My worries over Nigeria’s political process, healthcare system- Mamora
Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, incumbent Minister of Science and Technology, recently marked his 70th birthday anniversary and spoke with journalists about his professional and political career as well as the state of the nation. SEYE OLUMIDE (Southwest Bureau Chief) reports.
What informed your transition from medicine to politics?
First, my father, who was a teacher and very renowned one with all sense of modesty, his students were always excited whenever they saw, and the first statement they always make any time they see me is that is this the sin of Merry Chief, which is my dad’s nickname. And once I said yes they would start telling me stories about him (my father).
So some of my dad’s students are former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. My dad taught Chief Obasanjo in Abeokuta and the same for former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ajibola, Onalapo Soleye, a former Minister, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola among others. Apart from being a teacher, my dad was also a principal.
He was also a politician, he was a leader of the defunct Action Group (AG) in one of the local governments in Ogun State. Political party meetings were being held in my dad’s compound (house) because the vehicles for campaigns were being parked inside my father’s compound. It was so fascinating whenever they had meetings, especially rallies.
I usually remember the nostalgia then. I remembered when Mama HID Awolowo, wife of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, used to stand at the balcony of my dad’s house to address the crowd, when Papa Awolowo was in prison. All these were under the AG around 1966. I was really fascinated. I am saying all these party meetings and rallies fascinated me a lot and I got interested somehow.
Secondly, my experience as a medical doctor tells me clearly that politics itself has to do with good governance. Virtually one can say that the state takes its root from medicine because when you attend to your patience as an individual you must be diagnosed before you can treat and if you don’t make the right diagnosis you cannot treat the patient well.
You will be beating about the bush. So the first element in the treatment of a patient is the right diagnosis. In the same manner for the state but the difference is that politics is medicine on a larger scale. You now move from the individual to the society. You diagnose the problems of society and then you apply politics to solve the problems that’s just it.
One of the renowned doctors made the statement that medicine is politics at large. He made the following statement when he was picked to be the chairman of a committee that was set up to look at the problems of the people.
The truth is there is a nexus between politics and medicine. Number two is to say that medicine is humanitarian. I say that because one of the greatest things that gives any doctor joy is to see your patient recover during your intervention in terms of treatment. So medicine is a noble profession and still up till now I still come across people, who would just rush to me and say doctor you delivered my baby. Some will say that your baby, whom you helped deliver when I wanted to give birth to her, is now married. Those are the things that make one happy as a doctor.
The politics I had imbibed when I was younger motivated me to get involved in student unionism when I was in the university and which was an abomination for medical students. As medical student, if you are involved in student unionism, lecturers would see you as someone who is not serious. But because of my background, I got involved in unionism to the point that I stood for election and I won.
I am proud of some of my contemporaries then like the late Ayo Olukotun, who was the student Union president in 1975 in Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU). Then of course Arakunrun Rotimi Akeredolu, the incumbent governor of Ondo State we were together those days in OAU with a former deputy governor of Ogun State, Segun Adesegun, was also a vice president of the Student Union at various times.
The same thing for the former Governor of Ondo State, Segun Mimiko. So many of us like that we were all together.
Your father was a progressive but why did you join the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC)?
When I left university I had my houseman ship in Abeokuta between 1981-82 and then came to Lagos for my Youth Corp and served at Federal Technical College, as a medical officer at Federal Technical College Akoka. After finishing my Youth Corp I served as a medical officer in one of the private hospitals so I was involved in a group called young professionals.
We were meeting regularly to discuss current affairs as young energetic professionals and it was while we were in this that the process of returning the country to a democratic system began under the former Military Head of State, Gen Ibrahim Babangida (rtd).
You will recall that prior to the formation of NRC, there were many political formations and I belong to the Liberal Convention. But you know what I called the Babangida years of political experimentation that invariably just dissolved all those parties and layer decreed two political parties into existence, which is the NRC and Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Now the bulk of us in Liberal Convention were persuaded to join NRC and as far as I was concerned the difference between NRC and SDP was a difference between six and half a dozen. So all the nomenclature of a little bit to the right and left was just that of convenience as far as I am concerned.
And that’s what they have because a good number of my friends came from Liberal Convention like Dr. Doyin Okupe. I still remember the first national convention that we held in Abuja at the Sheraton Hotel, I was a national delegate from Lagos representing Shomolu and we were five in number and from the first national convention, Okupe became national publicity secretary of the NRC and of course, Tom Ikimi, was elected the national chairman. And we know that all those things then were all managed processes if you like.
So that was what it takes. It wasn’t really predicated on any serious ideological decision; it was just for convenience rather.
And of course, I was only there for the first national convention and before the second one could take place, I resigned strictly on principle because I felt that at that time with all due respect to the presidential candidate of NRC, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, I felt that there were better people that could have emerged as the presidential candidate. We never really knew Tofa, we have the likes of Maitama Sule, Alhaji Ciroma Adamu, Sunday Awoniyi and others, who are vibrant and have the clouts but they just bring one person. I felt no; this was not acceptable to me and that was how I resigned and joined SDP. The decision wasn’t really based on any ideology.
