Again, where are the Chinese ‘doctors’?
If there has been any incident during this COVID-19 pandemic that illustrates the shifty nature of this government, it is the saga of the so-called ‘Chinese doctors’. So sadly episodic has the event been that the term ‘Chinese doctors’ may well be a metaphor for the nonchalance and utter disregard for sincerity, which this administration has had for the people. The tale around the ‘Chinese doctors’ succinctly telegraphs the predicament of a nation so weakened by its servants’ lack of integrity. It is so unconscionable.
Nothing illustrates this incredible faux pas as the response of the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, when questioned recently about the whereabouts of the Chinese nationals he personally welcomed at the airport. An exasperated Ehanire was quoted to have stated that the medical personnel “are not guests of the federal government but CCECC, a construction company,” and so should not be bothered with such questions. It took the belated intervention of the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, to volunteer a response to the questions about their whereabouts. ”Indeed 15 Chinese nationals came into Nigeria on April 8,” he said. “From everything we have heard and said, they were here on the bill of CCECC, a Chinese company working in Nigeria, doing some work for us in several places.”
This was a shocking afterthought.
Even after Aregbesola’s face-saving response, he also made a blunder by stating that the Chinese nationals were stranded in the country because they were issued a 30-day visa from Beijing. This was later tersely corrected, not by a Nigerian official of the Ministry of Interior, but by an official of the Chinese Embassy, who stated that the Chinese visitors were issued a three-month visa.
Nigerians will recall that in a widely televised news reel and before curious Nigerians, the government gave the alleged Chinese nationals a rousing welcome at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on April 8, and called them “Chinese doctors”. In fact, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, had stated that they had come “to share their experiences in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.” His statement corroborates the explanation given by the chair of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, when the latter stated: “The professionals that have been invited from China are public health specialists and medical engineers that will support Nigeria’s capacity in managing the pandemic on advisory basis when necessary while drawing from the experience of the Chinese.”
What’s the big deal about Chinese doctors coming into the country anyway? Whilst we neither undermine the expertise of the Chinese nationals nor despise the $1.5 million worth of medical equipment cementing “friendship and kindness” with Nigeria, it is the irresponsibility of this government in handling the Chinese doctors’ matter that must worry us. Was there prior knowledge of the professional status of the 15 Chinese nationals before their arrival into the country? Who arranged their entry into the country during a lockdown? Why were they given such a publicised reception when they were not guests of the federal government? Why the inconsistency about their status? They might as well be mischief makers sent to wreak havoc, as some critics thought. Was the government misled or deceived?
The tardiness of the process of bringing them in was beyond compare. The hypocrisy and doublespeak over their mission and continued stay advertise the government as one for itself and not for the people of Nigeria. The many, often fragmented, stories from different officials insult the people who, in a democracy, deserve full disclosure in all matters. It is such vacillation as this that creates room for all manner of speculation in the mind of the public about the mission of these ‘Chinese workers.’
It is shameful that in raising these questions, we wallow in self-flagellation, engage in the painful ritual of washing our dirty linens in public, and make reproach of ourselves before the world. Yet, we embark on this painful cause of necessary action to strip the slothful ministers of their oversize garments of capable ignorance and mendacity to reveal the amorality that afflicts these political elements.
We recognise as always that this government, before its controversial return, rode on the crest of a gambled popularity from a people who sought change at all cost. It built its campaign mantra on the sole agenda of fighting corruption. But the conduct of the ‘Chinese doctors’ matter has also diminished this government and found it a new low even as it makes a mission of daily plumbing into new depths of ignominy. What manner of leadership is this that is not straight with its citizens over a public health matter, which affects the whole of humanity?
Edward Banfield in his classic book, ‘The Moral Basis of a Backward Society’, might have had Nigeria in mind when he says that the soft state is the product of a corrupt political culture or what he calls amoral familism, in which governance is non-accountable, public office is used for private gain, and persons are placed in high positions of responsibility on account of patronage rather than merit. Like Banfield soft state Nigeria is steeped in amoral politics and crippled by serious problems of credibility; one that is generally not able to enforce its will especially in matters that have ethical and moral considerations.
The polity is trapped in an amoral whirlpool, which only a deliberate retracing to the path of justice, fairness and respect for the law would remedy. This government must honour its manifesto and retrace its steps. It must make some scapegoats of erring public officers for embarrassing the government and deceiving the people of this country.
Except this ludicrous display of crass ineptitude has been orchestrated by some sinister high powers in the system to mock our public institutions, there should be no reason why any public officer who shamefully exhibits such ignorance about the state of affairs of their offices should go unpunished. The nation is still waiting for a time for our leaders to rebuke or even sanction public officers who display incompetence, tardiness and other unethical and criminal acts.