7 mins read

The health of Nigerian leaders became a major issue of political discourse over the last one week. First was the rumored collapse of the governor of Katsina State and the presidential candidate of the ruling PDP, Alhaji Umar Yar’ Adua. The story broke late on Tuesday night and by Wednesday afternoon; all manners of speculation, permutations and prognosis had taken over Nigeria. Happily, the worst that many people feared did not take place. So like a tired donkey, overburdened by a peasant’s farm products, the political process trudged on.

Just as we were settling down to digesting the implications of the ill-health of leaders, early this week, the media reported that Vice President Atiku Abubakar had been flown out of the country to the united kingdom for medical attention, after he tore a ligament in the gym. Atiku’s media consultant, Garba Shehu, was quoted by DAILY TRUST of Monday March 12, 2007, as saying that Atiku was taken to the State House Clinic but could not be attended to for the lack of equipment”. He was further quoted to have said that “the vice president therefore has to travel abroad for a THIRTY MINUTES surgery (emphasis mine)”.

Earlier, one of the Nigerian newspapers had quoted Umar Yar’Adua as saying that he went to the German hospital to treat a “catarrh”. The NEW AGE newspaper of Thursday, March 8th, 2007, had even quoted Hajia Turai Umar Yar’ Adua’s wife “debunking “ the story which made the rounds that Yar Adua had been unconscious, when he was ferried away from Nigerian by an air ambulance, he was still on drip but he held the pouch by himself unaided”.

I think that there are several points to ponder in the health concerns raised last week. The last time that the health of leaders became a major point of international politics was during the final years of the Soviet Union. Looking back now, the ailing health of the Politburo gerontocrats was like an allegory about the worsening and increasingly terminal state of the health of the Soviet State. A bizarre situation emerged, where the intelligence agencies of the western countries used the appearances of the gerontocrats on the dais on the Lenin mausoleum in Moscow, to determine who was in or out, who was ill or firm. As society decayed, leadership passed from an ailing Leonid Brezhnev to a very sick Yuri Andrei Chernenko and then to a terminally sick Yuri Andropov, in a uniquely Soviet musical chair of infirmities and illness.

Nigeria’s situation has not gone in that direction, but what happened with Umar Yar’Adua and the lingering controversy about the state of his health, shows clearly that the political elite can only ignore issues of infirmities at their own peril, especially on the eve of an election. It seemed to have touched the PDP hierarchy sufficiency for President Obasanjo to attempt to douse the smoke of controversy, head on, by saying that he was aware that there was rumour making the rounds that Umar Yar’ Adua had been selected with the assumption that his life would then be inherited by the South-South through a vice president Jonathan Goodluck.

Even as it is, there is no gainsaying the fact that the events of the past week also revealed the dishonesty of the Nigerian political elite; yes a lot of spin was employed to turn around the story and manage the damage, but the fact that so much lies had been told about Yar ’Adua’s health, including the presumptuous open declaration by President Obasanjo that Yar’ Adua had been “miraculously cured” of his ailment (what ailment that was remains a state secret?), and it was whoever said Umaru was ill, half-truths and spin would have severely damaged the damages the chances of the candidate on the eve of elections, beyond repair”, the PDP with its control of state power, the police, SS, INEC and so on, is not likely to suffer any untoward consequences, because the people’s vote really count in the final analysis, anyway.

But perhaps the greatest story in the health emergencies of the past week, and one that is an indictment of our political elite over the past eight years is the state of Nigerian hospitals. The hospitals are so bad, despite huge sums of money appropriated for them, that there was not a single hospital in Nigeria good enough to treat Umar Yar’ Adua’s “catarrh nor was there a place in our country where vice president Atiku Abubakar can undergo a “thirty minutes surgery” for a torn ligament. So lacking in faith in our national health care is our political elite, saddled with the responsibility of putting these health care and other institutions to work, that even a common “catarrh “will send Umar Yar’Adua into an air ambulance and Atiku Abubakar into the comfort zone of a presidential plane, out to Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Over a year ago, President Obasanjo made a public show of having his general state of health certified at the National Hospital Abuja. He then announced that Nigerians have no reason to seek treatment at the National hospital. Similarly, there have been various advertisements in newspapers, about the re-equipment that took place in teaching hospitals across the country. Yet so lacking in faith in the competence of Nigerian health care personnel were they, that candidates Yar’ Adua and Atiku, would scamper out of the country, to treat “catarrh” and a torn ligament. Clearly, a lot is wrong in our country.

