Obasanjo’s Mission to Curb Capital Flight

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo took everybody by surprise when he made good his promise earlier in the year to henceforth undertake his annual medical check-ups in selected medical centres in Bayelsa State. Emmanuel Addeh writes that such in-country treatment will help to reduce capital flight

He is not known to be generous with praises, but recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was momentarily lost for words when he described the medical facilities built by the Bayelsa State Government, where he underwent five hours of rigorous medical checks. When on February 16, during a visit to the state, he vowed to return to the state before the end of the year, many people took the pledge with a pinch of salt, regarding it only as a political speech meant to excite his hosts.

But five months later, the former Nigerian leader flew in from his Ota, Ogun State base to take advantage of the medical facilities in the state to know the state of his health.

The fact that, perhaps, for the first time, a Nigerian leader with the clout of Obasanjo wasn’t running outside the country like many of his peers are wont to do, spoke volumes for not only the man, but also how far Bayelsa has come; from a rustic, water-filled landscape, to one which is beginning to gain the attention of the world in terms of medical tourism.

In his usual jocular manner, Obasanjo who was first at the Bayelsa Specialist Hospital in Onopa, accused those who came with him of being overly jealous because all the results so far carried out on him, showed that he was hale and healthy and might even outlive them. From the smallest of examinations to the very grandiose ones, the ex-president moved from one department of the hospital to another, throwing banters while undergoing check-ups.

Clean Bill Of Health

However, journalists were not allowed to view the results on request, as the doctors on duty, who cited confidentiality, said it was the sole prerogative of the patient to make his medicals public or private. But at that point, not many were in doubt that anytime he was freed by the doctors, the ex-military general will have no qualms telling the world what transpired behind the closed doors of the consulting rooms.

When he eventually emerged from his sojourn at the Bayelsa Diagnostics Centre, regarded as one of the best in that part of the world, Obasanjo said part of the vitals examined by the doctors included his heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, blood and urine. According to him, a scan was also conducted on his brain which showed that “my head is still correct”, adding that examinations on his prostate, teeth, eyes and ears also revealed that he was still very sound.

Generally, he revealed that doctors at the Bayelsa Specialist Hospital and state-owned Diagnostics Centre had given him a clean bill of health after undergoing a five-hour medical check-up at both centres.

A Promise Fulfilled

For the former president, it was a promise fulfilled as he returned to Bayelsa. He said: “Last time l was here in February, l did say that l would want to come and patronise the facilities because l was impressed with what l saw then. Having made that promise, l had to fulfil it. I started last night with the gadgets l had to wear to sleep with to check my blood pressure while l am awake and while l am sleeping. This morning, l started with blood and urine tests.

“I went through the whole process of heart tests. They looked at other internal organs such as kidneys, liver, spleen and all the internal organs. Eventually, l had a semi-sleep in the MRI where my brains were examined and it may be of interest for you to know that the doctor said my head is correct.”

Curbing Capital Flight

A visibly elated Obasanjo noted that results of the tests carried out on him, aligned with those previously conducted by his doctors in Atlanta, United States of America, given that the medical facilities used in the state were not markedly different from those he found in America.

The former President, who had a night before, attended a prayer vigil at the Government House Church, with Governor Seriake Dickson, disclosed that all he was charged was N350,000 for all the tests as opposed to the $25,000 (about N9million) he would usually spend on his medicals in the USA.

Obasanjo, who later chaired the first Infant and Maternal Mortality Summit in the state which held at the Alamieyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall, said with the facilities on the ground in Bayelsa, there was no need for Nigerians to fly abroad for their medical check-ups.

He continued: “Wherever we get best practices, let’s spread it. When l was here last February, l saw the standard of the facilities here that could be used by all Nigerians. There is no need for a Nigerian to say he is going to Dubai, UK or America for medical check-ups. I came here last night, before 1 pm what l started at 8am came to an end. I went through all the medical checks, that l would normally have gone through anywhere. The eye, the mouth, the head and the doctor showed me what my brains looked like.

“When l looked, he said my brain is clean and clear and l said, it means my head is correct. Not only that, the cost is reasonable. The services were superb. So, what people were going to Dubai, India, America, UK, Saudi Arabia for is here in Bayelsa,” he noted.

He thanked Governor Dickson for the warm welcome accorded him and praised all the staff of both medical centres for their commitments, stressing that he remains a beneficiary of Dickson’s revolution in the healthcare sector in Bayelsa.

“I went through the machines, the way l used to go through them where l normally have my medicals at Atlanta, Georgia. We have trained Nigerians and the machine here. I got my results and it is the same thing l had in USA. The difference is that it is cheaper here than there,” he said.

