Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe: A Physician-turned Politician

Armed with a personality of immense brilliance, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe strikes as a genius. From his ground-breaking academic laurels at secondary school, where he had seven distinctions, to his trailblazing career first as a medical doctor and later as a politician, the APC chieftain and immediate past Chairman Senate Committee on Health has continued to tilt his direction towards the path of excellence. In a rare encounter with Funke Olaode, the Kwara State-born  politician shared his life chronicles from medical practice to politics

He walked briskly to catch up with his appointment. That day, he was a guest speaker at a roundtable media discussion on food fortification and implementation policy organised by an Abuja-based not-for-profit organisation at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos. Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, the immediate  Senate Chairman  Committee on Health, cuts the image of a contented yet self-assured man. From his groundbreaking academic laurels at secondary school, where he had seven distinctions, to his trailblazing career first as a medical doctor and later as a politician, the APC Chieftain and immediate Chairman Senate Committee on Health has continued to tilt his direction towards the path of excellence.

The inauguration of the 10th assembly was a few days away when my path crossed with the Kwara State-born medical doctor turned politician at the lobby of Sheraton.  Unperturbed by the fact that he was ending his 9th Assembly in a matter of days, he said casually: “I have been a successful medical doctor before I became a politician. I will go back to practice. Politics is service to the nation; I am still available to serve when the need arises.”

Despite his achievements, Oloriegbe has maintained a simple disposition. “It is a reflection of who I am. So, I like being myself.  In whatever position that I have found myself in, it is about service; it is not about myself, and it is not about showing off.  Mind you, I am a very vocal person.  I speak out my views when necessary and when I have to speak. But when I speak, I speak from the perspective of the fact and the evidence and the intellectual perspective of the issue at hand.”

As a child, Oloriegbe was enrolled in Quranic School, where the ray of intellect shone. At age eight, he was a ‘small teacher’ teaching other students, having assimilated fast and covered five years of Quran 60 Chapters in a few months. He would later move to Alore Local Education Authority School, LEA School, for his primary education.

By the time he got to secondary school, Oloriegbe was exceptional, winning laurels and awards. At Ansar Islam Secondary School, Ilorin, Kwara, he was the best overall in the Mock Examination, having seven Distinctions out of eight subjects. “With modesty, I thank God for His grace. I was the overall best student in my secondary and won overall best awards. That was in 1979. At the end of my secondary school, I had distinctions in all the science subjects. My WAEC  results   remained unbroken in that school for three decades.”

With the best results in science subjects, Oloriegbe’s journey into tertiary education in search of career destiny was a rollercoaster. He wanted to study engineering. He encountered a mentor who was a director at the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (PHCN) who saw his excellent performance in science subjects and persuaded him to embrace medicine.

“I listened to him while applying for medicine at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. And, of course, I had God’s grace and favour and privilege; despite the fact that it was very challenging and intensive, I had no challenge. I had distinctions in a couple of courses during my undergraduate days.”

Oloriegbe left ABU in 1985 and went for his housemanship, first in Ilorin and later in Kaduna. He would later move to Kano for the mandatory Youth Service and stayed in Kano for the next 10 years practising medicine. He joined partisan politics in 1996 and contested first in 1997 under the Abacha transition programme.  He won, but Abacha died, and the program was cancelled. The advent of democracy in 1999 ushered in new entrants into politics, and he joined the train. He would later win elections to the House of Assembly.

“I wanted to contest for the Senate in 2015, but my name wasn’t on the ballot. I only participated in the primary, and then the party decided that I should step down. I stepped down for the current governor and had to drop my ambition. In 2019, I was on the ballot in a different party this time around. And God granted my ambition, and I won.”

Enumerating his achievements since his foray into politics, Oloriegbe said politics is about service.

“Well, to God be the glory, much has been achieved, but as human beings, one will continue to strive until death. It is only after death you can say okay- you have done your own bit, and whatever you have achieved can now be assessed. Human life is an ongoing project. What I want to do is ongoing. I can’t say I have achieved everything I want to; it is not possible. 

“Much has been achieved, starting from when I was at the house of assembly. I was able to do what I wanted to do. Then I left that and went back to my professional practice, and I was still serving in this country and outside this country. And then I came to the senate, but coming to senate, I did set up a certain agenda. To God be the glory, most of it has been accomplished. I give a lot of gratitude and thanks to Almighty God for granting me that favour.”

Commenting on the state of the healthcare system, he said the government needs to jack up the budget.

“In terms of resource allocation to health, yes, it is inadequate. Nigeria had committed in 2001 that it would contribute 15% of its budget to health. And I want to talk about the budget in Nigeria. Mind you, we should not be looking only at the federal budget. We should look at the 36 states, considering the capital budget. Because health is a concurrent issue, the state has responsibility; the federal has responsibility. So, both the federal and state have not been allocating that 15%, in which case we don’t have enough resources. The federal maximum they have done is 7%, and that was in 2006/07 or so. Currently, we are roving between 4.5%, 5% or 6%. Now, to what you are talking about, these resources are being allocated, I must tell you that.” Another problem he identified is inefficiency in the system.

“We have inefficiency in the system because there is duplication of effort here and there, and we don’t put resources where we should put them. One, the resources are not adequate and what we have is not being efficiently used. And of course, like any other sector in the country, there are challenges of wastage. That is why you have the condition we have now. There was a national para-healthcare emergency that was set up. And through that, the federal government is doing intervention, but this intervention has not been able to address the issue. The solution we are proposing is that there is a need for improved collaboration between the federal and state to get primary healthcare to function. I was privileged to be part of those that drafted the national health Act in 2004. As at that time, I wasn’t in the parliament then. And we tried to reinvest federal resources, to say 1% of the consolidated revenue fund of the federal government will be put into primary healthcare. The law was passed in 2014, and the implementation of that, which is in section 11 of that Act, started in 2018. But 1% of the federal government is very small. The maximum we have had from it is about 55 billion naira. That is a drop if you look at the quantum of what has to be done.

On the issues of brain drain within the system, he voiced his concern.

“I am worried just as many other stakeholders and Nigerians in the health sector. As you said, it is not only the sector that is affected by brain drain, but the health sector is particularly more affected because of global issues. There is a global shortage of health workers not only in developing countries but both the developed countries because production is short.

“But in our own situation, we are not producing enough. And with the little we are producing, we are losing much more than we are producing. Of course, it is a source of worry for everybody, and it means it requires a lot of action. The proposed actions that we are looking at are one, we have to increase our production. No matter what you do, you cannot stop people from migrating or moving; it is a fundamental right. But then you need to retain what you have more, and to retain more, there are many issues. We have to find out why people are going. One of the basic fundamental reasons why they leave is remuneration. They should be well enumerated.”

For him, there is so much he could do after his senatorial role.

“Well, one, I am available for further service to the country. I belong to APC and I work for the APC in the administration that entered. I delivered my polling unit, my ward, and my local government for APC. I was part of the campaign for the president and even in my state. I am a professional; I was consulting in health before I went to the Senate. So, I have my professional consulting firm. But if the government provides me with a platform to serve, I will definitely take it up because it is all about service.”

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