrothal of the land and even the fund raised through duplicitous influence peddling. Yet, it would be more iniquitous to allow the project to flounder and waste.

There are options that should be explored to bring the project to fruition. One of such is for Turai and her family to act the original underlining purpose of engaging in the project: public good. That could be achieved by donating the project, as is, to the government to complete and own. After all the primary essence of engaging in the project and seeking donations is to serve public purpose; and such action will meet that objective.

An alternative model would be to seek out a foundation or a not-for-profit organisation which has the resources and capacity to complete and run the centre for the same purpose she had in mind when she conceived it. Again, such will meet the original intent for which funds were raised from the public with her husband’s influence in 2009. This model, like the first, will bring her satisfaction that her original intent will be achieved, even if she has to give up part-trusteeship and control of the laudable project.

Of note, many who start foundations do not  realise the limitations they have over the use of funds raised in the name of such foundations. All across the country, public office holders or their spouses use the influence of public office to raise humongous sums in the name of one foundation or another, but subsequently, against the provisions of the law, divert the monies to private purpose. That common practice offends the aims and objectives of a foundation as provided in Part C of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), the enabling law for a foundation.

Going forward, Mrs. Turai would immortalise her name, if the ICC is completed for the good of mankind, especially the vulnerable cancer patients, on whose behalf the fund was raised. The alternative will be for the land on which the project stands to be properly paid for, an account rendered of the monies realised in accordance with the law, before the project can legitimately and honourably be converted to a private endeavour.

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