Can you say you are proud of being a medical doctor, an ex-Minister of State for Health, an active politician, who had served as Speaker of the House of Assembly, Minority Senate Leader and yet the medical sector and the state of politics are what they are today in Nigeria?
Maybe I can say I thank God for what He has made possible for me to do in both sectors you are talking about. In health, as a medical doctor and then of course as a ‘professional in politics.’ I am a professional in politics as opposed to a professional politician.
Yes, whichever way or side you are looking at it things are not really the same but I say with all sense of modesty, I can walk tall and raise my head that God has been good to me and has been able to hold my home either in medicine, which is my profession and in politics, which is my vocation. We may have had relative success as a nation but we may not be where we ought to be either in terms of healthcare system or in terms of politics.
In the healthcare sector, we have many establishments that have grown but that is not all. It is not just about setting up institutions whether as hospitals, teaching hospitals, or general hospitals no. It is not about that because if you look at the three levels, the health, primary health and secondary health, I have argued that the healthcare delivery system is a pyramidal structure and the base is the primary healthcare.
You move up we have the secondary and at the apex we have the tertiary healthcare. Like every pyramid there is no one that can stand on its apex it can only stand on its base and what that tells you is that it is the base that is the most important.
Nobody can boast of having a good healthcare delivery system without having that robust primary healthcare delivery system because that’s where we have the stability. I can tell you that over 75 per cent of healthcare rely on that level then you move up to the secondary care level, which is just about 20 per cent and in terms of the healthcare need, if the bulk of people are taken care of at the primary level only less than five per cent we will need at the tertiary level.
But what we are seeing over the years is deterioration. The last audit that we have had since I was Minister of State for Health, we could establish about 30,000 primary health clinics but less than 10 percent of these clinics are functional.
I am just trying to paint the picture for you to appreciate. They are not functional because it is either the buildings have become dilapidated or even they cannot be accessed or when you come in the functionality, which needs power supply, water supply and personnel are not adequate. These are the issues and the services and if you don’t have all the things I have mentioned there can be no services.
For instance, open defecation is a potent danger for the healthcare of people. These are the challenges we have in the system and I cannot say I am proud of it.
As a Speaker, Lagos State Assembly between 1999 and 2003, the kind of things that some of us are seeing now, I cannot say I am proud of it in terms of the management of the State House of Assembly. The kind of things I saw when I was in the Senate between 2003 to 2011 compared to what’s going on now is nothing to be proud of. Some of the senators for example are honest enough to admit that things are not just the way it ought to be.
The kind of activism and governance that I would say I engaged in when I was involved in legislative activism both in the State House of Assembly and in the Senate, are not present now. Things have changed seriously. This is to the extent that if you ask me I will say we need a review and I am beginning to question the need for us to have a bicameral legislature because of its vast implications and delays.
Of course, we have the disadvantages of a unicameral legislature but I am saying that we should look at the totality. My experience vis a vis what is happening now I will say we don’t need a bicameral legislature. Our politics have generally deteriorated to become a cash-and-carry politics and people are hardly excited about anybody who cannot give out money.
The system has been heavily monetised now that the good ones may not really have the opportunity to be where they could be.
What is responsible for the challenges Nigeria is having in its political process?
There are challenges and one of the greatest challenges is the political leadership recruitment process. What I mean is that in Christendom , we say seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness, all other things shall be added ‘’ in the same vein, I say that seek ye first the Kingdom of politics because that’s where the things happen.
What I am saying is we ourselves as people have keyed into the idea that politics is a dirty game and it would remain dirty as long as good people who ought to participate refused to take part.
The people must get involved because politics is very fundamental. There must be active participation because the Nigerian Constitution guarantees that. We must ensure that we put forward our best. Most times we just become aloof. We are suppose to keep elected officials on their toes
At 70 Years What Are Your Feelings?
Life expectancy is very low in Nigeria, as you said it is pegged at about 47 years for men and about 52 for women but God has granted me the grace to clock 70. I have the cause to thank God and feel good for what the journey of my life has been so far and I am enjoying good health.
My aspirations in various areas, my education, youthful life, family name and others have not been cut short. So I give all the Glory to God. Looking at these there is every need and reason for me to celebrate.
What influenced you the most while growing up?
The greatest influence was my father. In those days families wanted to be proud of having a doctor or doctors, lawyers, engineers and others in their circle.
My father had always wished that I would be a doctor and more so that my elder brother was already pursuing a degree in law so that’s why I had to be influenced to study medicine. My father Dr. Ibiyinka Olorunimbe, who was the first and the only mayor of Lagos was a medical doctor and of course, a very prominent politician.
In fact I was named Olorunimbe partly after him besides other reasons. My father encouraged me from day one to become a medical doctor and the first reason is that by nature I am a calm person and I believe that the attribute also predisposes me to be a good listener and the care of patience or of the patient requires that you be a good listener. And by the time you listen to what we call the history of your patience, you would have made about 50 to 60 per cent of the diagnosis.
If you encourage your patients to just pour out what appears to be manifesting physically, the origin may not be in physical it may just be psychological and you will be impressed. Medicine is a noble profession and nothing gives a doctor joy than seeing your patience get well, especially when that patient comes to you in a very bad situation.