By Onikepo Braithwaite Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @TheAdvocatesTD
Happy Easter Everyone. It is our prayer that the same way Jesus rose from the dead, every good thing concerning Nigeria which hitherto has been dead, will also rise. Amen.
Three incidents that transpired lat week, caught my attention.
Garba Shehu and the President’s Medical Tourism
I watched an interview of Presidential Spokesman, Garba Shehu last Tuesday, in which he said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to London for a medical check up could not be classified as medical tourism, because he was going to see his Doctors who have been caring for him for the past 30 years! I felt so embarrassed for Nigeria, with that singular statement that Mr Shehu made. It would have been better for Mr Shehu to have responded “no comment” to the question put to him on the issue of the President’s trip (since we all know the correct answer), than to give such an absurd response, especially as Mr Shehu is very far from being unintelligent. While, undoubtedly, the job description of these Presidential Spokespersons is to paint Government in a positive light, and, given the state of the nation, admittedly, this may sometimes be an insurmountable task – that is, attempting to defend the indefensible, sometimes silence golden, or in this kind of precarious situation, certainly a better option than rubbing salt into the wound.
For the avoidance of doubt, what President Buhari and many of us Nigerians engage in, is known as “Outbound Medical or Healthcare Tourism” – where you leave your own country to seek medical care in another country. Typically, under-developed countries like ours who lack adequate healthcare facilities, engage in outbound medical tourism to seek assistance in more developed countries.
I do agree that it must be somewhat humiliating (assuming they are able to feel any sense of shame or remorse – these sentiments seem to be rather rare amongst Nigerian Politicians) for those who had once declared during their election campaign that their administration would not engage in, and eliminate the need for outbound medical tourism, to be the ones spear-heading the practice, but, it is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. General Babangida did it during his time, and so did President Yar’Adua; so, what is the big deal? Though, in fairness to the APC and this administration, we all know that it is the norm for campaign promises in Nigeria not to go beyond what they are – empty promises! And with the state of Nigeria’s healthcare, it would have been a pipe dream for anyone to imagine that this administration could/would work any magic/miracle in the health sector. Plus, the decay in our healthcare system certainly did not start with this administration. It has been on a steady decline for many years, through many regimes and administrations.
Would you be flabbergasted, if I say that I do not begrudge the President travelling abroad to see his Doctors? If I did, I would be wasting my time and emotions. Sometimes, one just has to be realistic. Here are some of the reasons for my position. Most importantly, for any human being, including the President, self-preservation (‘the protection of oneself from harm and death’) is the first law of nature – ‘a basic instinct in human beings and animals’, except Jesus Christ (who died for sinners); and it is an undisputed fact that Nigeria does not have good medical facilities, and unfair or not, the President is exercising his right to life guaranteed by Section 33(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended in 2018)(the Constitution), a right which may be put in jeopardy if he seeks medical attention here, especially as his ailment seemed extremely serious at a point in time. Does anybody think the President would risk his life by subjecting himself to sub-standard medical facilities here, just to please Nigerians? Yes, as President he is called to the highest level of responsibility, accountability and circumspection, especially with the Oaths of Office he has taken, but in Nigeria, all that is meaningless.
Medical practice has gone beyond the guess work of the 1800’s, and the fact that most of our hospitals here, to date, are still constrained to work on conjecture and hunches due to lack of adequate medical facilities, makes medical tourism the most viable option for those who can afford it. Why then would anyone expect the President to risk his life, if he doesn’t have to? Linked with the issue of self-preservation, is the fact that for those individuals with evil minds, the President’s safety could have been endangered if he stayed in a Nigerian hospital for an extended period of time like he did in the UK, or sought extensive medical care here, as he obviously did in the UK. Additionally, the nature of his ailment has been concealed and shrouded in secrecy, and I can say for certain that, if the President had stayed in any Nigerian hospital during the period that he was extremely unwell, somehow the details of the state of his health would have leaked out. After about six years, all Nigerians know is that the President suffers from ear ache.
What I however begrudge the President and his administration for, is that since they assumed office in 2015, not much has been done to improve the state of our medical facilities nor improve the lot of medical practitioners, all to the detriment of majority of Nigerians who cannot afford to go on outbound medical tourism. This gives the distinct impression that, while this administration will go to any lengths to secure the health of President Buhari (and a few other precious people) they couldn’t care less about the Nigerians who voted them into office (see Section 17(3)(c) & (d) of the Constitution). These negative optics are further exacerbated by the President travelling to take care if his own health, in the midst of a strike by the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors which commenced last Thursday, but was threatened before the President travelled to London. A little attention may have however, been drawn to the deplorable condition of our medical facilities, as the Covid-19 pandemic made it glaring, even to the blind! Nevertheless, we wish the President a successful trip – ‘eti a gbò (i)re o’ (the ears will hear good news)!
Shame on Danladi Umar, Chairman, Code of ‘Misconduct’ Tribunal
The second incident was the shameful, condemnable behaviour of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, when he assaulted a security guard, Clement Sargwak, at Banex Plaza, Abuja, slapping and kicking him, thereby trampling on Mr Sargwak’s right to dignity and ennobling treatment (Section 34(1)(a) of the Constitution). But, what’s new? Members of the various arms of Government fighting in public, or Banex Plaza being the preferred location for fisticuffs?! We have not forgotten ‘Senathug’ Abbo and his assault on two young ladies, Biba and Kemi, at Pleasure Chest Sex Store, also located at Banex Plaza.
