By Akin Ojumu

Once again, the president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), is planning to travel to the United Kingdom for medical treatment. It would be his second trip in 2021. By the time you are reading this commentary, our president will probably be on an examination bed in a London hospital having his orifices poked by English doctors.

Like the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, aka Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland, where US presidents go for their medical care, the Aso Rock Presidential villa, the official residence of the Nigeria President, has a hospital for Nigeria presidents. The Aso Rock clinic is supposed to be a state-of-the-art hospital, one that sets an example for all hospitals in Nigeria of what a quality hospital should aspire to become. Sadly, the presidential clinic in Aso Rock is anything but state-of-the-art; it is a dumb-as-rock hospital that is better compared to a state-of-the-junk and a bottom-of-the-barrel antiquated healthcare facility. The hospital does set an example though. It is an example of how not to run a healthcare establishment.

In a period spanning 6 years, between 2016 to 2021, the president of Nigeria has sought medical care outside of the country multiple times, and those medical trips have lasted between 14 and 103 days long. In 2017 for instance, Buhari spent 103 days in the UK where he went for medical care for an “ear infection,” without handing over the responsibilities of governing Nigeria to his hapless, mere decoration-on-the-wall, Vice President. That incident left the Nigeria state without a head of state for over 3 months, and it created a governing vacuum and political confusion that nearly consumed the entire nation.

Yet, in that same period of time, as much as N20 billion was allocated to the Presidential villa for the purposes of running the presidential clinic in Aso Rock. N3.94 billion in 2015, N3.87 billion in 2016, and N3.2 billion in 2017 compared with N1.424 billion, 3.333 billion, and N1.943 billion in 2015, 2016, and 2017 respectively that were allocated to the 16 Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria.

According to Dataphyte, “For every N1,000 spent on healthcare for 200 million Nigerians, the Federal Government of Nigeria spent N3 on the president’s clinic in the period 2016-2021. In 2016 alone, it was N1 for the president’s clinic for every N100 meant for the healthcare of the entire population in Nigeria.”

Take a pause and think of that for a moment. For every N1000 spent on healthcare centers and institutions in Nigeria, a sum of N3 is spent on the Aso Rock clinic alone.

Despite the humongous amount of money poured into the presidential hospital, the president of Nigeria continues to travel outside the country for his medical care. Whenever Buhari catches a cold, he runs to London for treatment. If he experiences painful or irregular urination, our president bails to London for treatment. A little blurry vision or a slight slurred speech, the man who runs Nigeria hops on a plane and rushes to London for medicine. When our Oga at the top man pikin experiences failure to take off, it is London tso tse for treatment. One can’t help but think that our president is using the billions of Naira allocated to fund the presidential hospital in Aso Rock to fund hospitals in London instead.

In an article published in The Conversation, Tahiru Azaaviele Liedong, an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the University of Bath, England, best encapsulated the medical tourism habits of African political leaders. He wrote, “There is an African idiom that if a man does not eat at home, he may never give his wife enough money to cook a good pot of soup. This might just be true when applied to politicians on the continent seeking medical help anywhere but home.” And the professor said it in a way only a true son of Africa can.

Currently, there are close to 60 teaching hospitals and federal medical centers, more than 33,000 general hospitals, and a little bit over 20,000 primary health centers, in Nigeria. In its communique following a 2009 national conference on healthcare, the Nigeria National Health Conference characterized the state of Nigeria’s healthcare systems as weak, uncoordinated, and fragmented with dearth of resources, including drug and supplies, inadequate and decaying infrastructure, inequity in resource distribution, poor access to care, and very deplorable quality of care. The communique also described how the widespread lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities among the different levels of government have only compounded an already dire and chaotic situation.

Besides the embarrassment of the president of a sovereign nation running to another country to seek medical care for ailments as simple as an ordinary headache, these endless presidential medical junkets cost African nations a fortune that they honestly cannot afford.

Take Buhari’s 3-month stay in London in 2017 as an example. That trip alone cost the Nigeria state an estimated £360,000 just in parking fees to park the presidential jet in the airport hangar. That’s equivalent to 0.07 percent of the N306 billion allocated to health care in the 2017 national budget. Do the math and add to the parking fees the actual cost of the medical care itself plus the cost of accommodating and feeding the president and his family members, and the retinue of staff and aides that must have accompanied him on the trip. You quickly realize that these medical trips are a drain on the economy of Nigeria.

Again, Professor Liedong further described the additional snowballing negative consequences of African leaders’ penchant for medical tourism. He alluded to the rampant brain drain, dilapidated healthcare systems, and the resulting heavy price ordinary citizens pay for such a careless neglect.

“The failure of leaders to improve health care and stem brain drain also carries a heavy price. A 2011 report estimated that nine African countries – including Nigeria and Kenya – had lost USD$2.17 billions of their investment in health care professionals. This figure might be higher now. On top of this, African hospitals that were previously world class have been reduced to symbolic edifices due to political negligence. For example, Lagos University Teaching Hospital was once deemed to be one of the best on the continent. Recently, it was criticized for decadence. Not far away, Ghana’s flagship national health insurance scheme is ailing. Essentially, when people charged with responsibility feel they have no need for public health systems because they can afford private health care at home or abroad, ordinary citizens bear the brunt.”

In short, while President Buhari galavants to UK hospitals for his own personal healthcare, he leaves Nigeria’s healthcare system in a state of absolute disrepair and total dilapidation. Because the father of the nation doesn’t eat at home, he fails to give the motherland enough money to cook a good pot of soup for his own children.

It is true that the majority of Nigerians are poor and live below the poverty line. Yet, Nigeria remains a pretty wealthy nation when compared to other African nations. For a president of a nation such as Nigeria, with the abundance of human and material resources at his disposal and under his control, not to use those same resources to build a first-class hospital – I mean “first-class hospital” and not a “first-class healthcare system” – even for himself and his family, like leaders of comparably rich nations do for themselves and their families, is proof that the man at the helm of affairs in Abuja is an incompetent moron. I wish there was a nice way of saying this. We’ve just got to admit, our president is a pathetic loser and an abject failure.

Whenever President Buhari scurries out of the country for medical check-up in another man’s land, he is more or less picking up a bullhorn and announcing to the world that he is a failure as a leader. Every trip he takes to seek medical treatment outside Nigeria is an admission of his failed leadership.

Nevertheless, as a patriotic Nigerian, I wish him speedy recovery from whatever it is that ails his body and/or his mind.


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