By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
There is a spirit in man that gives him wisdom, or its opposite, when Providence sets him on high places. The thundering snafu delivered by the outgoing Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, was a fitting example of cutting your nose to spite your mirror! A bloody self-inflicted combustion.
Our man in charge of employment at a period in our history when we have one of the world’s poorest unemployment indices; at such a time when labour strifes loom large under the overhanging balloon called “new minimum wage” – figuratively speaking, that balloon houses at least 30,000 shards with capacity to impale or decimate many states still gasping in paying the old miserable minimum wage of 18,000.
It is the same man who is now locked in the epicentre of that throbbing catastrophe… who verbalised on national television his disdain for the abject reality and frustration of our medical workers fleeing to Europe and the US so as to survive. And he “was” a medical doctor…”since June, 1979”! He retired from the Federal Ministry of Health as a Deputy Director, Medical Services and Training, in 1998… That ought to shut us up, humph! Apparently, Ngige didn’t have the privilege of being “surplus” to the national requirements for effective public health delivery during his active service.
In his goateed tirade against the doctors, Ngige was quoted thus: “I am not worried, we have surplus doctors, if we have a surplus, we export. I was taught Biology and Chemistry by Indian teachers in my secondary school days”.
“They are surplus in their country. We have a surplus in the medical profession in our country. I can tell you this. It is my area, we have excess. We have enough, more than enough, quote me. “There is nothing wrong, they go out to sharpen their skills, earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them, not from oil.”
“Brain drain will only be inimical when for instance neurosurgeons travel and we don’t have neurosurgeons here.”
Is it not stunning that Dr. Ngige could have been advised by his cabinet colleague in the Ministry of Health that the major reason “brain drain” is inimical is exactly because “brains” like neurosurgeons and such specialists are the ones “draining” to foreign lands. This level of crude distanciation from reality is frightening if it proves to be common amongst our ruling elite.
However, to latch the former doctor to some form of existential anchor, Dr. Olusegun Olaopa, the president of the National Association of Resident Doctors, brilliantly profiles the Minister’s psychosis: “He spoke as a politician who does not know what is happening in the country. The doctors we are losing are not fresh doctors but specialists. That means that Nigeria will continue to battle with shortage of specialist doctors.” Touche!
Also puncturing Ngige’s surplus statistics is the president of his professional body, the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Adedayo Faduyile. He describes Ngige’s huff-puff as “an unfortunate statement which shows that he has done nothing in medical practice”. Faduyile reveals that while the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended that each country should strive for at least a ratio of one doctor to 600 patients… “in Nigeria,” declares Faduyile, “we have 40,000 doctors taking care of 200 million people”. That population figure is right on the button: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently confirmed from its 2019 World Population Report that we are now about 201 million people.
Therefore, if Faduyile is correct on the 40,000 mark, that is a staggering 5,000 patients to one doctor. The poor chap will have to attend to at least 13 people every day of the year to go round all his patients, without observing even a day off duty!
After the hoopla the TV appearance caused, the Minister sought to redeem his tottering position with a statement which somewhat still stands on his stance, with barely any perceptible twist. My summary of his reposte is wrapped in these flamboyant words: “I speak from the vantage position of being a medical doctor and … enriched by my vast knowledge on health administration… member of Vision 2010 Committee on Health as well as senior member, Senate Committee on Health 2011-2015, therefore the truth no matter how it hurts, must be told and reality, boldly faced. Hence (sic), apart from Nigeria’s non-compliance with the World Health Organisation’s ratio of one doctor to six hundred patients of (sic) which I was misquoted, every other thing I said in that interview is an existential reality, useful and constructive facts which every Nigerian that watched the full interview will hardly dispute.”
One of the problems with our ruling elite, (oh, how I hate generalisations) is the inability to take an uppercut on the chin, step back…shake head to clear the dizziness, review your missteps, and regroup to aim for higher targets. They chase after inconsequential matters, and gleefully pose for photographs to immortalize their tomfoolery. They travel to speak grandiloquent inanities at global foras which add zilch to our commonwealth, and greedily starch their estacodes and sinful allowances into foreign piggy banks without a glance at our tomorrow.
They visit China with their entourage (modest or large) and other far-flung places, to inspect fewer than 65 coaches supposedly being built to order, when a more serious-minded person can delegate a junior director with requisite experience to coordinate periodic audio-visual conferencing where either party can check and cross-examine every detail of the manufacturing and funding processes. (And by the way, we are likely to be sourly disappointed when we see the final make and age of the so-called coaches now under production).
You can tick hundreds of such noisy “nothingnesses” which benefits to the Nigerian populace are infinitesimal… of course, when you look closely, there are, more often than not, perforations and loopholes that are designed to lead straight to their pockets and bank accounts, or that of their families, cronies and lapdogs. In a 2017 investigative report by a Nigerian online newspaper reviewing the first two years of our 36 ministers, 80% of them scored less than average when their “promises” were scaled against their “achievements” and “failures” – including Minister Ngige. In fact, only one official scored what we can call a B-minus grade! Then, imagine the cumulative scores, when the following two years ending this month, are added… very likely to be as baleful and disheartening, if not worse.
News: “The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Akwa Ibom reported the highest unemployment rate of 37.7 per cent in third quarter 2018.
The bureau said that Rivers had the second highest reported unemployment rate with 36.4 per cent followed by Bayelsa with 32.6 per cent.” Me: And these are some of the highest recipients of monthly federal allocations, derivation largesse, etc. What are they doing with the funds? Who is seriously monitoring the governors?
What mechanism is open to the army of unemployed youth in each state to demand and monitor accountability and sustainable social investment on available manpower? Are we to look up to the avaricious legislators shamelessly fighting to legalize daylight robbery in the shape of “lifetime pension” after four years of “serving the people” to mount pressure on imperial governors?