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The shame of Buhari’s foreign medical trips

By Editorial Board
01 December 2022   |   6:01 am
President Muhammadu Buhari’s nonchalance to public criticisms of his last trip to London, United Kingdom for a routine medical check-up speaks volumes of his unpresidential attitude and penchants against Nigerians.

[FILES] Buhari. Photo/facebook/TheAsoVilla

01President Muhammadu Buhari’s nonchalance to public criticisms of his last trip to London, United Kingdom for a routine medical check-up speaks volumes of his unpresidential attitude and penchants against Nigerians.

Public reactions to the trip were largely constructive and predicated on the need to lift up Nigeria’s medical healthcare system from its current morass, along with the thinking that Nigeria’s health facilities should be good enough for the president and Nigerians; and that so long as highly placed public officers can go abroad for routine medical checks using state resources, they will not be motivated to provide standard healthcare at home. Those arguments are well-intended and ought not to be treated with apparent disdain by the president.

The frequent foreign medical trips of Buhari are not only unprecedented but also demonstrate his disinterest in improving the healthcare system of Nigeria. His preference for foreign, rather than local treatment is unpatriotic and has exposed Nigeria to ridicule among the comity of nations. It paints a poor picture of the country’s healthcare sector and casts doubts on the competence of local medical professionals before the world.

Despite the repeated protests of Nigerians, Buhari’s fondness for medical tourism has not waned but has rather garnered further momentum. He appears to be either oblivious of, or completely nonchalant about the legal, economical, political and moral implications of this unapologetic attitude.

Another backlash of Buhari’s trip was his failure to transmit power to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, before embarking on the London trip. According to the leader of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, this is unconstitutional and that the President leaving the country without handing over to his deputy on the ground that the President may not exceed 21 days is an act of illegality as there is no place in the Constitution where 21 days was mentioned.

He emphasised that Buhari cannot import his own idea into the Constitution because Section 145 simply provides that the President shall transmit to the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, whenever he will be away on medical vacation.

He asserted that since 2016, Buhari has not missed a single year in his medical sojourn abroad save for 2020 which was a result of the travel restriction arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buhari’s continued disregard for the supreme law of the land is fuelled by the inability of the National Assembly to check his excesses. This misnomer would not have assumed the ugly dimension it did if only the federal parliamentarians had invoked the doctrine of necessity and empowered the Vice President to step in as acting president the first time it occurred.

Notably, in 2020, the Senate expressed its displeasure on the unending foreign medical exploration of the President. Consequently, it directed the State House officials to put Aso Clinic in order rather than allow the President to seek treatment abroad. Interestingly, many saw through this theatrical display and as such, are not persuaded by the bland directive.

For instance, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) dismissed the stance of the Senate as a mere “political statement as there is nothing on the ground to make the directive work.” And as the sequence of ensuing events later revealed, the directive failed woefully! Accordingly, the executive rascality associated with the current administration is partly a byproduct of legislative laxity.

The fundamental question the presidency has vehemently avoided is: “what ails President Buhari? For the past seven years, Nigerians have exclusively borne the financial burden of the President’s medical expenses, yet the nature of his ailment remains a mystery.

In saner climes, the non-disclosure of such material fact would have necessitated parliamentary investigation. It is probable that the health challenge of Mr. President can be competently handled within Nigeria and his trips overseas may be nothing more than a reflection of the insatiable appetite of the average public office holders for western luxuries. After all, the President did not travel abroad for any routine or emergency check-up in 2020.

Furthermore, it is embarrassing that Nigeria, nicknamed the ‘giant of Africa’ due to its vast resources, cannot boast of a world-class health institution. Yet, it is the primary responsibility of the president to develop the medical sector and ensure that there are adequate medical and health facilities for all Nigerians.

Ordinarily, he is morally obligated to embrace local treatment to inspire international confidence in our health sector. His flair for foreign healthcare constitutes substantial proof of his shortcomings as the nation’s leader. Strangely, his handlers have not been able to adduce any logical excuse for this anomaly other than the lame argument that the President is at liberty to seek medical support anywhere.

The economic downside of these needless foreign voyages for a country that heavily relies on loans to run its affairs is significantly adverse. Each of these foreign trips, including the use and parking of presidential aircraft, gulps millions of naira; hence the President should not be gallivanting abroad for treatment, particularly when it has not been established that such treatments cannot be undertaken in Nigeria. It is imperative for the president to desist from further demystifying and trivialising his office on the global stage.

The sarcastic question posed by King Charles to Buhari whether the latter owns a residential building in London is tantamount to saying, “As the President of your country, why are you always here”? This indicates that not only is the world watching, it is also taking notes.

Buhari’s foreign trips expose the hypocrisy of an administration that purports to promote local content by banning the importation of certain foreign items and claims it would no longer provide resources to government officials to travel abroad for medical attention.

Additionally, in spite of the humongous budgetary allocations earmarked for Aso Rock Clinic every year, the hospice is reportedly still ill-equipped. More worrisome is the continuous mass exodus of Nigeria’s health practitioners abroad due to poor social safety nets and the abysmal response of the government to the same.

With barely six months to the winding down of Buhari’s administration, Nigerians are not overly hopeful of any positive change of the president on medical tourism; and this is a shame, considering he has spent almost eight years. Incoming political leaders should avoid this dangerous precedent. Foreign treatment by public officers should be restricted except for cases that cannot be handled in Nigeria.

More importantly, all Nigerians must be actively involved in governance and insist that the new crop of leaders abide by the dictates of the law and deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives all its powers and authority – Section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

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