Presidents of Nigeria, Patients of Foreign Countries


Hometruths By Adeola Akinremi Email:

With an out-of-hand economy, it will be difficult not to fall sick if you’re the president. And then you have the iteration of the Niger Delta militants at the most unexpected time, when the challenge of getting rid of the rabies called Boko Haram is a slugfest.

I am with Buhari and it is my conviction that President Muhammadu Buhari is governing at an unusual time and he’s indeed a man of courage.

But the obsession within the ruling elite to go abroad for medical treatment for which President Buhari himself became powerless to resist has defined his government.

Yes, Nigeria has many problems, but two stand out. It has not been able to find final solution to political corruption since independence; and its sitting presidents find it too easy to travel abroad for medical treatment. Ridiculous.

No one would argue against the need for President Buhari to seek medical help whenever there’s that need. It’s hard to lead without falling sick. In clear words, if you’re fortunate to be Nigeria’s president, you must resume duty with pain reliever to cure light headaches at least.

But when you budget so much for State House clinic and you still leave the country to go abroad for medical treatment, there’s something not right about your mathematics. Paradox.

Slow and stumbling, old age may be responsible for Buhari’s ill health. We can only wish Mr. President speedy recovery and good health.

As he returns to the country, my sincere advice will be for Mr. President to reform the healthcare sector with the sincerity and urgency it deserves. His trip to London to treat ear ailment and cough is an example of “persistence of unwisdom in government,” a theory advanced by Barbara Tuchman, an American.

As we will know later, it wasn’t only Buhari who left the country on a medical trip abroad; one of his ministers was also in the United States at the same time on a medical treatment. Thankfully, it is not the minister of health. It is the Minister for Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan, a.k.a Mama Taraba.

The question we’re now frantically grappling with is how medical treatment abroad became a norm for sitting presidents and serving ministers who should show faith in our healthcare facilities.

In a 1979 lecture at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, Tuchman used instances of several poor judgments by leaders and governments to make case for reform.

“A problem that strikes one in the study of history, regardless of period, is why man makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom-meaning judgment acting on experience, and on common sense, available knowledge, and a decent appreciation of probability—is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do men in high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often paralyzed?” Tuchman queried.

Tuchman suggests “wooden-headedness” as a factor. He described it as a refusal to learn from experience. In Buhari’s case I tend to agree with Tuchman’s suggestion. How can you be a president and not have a good a hospital with human resources in any part of the country to care for your ill health?

One thing Nigerians detest is to hear that their leader is on a medical trip. That was the reaction everywhere last week. Unfortunately for Buhari, there was less sympathy for him from Nigerians.

If a president goes for Hajj or to Jerusalem to pray, the resentment may not be there, but to know that a president is out of the country on a medical trip angers Nigerians to a sore point. It is for one reason: access to qualitative medicare in Nigeria is like pissing into the wind.

We’ve not managed to get it right so far despite all the resources allocated to healthcare over the years. It’s terrible that doctors continue to go on strike with successive government and no clear solution has been found to salvage the situation by each successive government.

Historically, since we returned to democracy in 1999, all the presidents we have had, including their deputies have had to go abroad for medical treatments, except Vice President Yemi Oshinbajo.

Olusegun Obasanjo’s medical trips out of Nigeria as a sitting president perhaps outnumbered that of others with many of the trips so secretive or padded with official.

Vice President Atiku Abubakar was in the United States to treat knee injury during his time.

We all know the story of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua not from the books. “Umoru are you dead?” That famous quote from Obasanjo’s telephone to Germany.

And the immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan was equally in Germany too during his tenure on a medical trip.

So what happens to the National Hospital in Abuja and other states and federal hospitals? There’s something dangerous about this trend. It shows a clear path that Nigerian leaders have alternative to Nigeria.

As I see it the problem of poverty and healthcare are not getting the right attention in Nigeria. It is a country the Ministry of Health is not afraid to give the chilling statistics of 2,300 children below the age of five dying of malnutrition annually. It is a country where doctors are still carrying placards to demand for their wages. It is a country where public health sector is rated among the worst in the world, despite all the billions budgeted for health sector every year. Finally it is a country, where church is better than hospital during medical emergency.