By Emmanuel Onwubiko
There is this climate of impunity that this section creates, making it look like these persons can do just anything, including carting away public assets even from public clinics without being called to account until such a person vacates office. So, the questions of probity and integrity of the process of managing Aso Rock clinic are largely yawning for transparent responses.
Let’s also ask the managers, what kind of data are maintained in the Presidential clinic to record the beneficiaries and their status? What is the quality of regular audits that are carried out in that clinic to block leakages and theft of public funds which both the EFCC and ICPC Acts criminalise?
Why does government subsidise healthcare services for a few public office holders whereas the people who are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria are allowed to die from commonly treatable ailments such as malaria fever?
Section 14 (2) (a) of the Constitution states as follows: “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.”
This sacred provision therefore means that any activity of any government official that compromises the health and security of the people of Nigeria must be seen as a threat to national security and the offending government officials must be prosecuted and punished for this crime against humanity.
In serious countries like China, Singapore and even Vietnam, public officials who steal funds meant for public healthcare are executed by firing squads. But, in Nigeria which prides itself as the largest black nation in the world and claims to practice constitutional democracy, the most attractive job is politics, through which successful public office holders do not have to worry about the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies even if they decide to empty the entire health budgets of their states into their private pockets.
It is only in Nigeria that millions of people are left to die while few government officials are ferried abroad at public expense to be attended to by foreign doctors.
Millions of rural and urban poor in Nigeria are left to their cruel fate and do often suffer sudden deaths because of insufficient healthcare facilities and medical workers. Doctors and medical workers in public hospitals have lately made it a routine to always embark on strike over disagreements with government on conditions of service, just as all of these persons divert their human resources to run their private clinics, thereby allowing poor patients to die gruesome deaths.
The challenge of non-availability of functional public healthcare is compounded by the high rate of absolute poverty afflicting over 100 million Nigerians, meaning that they cannot afford to pay for private health services. In the last two years, the cost of pharmaceutical products have shot through the roof, due to high tarrifs by the Nigerian Customs services and the fees charged by the National Agency for Foods, Drug Administration (NAFDAC).
Because of non-affordability to millions of ordinary citizens of these foreign pharmaceutical products, they are exposed to the deadly vagaries of patronising cheap and substandard drugs and quacks. These are consequences of the depraved tendencies of the elite to service their greed at the disadvantage of the many who are poor and not privileged.
Just one example will suffice to show you how crude and wicked political office holders are in Nigeria and to show you that they do not care about the welfare of the people which, in any event, is the primary constitutional duty of government.
This example that has come in handy is the 2016 and 2017 annual budgets that go to the State House Abuja, where this non-performing Aso Rock Clinic is located. The amount budgeted for repairs at the presidential villa between 2014-2015 amounted to N3.68 billion but between 2016-2017, the amount skyrocketed to N12.43 billion.
In the last two years, the princely sum of N22.5 billion was budgeted for the State House Headquarters. Then, look at the shocking statistics from the United Nations, which show that 5.1 million of our citizens are faced with food shortage due to the insurgency in the North-East.
UNICEF also stated that 2.5million children in the country are severely malnourished, even as only N50,000 is required to treat each child but the public officials spend hugely from the public till to travel to foreign jurisdictions to meet doctors for their health services at public cost.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari, whose wife has raised the alarm about the State House Clinic, has spent many months in the United Kingdom for medical treatments, costing Nigerians tens of millions of dollars. The Presidency has still not disclosed how much of public funds was spent for President Buhari’s several months of foreign medical tourism. Mrs. Buhari criticised the managers of Aso Rock Clinic for allegedly blowing away N3.89 billion last year and have yet to account for N331.7 million budgeted for it this year.
The situation of Aso Rock Clinic shows that Nigeria’s public healthcare is in an emergency situation. If the prime healthcare centre in the Presidency lacks even ordinary syringes to administer injections to patients, how much worse will the local health centres in Arondizuogu or Kaura Namoda be?
The Nigerian government must, therefore, take decisive actions to bring the public health emergency to a minimal level by tackling the hydra-headed issues of medical tourism and the different levels of corruption that have led to the collapse of public healthcare. The shame of the entire drama is that the political elite have sinned and fallen short of the glory of exonerating themselves from these vices tearing down our public healthcare.
Nigeria should classify corruption in the public health sector and defence as offences punishable by the death penalty, to serve as effective deterrent and to stop Nigerians from dying only because they have no money to patronise private hospitals. The National Health Insurance Scheme must be reformed to efficiently provide services to poor Nigerian and get millions of Nigerians to enrol. Besides, the corruption that surfaced recently at the NHIS must be frontally tackled and the dual principles of transparency and accountability restored.
Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria
Link: The damning report on Aso Rock Clinic (2)