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Nigeria’s healthcare and Buhari’s medical tourism ban

By Matthew Agboma Ozah
18 November 2020   |   4:20 am
The state of healthcare delivery in the country is, to say the least, appalling and there has been too much national lamentation over the situation for too long.

President Muhammadu Buhari. PHOTO: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

The state of healthcare delivery in the country is, to say the least, appalling and there has been too much national lamentation over the situation for too long. Therefore, the need to improve healthcare system in Nigeria cannot be over emphasised as the reality of poor infrastructure and service delivery stares naked at everyone. Each time President Muhammadu Buhari goes abroad for medical check-up, he seems to have as his travelling companion dark rumours and series of controversy. In the not too distant past, sometime in May 2017, President Buhari went for medical treatment. He planned to spend just few weeks but was away for several months, to be precise he stayed for 104 days. During this period, not much was heard from or about him and trust anxious Nigerians as the social media was agog with reckless misinformation about the health position of Mr. President. Of course, the shortcoming stood out as a result of the poor communication management of the president’s men popularly referred to as cabal. Even the ministry of information too, did not fare any better in the ugly communication management as they gave room to all shades of information bloom. It was shameful.

However, with the lackadaisical attitude of government towards the healthcare sector, to find a solution to medical tourism in Nigeria is almost as difficult as curing a sickness itself. The other day, the Senate in its wisdom through the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs led by Danjuma La’ah while Permanent Secretary Tijani Umar defended the 2021 budget estimates. The Senate warned state House officials against President Buhari embarking on future foreign trips for medical attention. With all intent, the pronouncement merely reinforced what is already known over which calls have been made for government to make urgent improvements in the healthcare sector. Besides that, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) described the Senate remark as purely a political statement. Much as it was indeed very clear how far the National Assembly and government have moved off reality and become so insensitive of the people’s plight. The Senate foreign medical ban has demonstrated hypocrisy and window dressing of basic healthcare services challenges in Nigeria. In a way the Senate action reveals that, Nigerians love healthcare so much that the government has an obvious incentive to tell the people what they want to hear.

The Senate should not expect the people to jubilate over a toothless ban on foreign medical treatment for President Buhari. Nor give accolade to political statements regarding huge approved funds than seeing upgrade of healthcare facilities across the country. Perhaps to portray some level of seriousness and seem as reading a riot act, Senator La’ah was quoted to have said: “Our president is not a man to be taken out anytime or anything that happens to him on sickness matter. He must attend our clinic here…We have already approved N1.3billion for State House clinic… oversight will be done monthly if all that is needed is provided and we will give two years to complete it”.

Well, it is unfortunate that the Senate could not hear itself talking. Why would two years be needed to refurbish an already existing State House clinic knowing that President Buhari has about three years more to complete his second term in office? Indeed, one aspect of governance disease in Nigeria is the disgusting habit of institutions of government failure to complete projects while in office and for the incoming administration to see the need to continue same. No doubt, taking aim at the various ‘fashionable absurdities’ of governance in Nigeria, such as the Senate’s remark on the president’s medical treatment abroad, which clearly set out an important thesis of a significant order with baseless background. As a matter of fact, virtually all the issues bordering on healthcare provisions in Nigeria take a nose dive from the poor administration and funding by government.

The results of the above postulation have shown that the past two decades or more have been particularly demoralising for those seeking healthcare services in the country. But, for the wealthy few Nigerians who can afford it, continue to flock to foreign countries for medical treatment while the poor are left with no option than to probably die or seek miracle in churches. In most cases, there has been too little, too late an effort that best describes the ruling government actions on healthcare delivery in the country. This is because as a nation, government and its officials prefer to spend billions on medical tourism and worry about the deplorable condition of healthcare facilities in the country later with endless speeches and promises.

One could point several factors responsible for government’s inability to provide basic healthcare for its citizens, from misappropriation of funds, to lack of planning and corruption which are regular assault on governance in this part of the globe.  Therefore, making so much fuss about president Buhari’s foreign medical treatment, a matter of lifestyle that Nigerian leaders have adopted for decades is like talking to a dumb and deaf person. If there is any good to be taken from the Senate shenanigan, it is the fact that urgent need be taken for the country’s healthcare system to be improved in the public interest.

Regrettably, it is becoming an obvious tradition of government to throw money at a problem. In this case, in the name of healthcare delivery that may not solve the challenges facing the health sector because they are merely pragmatic and not strategic. The government does not need the services of a soothsayer to adhere to the fact that, it is definitely more cost effective to treat the President or Nigerians in the country than flying patients abroad.  Currently, an important test of the ruling government no matter how hard it tries to focus on revamping the economy relies more on basic healthcare services for the people. Healthcare delivery you may wonder seems certain to overwhelm any other agenda because a healthy nation is a wealthy one.