Stemming the Tide of Medical Tourism

02 Jan 2013

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Governor Wada Idris

Recent experiences of some of the governors who have been out of the country for months for medical treatment has brought to the fore, the need to revamp the nation’s health care system to check medical tourism, writes Olawale Olaleye

Exactly 13 days after the death of former Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Patrick Yakowa, in a helicopter crash in Okoroba area of Nembe, Bayelsa State, came the news of a fatal accident which involved the Kogi State Governor, Captain Idris Wada.

Wada who was said to be returning from his Hometown in Ayingba, where he had attended the 2012 Igala Summit, however lost his aide-de-camp, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Idris Mohammed, to the accident while his driver, Jibril Isah, is still receiving treatment at the state’s Specialist Hospital.

The Governor who sustained serious injuries from the accident, however, made additional headlines when he turned down overtures to fly him out of the country for further and better treatment, perhaps, in a German hospital where another colleague of his, the Taraba State Governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, had been receiving treatment in the aftermath of a plane crash which occurred about 38 miles to Yola, the Adamawa State capital, a couple of months ago.

Unfortunately, for Wada, this is not the best of time for challenges that would see him off the governorship seat for some time. Indeed, the last few months had been challenging, both in terms of governance and politics for the Governor.

Some weeks ago, the state House of Assembly impeached the speaker, Hon. Abdullahi Bello and other principal officers of the House. The impeachment which was carried out by the minority in the assembly however replaced Bello with Hon. Lawal Jimoh, a member representing Okene constituency II area of the state.

Other principal officers removed along with Bello were Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emmanuel Mebije; Majority Leader, Hon. Yakubu Yunusa; Chief Whip, Hon. Saidu Akawu Salihu and Minority Leader, Hon. Adeyemi Abidemi. They were all replaced by Hon. Atule Christopher Okoche (Deputy Speaker); Hon. Aliyu Akuh (Majority Leader) and Hon. Sunday Raishiwe Shigaba (Minority Leader).

But Wada, despite denials by agents of the state, was believed to have masterminded the legislative crisis so much that the House of Representatives waded in and even shutdown the assembly complex, latching onto the constitutional powers conferred on it in such a situation.

Although, the crisis generated by the impeachment has not completely gone away or settled down, prominent leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state had also recently petitioned the National Secretariat about the style of the Governor, alleging amongst others, gross ineptitude. The obviously livid PDP elders, however, threatened that if the party leadership failed to address their grievances, they might defect to another party.

Allegations of Wada’s ineptitude, sadly as it is, came at a time the news was flying around on how a female cabinet member, Commissioner for Water Resources, had deceived the Governor with a forged letter allegedly emanating from the Vice-President, asking Wada to find a political appointment for the woman. Wada who without checking, reportedly made the woman a commissioner later discovered it was forgery.

This, many said, had confirmed some of the stories about the Governor and his alleged ineptitude. The many crises had thus continued until last Friday when the accident that would practically take the governor off the active scene took place. It is expected that the Deputy Governor, Yomi Awoniyi, would assume acting capacity in no time.

But beyond Wada’s personal challenges as Kogi Governor is the lesson the situation in general has brought to notice.
From Enugu to Cross River, Taraba and now Kogi, what is operative in those states is a system by acting governors, aside Kaduna which lost its governor to an air crash. But in these other states, the substantive governors are said to be critically unavailable following one health challenge or the other and had since been flown abroad for better medical attention, except for Wada who is feigning to be proudly Nigerian.

While Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu who had left the country since September 19, last year is said to be receiving treatment in India for an undisclosed ailment, government has officially kept mute on his whereabouts and state of health. But the state assembly is said to have also given him till the end of this January to speak on his situation or face impeachment. His deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, is now the man in charge.

Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River also left the country towards the end of last year, ostensibly for vacation. But there has been increasing speculation that he had health challenges and as such, gone for medical treatment, also abroad. Here also, his deputy, Efiok Cobham is acting in his stead.

The Taraba State Governor, Suntai whose condition is rather self-inflicted has been in a German hospital for over two months, having survived an air crash alongside some of his aides. His deputy, Alhaji Garuba Umar, who had just been sworn in at the time, has since held forth.

Now, Kogi has increased the list following Wada’s accident last Friday. But the Governor begged to differ when he declined moves to fly him outside the country for medical attention. He is said to be receiving treatment at Cedar Crest Hospital, Garki 2, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

However, taking a cue from the cases of the Governors who had been flown abroad, the debate in the public now is that leaders should learn from their situation and fix the country. The argument is that if there are very good hospitals in the country where the Governors can be referred- not necessarily in their states, at least in the country- the penchant for rushing abroad would not have been an option.

Besides, Wada’s decision not to be flown abroad, observers said, was because the injuries sustained was not as bad, else, he might not even be in position to decided where he would taken for treatment. Citing the case of Suntai who was half gone at the time of the crash, the decision as to where he was sent for treatment was obviously not his.

There is no debating the fact that the hospitals in the country, Abuja National Hospital inclusive, are nothing to write home about. The time has therefore come for leaders to look into this critical area of the system and do the needful in the interest of the mass of the people they seek to govern.

Ideas about flying the sick out are only feasible when there is money and this is limited by class and status. Where this however leaves the ordinary citizens is commonplace.

Although, some Governors are said to be working on the idea of improving the medical system like the one the Rivers State Governor, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, is said to be working on. By the time he is done with the hospital which is due for operation in a few weeks, flying patients abroad would be a thing of the past.

The hospital, according to sources, has such a system that is linked to major hospitals around the world where assistance is sought immediately in the event of a complication and feedback is received on the spot. And because of the dearth of personnel, the hospital will also be manned by Americans.

It is therefore expected that other states with shared impetus for development would follow suit in the spirit of good governance and ensure that the resort to traveling abroad for medical attention is de-emphasised through the development of the local hospitals to such a standard that would compete with international rating.

The time has therefore come for leaders to learn from some of the recent experiences and grow the Nigerian system in such a way that the upcoming generation looks forward to a promising future.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Politics, Governor, Wada Idris

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