Health Insurance

“I am also a beneficiary of the health insurance in Bayelsa and l will pay monthly. And again, it is good to know that health insurance is very good because when you are in need of attention and you don’t have money, you have insurance to take care of you,” Obasanjo stated.

The former president publicly displayed the receipts he was issued for the services rendered, noting that he got the best service at reasonable prices.

He said, “I have done and paid for one year and half. My health insurance is N14,000 and my bill for my medical checks is N350,000. What l have gone through today is nothing less than $20,000 and $25,000 in America and that is millions of naira.

“I got my results and l am as fit as a fiddle. The doctor said the only thing l need to do is to drink more water. The same thing you can get anywhere in the world, you can get it here. Why do you have to travel?”

Reducing Maternal, Infant Deaths

Later in the day, the former president, who is also the Balogun of Owu, chaired a summit in the state, meant to reduce maternal and infant deaths in the state. Obasanjo, who said he remains a partner and an advocate of Governor Dickson’s efforts in raising the standard of healthcare delivery in the state, expressed hope that successive administrations would maintain the standard.

“It will be a shame, if Governor Dickson leaves office and you Bayelsans allow the standard to fall. So those of you who will take the mantle of responsibility, you must not fall below the set standard,” he said.

Also at the summit, Dickson announced that henceforth, pregnant women will be paid a total of N27,000 during their period of pregnancy from the point of registration, which is N3,000 spread across nine months. That was just after applauding Obasanjo for blazing the trail by doing his medicals in the state.

According to him, Obasanjo flew into the country from New York and Atlanta and didn’t do his health check there, but came to Bayelsa to examine his health in the state-of-the-art facilities built by the state.

“While I thank baba for enrolling in our Health Insurance Scheme and showcasing our health facilities that are second to none, the lesson here is that, it is important for all of us to do our routine health checks”, Dickson noted.

The governor also presented a cheque of N1.2 billion to the state Ministry of Health and the Primary Healthcare Development Board, out of the N3 billion earmarked for the construction of health care facilities in each of the 105 political wards in the state, as part the government’s strategy to reduce infant and maternal mortality rate.

He also announced the release of N100 million to the Ministry of Health for the payment of the special allowances, in addition to the provision of free medical care to all pregnant women in the state.

Dickson, who directed the Ministry of Health and its medical team to ensure the completion of the building of health centres across the 105 wards by December, called on community leaders, women, opinion leaders and other stakeholders to be part of the process of ensuring that no death of pregnant woman is recorded in Bayelsa.

According to the governor, “Every pregnant woman living in Bayelsa is entitled to N3, 000, until delivery and it will be accessed upon registration for antenatal programme at the nearest medical facility for safe delivery. This is to ensure that, the health team gives me information on the number of pregnant women in the state. I want a report on their delivery; that’s how serious we take this issue of infant and maternal mortality.

“In the event of anything going wrong, I will give directive for a special coronary inquest, check the integrity and conduct of medical personnel involved or the traditional birth attendant responsible, so that I will know the consequences that will follow.”

Dickson, who also announced that the Bayelsa Health Insurance Scheme had saved N1.5 billion, urged the people to avail themselves of the health care services provided by the state government, just as Obasanjo had done.

Wife of the governor, Dr. Rachael Dickson, who reiterated the need for pregnant women to be able to give birth safely, avowed that with the huge investment by the government in the health sector, the infant and maternal death rate in the state would be drastically reduced.

She expressed appreciation to Governor Dickson for building health centres in every ward, as well as prioritising women’s affair with the appointment of about 400 women into various positions of trust in his administration, and called on them to take advantage of the free health care centres.

The Summit

In a welcome address, the Commissioner for Health, Professor Ebitimitula Etebu said, the summit was apt, as it provided an opportunity for the government and all stakeholders to x-ray the core essence of healthcare providers, irrespective of designation or discipline.

He lamented the unwholesome practices by most Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA), citing the World Health Organisation, statistics, which indicate that over 100 women die every day in the country, for causes related to childbirth and maternal mortality.

In his keynote address titled: “Management of Bleeding During Pregnancy, Labour”, Dr. Andrew Igbafe, listed major causes of complications in pregnancy to include, excessive bleeding during pregnancy and after childbirth, prolonged labour, unsafe abortion, harmful religious and traditional practices.

Igbafe, however, called for zero tolerance for maternal and infant death in the state, girl-child education, enlightenment campaigns to every nook and cranny of the state, support from traditional rulers, elders, chiefs, medical practitioners and TBA’s among others to stem the tide of infant and maternal mortality.