I would have favoured a situation in which Mr Umar would be swiftly removed by the President on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) by virtue of Sections 15(3) Part 1 Fifth Schedule to the Constitution and 11(1)(b) of the Interpretation Act (IA), by which the CCT Chairman is appointed and empowers those who appointed Mr Umar – the President on the recommendation of the NJC, to remove him for his misconduct. Unfortunately, Section 17(3) Part 1 Fifth Schedule to the Constitution is specific as to how the Chairman of the CCT can be removed – by two-thirds majority of each House of the National Assembly. Or he could decide to spare everybody the ‘wahala’ and do the honourable thing – simply resign from his position (though resignation is a very rare occurrence in Nigeria). Luckily, however, the aforementioned Section 17(3) does not preclude him from facing disciplinary action from the President/NJC, as the same Section 11(1)(b) of the IA allows him to be suspended, and another, appointed to act in his place (Section 11(c)(ii) of the IA). I urge the NJC to swing into prompt action, and recommend Mr Umar’s immediate suspension, while I call on the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the NBA to take action against him. It goes without saying that, a person who can behave in such a violent and unbecoming manner, is not fit to sit in judgement over the conduct of others. We recall that, Mr Umar also had corruption charges levelled against him.
By his actions, Mr Umar contravened many laws, starting from Section 9 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, to Sections 4(1), 14(1), 18(1) & (3) of the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015, that is, Wilfully placing a person in fear of physical injury, Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse, Intimidation and Inciting – aiding and abetting the Police to Intimidate Mr Sargwak (attracting punishments of up to two years imprisonment or N200,000 fine or both, upon conviction), to committing offences contrary to Chapter XVIII of the Penal Code Act 2006 (applicable in Abuja)(PCA) – Offences Affecting the Human Body – ranging from voluntarily causing hurt, use of criminal force against another (slapping Mr Sargwak), threat of assault and assault, contrary to Sections 240, 242,262, 263, and 265 of the PCA, punishable by imprisonment of one year with an option of fine or both (Sections 246, 265 (a) of the PCA). Isn’t it ironical that, instead of arresting Mr Umar who we all saw was clearly the aggressor in the video of the ugly incident which went viral, he abused his position as CCT Chairman and got Mr Sargwak arrested instead – this kind of injustice must not be ignored, as it is clearly discriminatory against Mr Sargwak contrary to Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution.
You will recall that, I have constantly maintained that stereotyping did not start with Fulani Herdsmen (that doesn’t make it acceptable), and Government has always castigated those who have done this in the case of the Herdsmen, only for the Spokesman of such an important Government official as the CCT Chairman, to be quick to stereotype the people at Banex Plaza as “Biafran Boys”. Government should also condemn this stereotyping, roundly.
Alhaji ‘Barrister’ Lai Mohammed and his N100,000 Fine
I thought we were trying to attract FDI and diversify our economy, as well as market Nigerian products to the world? So, how did the Minister of Information come up with such a bizarre idea to levy fines on Nigerians who advertise their made in Nigeria products on international television stations, or make adverts in foreign lands with foreigners? I must admit that while I’m not sure that I fully understand the Minister’s directive and rationale, I submit that levying fines in this regard is unnecessary, arbitrary, illogical and inane. At worst, he could insist that they also have to advertise locally, if the Minister is trying to promote the issue of local content and ramp up revenue.
Take for example, the Nollywood and Nigerian Music Scene which has gone global (together, already a multi-million and soon to be a billion Dollar industry according to recent projections) – I hope they are not affected by this directive – would Burna Boy and Wizkid have won Grammys last month, if they made all their videos in Nigeria and only catered to a local audience, or a Nigerian Fashion Designer who wants to sell his/her products in USA or UK, if adverts of their products are featured only on NTA (Nigerian Television Authority), a local television station which is more or less a dead channel? Yes, some of our television stations like Arise TV and Channels can be viewed in other countries like the UK, but a station like CNN has worldwide coverage; and we all know that NTA is one of the worst television stations in Nigeria, possibly the most unwatched. Even majority who cannot afford DSTV, go for cheaper options of cable television like GOTV or StarTimes. NTA is mainly for Government functionaries, and it does not reflect the reality of what is going on in the country, especially being a State-owned station. Even if Nigeria is burning, NTA will continue with its cultural show featuring Atilogun Dancers, instead of interrupting the scheduled programme to report the fire!
Again, if a particular song is about New York, would it make sense to shoot the video in Ojuelegba because of local content? Has Nigeria developed to the point where 5th Avenue in New York can be portrayed and replicated in Nigeria? I think not. The bottom line is that, if I want to sell my products globally, I must advertise them globally, and it makes no sense to punish me for doing something that will rake in revenue, and be beneficial to us as a country in the long run.
I emphasise the fact that the Minister is a Lawyer, because the last time I checked Section 40 of the Constitution Section gives us the right to associate freely with other persons, which includes doing music videos with foreigners, for example, while Section 16(1) & (b) inter alia, mandates Government to promote national prosperity. What legislation did the Minister use to back his repugnant policy? And if indeed, there is such a law, it must be reviewed as a matter of urgency because it is counter-productive. A Press Release by the Heads of Advertising Sectoral Groups (HASG) protesting against this recent move by the Minister, shows clearly that there was no Stakeholder consultation before the Minister issued this regressive directive, thereby breaching the fair hearing provisions of Section 36(1) of the Constitution (audi alteram partem). I urge the Minister to engage in some consultation with Stakeholders, and fine tune his directive accordingly.
Let me conclude by saying that, I find a great deal of merit in Mr Atedo Peterside’s suggestion that the $1.5 billion will be better spent on building world-class health facilities in the various geographical zones for the benefit of Nigerians, than wasting it on moribund refineries, especially for the fishy reasons which are being espoused for trying to raise these refineries from the dead. Again see Sections 16, 17(3)(c) & (d) of the Constitution.