With the global lockdown, most of our big men are now at home. I am specifically talking about Nigeria’s political leaders, past and present. These are people who celebrate going abroad for virtually everything. They revel going to the western world for medicals and sending their children to schools in Europe and America, while hospitals and schools at home wallow in poverty. Many of them have added Dubai and Saudi Arabia as favourites for foreign medicals and schools. With the global lockdown, they will be forced to use the decrepit hospitals they refused to pay attention to all this while. The same hospitals starved of funds for years in preference to foreign ones. Some are already patronising the once “unappealing” National Hospital in Abuja.
No doubt, federal tertiary hospitals are in tatters. They are all in a big mess, struggling to provide standard wards, equipment and manpower. Here, uninterrupted electricity and water are luxuries. The first time I critically looked at budgetary allocation for federal teaching hospitals was in 2016. I was almost shedding tears when I saw the figures. Then, the federal government proposed to spend more on capital projects at the State House Medical Centre than it would for its teaching hospitals and other tertiary health facilities.
In the 2016 approved budget, the State House Clinic got N787 million more in capital allocation than all the federal teaching hospitals combined. The State House Medical Centre is a facility that provides healthcare for President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, their families and other employees of the Presidency, all possibly less than 500. Federal teaching hospitals cater for the health needs of millions of Nigerians, train medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation while also serving as top medical research centres. A breakdown of that 2016 Appropriation Bill showed that a total of N3.87 billion was allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic. In contrast, the federal government-owned teaching hospitals got only a fraction of the allocation made for the presidential clinic. That year, (2016) a meagre N212 million was budgeted for capital projects at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital, one of the country’s most populous, while the capital budget for the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna was N230 million.
Similarly, the 2016 budget for capital projects at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, was N230,904,795; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu had N218,335,908; University of Benin Teaching Hospital, N212,886,502 and Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife, N162,622,221.
Things did not change in the 2020 budget. All the federal teaching hospitals and medical centres got about N5 billion in the budget for capital projects. In this same budget, 37 billion was budgeted for the renovation of the National Assembly and 150 billion for National Assembly members.
The State House clinic, Abuja, has been getting all that cash without anything to show for it. A 2009 report revealed that the State House clinic had 17 ambulances, the highest by any hospital in the country at that time. According to the report, in 2008, 10 new state-of-the-art ambulances were brought from North Carolina in the United States, parked inside the presidential villa and left unused. At the time the ambulances were left to rot in Aso Rock, the National Hospital, Abuja, had only nine ambulances while the General Hospital in Nyanya, a decaying facility on the outskirts of Abuja, that served more than 300,000 people, had just a jalopy Peugeot 504 Station Wagon as its only ambulance.
In October 2017, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate the deplorable condition of the State House Clinic, its inability to deliver basic medical services and how the facility utilised the N10.98 billion budgeted for its operations since 2015. The clinic received budgetary allocations in excess of N3 billion in each of the years 2015; 2016; and 2017. In 2015, the clinic received N3.94 billion, in 2016, the allocation was N3.87 billion and in 2017, the clinic got N3.2 billion. The funds were voted for upgrading and the provision of necessary drugs and equipment. Nothing came out of the investigation.
State-owned hospitals are not better. In mother Nigeria, a governor will spend eight years in office and is unable to raise a single public hospital to world class standard. He prefers to run abroad with his family for medicals. The poor die like chickens in these hospitals. I will never forget how former Flying Eagles goalkeeper, Raymond King, died at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) in January 2018. He was initially admitted at the Ogun State General Hospital Ijaye, Abeokuta, before he was taken to the General hospital in Ikorodu, Lagos State, from where he was transferred to LASUTH, all in search of equipment and manpower to treat him. He died waiting for the equipment and manpower. Tajudeen Disu, King’s former teammate lamented: “LASUTH told us initially that they didn’t have electricity to commence treatment or fuel to run their generator. But when they eventually started to set up their equipment to treat him, he was already gasping for air and he passed on.” Daily, many Nigerians experience this at state-owned hospitals. Many lives that should be saved are lost.
Now, let’s flip to cancer patients, who suffer a great deal in Nigeria. In fact, it is now the biggest killer in this country. You hardly find functional radiotherapy machines essential for the treatment of cancer in the nation’s public hospitals. The few functional ones belong to private hospitals. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease yearly. Our political leaders and others, who can afford it, spend billions of Naira annually in the United States, Europe, India and other places with better healthcare systems.
President Buhari evidently cares less about the state of these federal tertiary hospitals. He and his family are persistently abroad for medicals, unfortunately, there is no law stopping him from doing this. But he has failed to raise the standard of any of the federal tertiary hospitals to meet his requirement, so that poor Nigerians can also benefit. The burden on him is more of a moral one, considering that he had doggedly preached that we should look inwards for our needs to strengthen the Naira and save our limited forex earnings. My foremost issue with our dear president is that he is spending public money abroad for his medicals. The other day, our President spent about $50,000 treating ear infection. Only God knows how much of public fund had gone down for his foreign medicals in five years. With focused investment in equipment and manpower by a forward-looking government, I doubt if there is any health challenge that can’t be handled in this country.