Political elite that cannot even provide facilities to take care of the health of its members, should not, by the stretch of the imagination, be expected to take care of the Nigerian people. It’s that simple. But we all know that health care of the Nigerian people. It’s that simple. But we all know that health care delivery ought to be a basic human right and its non-availability or inadequacy, should be unacceptable in one of the richest countries in Africa. That our political elite do not care for the national weal is so obvious in its attitude to the provision of the basic amenities of life. Yet there are examples that might find interesting resonances in our lives.

The tiny island of Cuba has been under a punishing embargo for more than forty years, imposed by the United States, because of Cuba’s “audacity “to choose an independent path of development, not to the approval of Washington. Despite the embargo, Cuba has the best health care indices amongst developing countries; its specialist in many fields of health care compare to the very best in the world, and Cuba today exports Doctors to help with disasters around the world, while Cuban doctors serve in developing countries, including Nigeria. The Cuban president, Fidel Castro, has been ill for a couple of months now, but we have not heard that he scampered abroad in search of good health. Cuban physicians have been treating their leader, and where they felt they needed a different opinion, a specialist came to visit from Spain. There is love of the country, the provision of facilities that function, the training of local expertise and there is trust in their competence. Of course, there is a fundamental issue of philosophy, world view and orientation at the heart of the Cuban example.

An obverse scenario is unfolding in Nigeria; here the ruling elite is completely enamored of all that is foreign (charity for our rulers begins abroad, especially in the corridors of the IMF/ World Bank, Western governments and the Harvard School of Business or the Kennedy School of Government):medical checks abroad; foreign investment; foreign tourists; foreign military advisers; foreign economic experts; foreign degrees and so on. So today the situation is so absurd, one begins to wonder why there was a struggle of our heroes past, for indepence from colonialism. National institutions have been completely devalued that the political elite have lost all confidence in local expertise. So Nigerian universities are degraded, under-funded and curricular are behind contemporary realities. Instead of scientific inquiry in a stimulating environment of scholarship, faculties and student bodies have been taken over by reactionary religious and ethnic tendencies. And in a place of concerted effort at rectification, a near complete distrust of national intellect has led to a total embrace of all that is of foreign origin.

The situation is the same in the manner that our leaders have become obsessed with welcoming foreign arrivals as the end of our tourism thinking. The Federal Capital Territory is building diaspora houses and presumably, will go on to build Diaspora roads, electricity, water supply, diaspora schools and hospitals. What is foreign is revered and worshipped, while the national is deliberately run down, so as to sell them cheap, especially in this era of privatization, as we saw with the examples of NITEL. This obsession with the foreign is of course profitable for a tiny band of people, but in the long run it does not enhance national development.

This is because the basic backdrop against which a country can develop is to invest in the capacities of the people: human and material. Our school system must be developed to produce intellectuals able to think critically for society’s advancement as patriotic, national intellectuals. Health care facilities need to be developed at levels that the people and the elite can be satisfied that they get the requisite attention, not a system so deficient, that Umar Yar’Adua and Atiku Abubakar will need an air ambulance or presidential jet to abandon Nigeria, just to treat a “catarrh” or a torn ligament, which sportsmen and women deal with everyday.

Of course, individuals like that become stupendously rich and highly influential, but in real terms they don’t add very much to the productive efficiency of the nation’s economy. They take from here to enrich other economies. The most recent example of this was illustrated by THISDAY newspaper of  Monday, March 12, 2007; it  reported that Femi Otedola’s  Zenon petroleum and Gas Limited, ”Nigerian’s LEADING IMPORTER OF REFINED PETROLEUM PRODUCT (emphasis mine)”, was taking a loan facility from a consortium of banks in the sum of  $1.5 billion. The loan was to “build the largest PMS (premium motor spirit) storage facility in Africa. The piece quoted Otedola of “equally planning to set up outlets for kerosene…having successfully done so with diesel.

What is not stated in the near-triumphant reportage is that the loan facilities have not been procured to REFINE NIGERIAN products but to IMPORT from abroad. This economic platform takes the “foreign is best” to its highest level. It is premised upon an assumption that Nigeria’s oil policy into a foreseeable future will continue to be IMPORT based. The policy made Femi Otedola a multi billionaire and ….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.