It was so depressing flipping through the list of projects attached to the mind-boggling $22.7 billion foreign loan request of the Buhari government and not finding a single federal tertiary health institution among beneficiaries. Also, no single federal higher institution is on the list. In this same loan request, the federal government plans to spend almost $6 billion on power, a sector privatised almost six years ago. Well, all our political leaders can now start enjoying the fantastic hospitals they have put in place in the country, while Coronavirus reigns.
A word for Bishop David Oyedepo
I have spent quality time reading the statement issued by Bishop David Oyedepo’s Living Faith Church in defence of the service held at the headquarters of the church in Ogun State, on March 22, contrary to government’s caution against large gathering following COVID-19 pandemic. I find the explanation for not complying with government’s instruction preposterous and silly.
Part of the church’s defence reads: “Information has to be strategically disseminated to the grassroots. The Church is a family and not an industry; it is for this reason that enlightenment and sensitisation from the Church platform is a most effective way of getting people involved in playing their part in terms of prayers and intercessions and not just staying away from Church without knowing what to do.
“As we all know, the Church is made up of both literate and illiterate congregants; many are not in touch with any of the modern platforms of communication and this is what we did yesterday. Indeed, the service was devoted entirely to sensitising and mobilising members of the Church regarding the danger of this deadly virus and the need to comply with government directives.”
Enlightenment and sensitisation from the Church platform? Haba! When did gathering a large number of people in Church become the only means of mass sensitisation? Illiterates can be educated in large number via radio. The service held last Sunday at the Living Faith Church was absolutely unnecessary. It was an affront they later discovered was no longer sustainable. But instead of simply apologising, the church was still trying to justify the irrationality.
Of course, the members of the church have been defending this illogicality. I’m not surprised. So many Nigerians, particularly in Pentecostal churches, have suspended their brains in the name of religion. Supposedly educated people behave strangely in the name of religion. What they are doing in most of these Pentecostal churches is hero-worshipping. “Our pastor has said this” and they go with these prosperity preachers blindly. Many of these followers have been hypnotised and weakened to the extent that they can no longer read their bibles. For these people, their pastor is god. They just follow them thoughtlessly. In these churches, religion has become a combination of opium, heroin and cocaine of the people.
Most Pentecostal pastors in Nigeria are fast becoming modern day Jim Jones. Remember him? He was an American preacher, faith healer and cult leader who conspired with his inner circle to direct a mass murder of his followers in his jungle commune at Jonestown, Guyana. The Jonestown Massacre occurred on November 18, 1978, when 909 members of the cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide under the direction of Jones. They died from cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” chaired by the notorious Jones. The leader and four others died of gunshot wounds. Jones, the self-proclaimed messiah of the Peoples Temple, promised his followers heaven if they died with him. His Peoples Temple Agricultural Project located in the South American country of Guyana was his “promised land.” In 1977 almost 1,000 Americans had moved to Jonestown, as it was called, hoping to get to heaven.
We are getting dangerously close to the Jim Jones scenario in Nigeria. Millions of followers are behaving strangely in the name of religion. Daily, I pray for God’s intervention.
On the flip side, what was Mathew Ashimolowo, Founder and Senior Pastor of Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), trying to achieve by asking his members to pay their offering online amid the coronavirus pandemic? In a video, the Pastor said his offices would still be open, and asked members to get online and see different ways they can send in their offering. All this man is thinking about is how to collect offering amid the pandemic. His muddled members will applaud and oblige.
47 soldiers killed in just one day
Monday March 23 was a dark one for Nigerian soldiers battling Boko Haram. 47 of them, according to the account of the Defence Headquarters, were killed by the terrorists, who ambushed them in Gorgi, Borno State. Unofficial sources said the figure could be above 70. After the killings, a military source said: “The terrorists specifically targeted a truck loaded with soldiers with RPGs and incinerated the vehicle, killing all on board. So far, 70 bodies have been recovered but the toll is certainly more than that, as rescue operation is still underway. Several soldiers were injured and some others taken captive by the jihadists.”
The Director, Defence Information, Major General John Enenche, subsequently made statements that apparently left much to be desired from the leadership of the military. Enenche said some of the terrorists were killed and their gun truck immobilised after the Air Component of Operation Lafiya Dole immediately scrambled to the scene and provided close air support to the ground troops. So, he is telling us that the terrorists waited at the scene, after killing the Nigerian soldiers, for the Air Force to come and attack them? A retired army officer told me yesterday that it was very unprofessional for the army to embark on the clearance operation without air coverage/support. The leadership of the military should address this, instead of painting a ludicrous picture of what transpired after the attack on our gallant soldiers.