Your Excellency, you will recall I wrote you sometime in September of this year expressing my dismay over the sorry state of Nigeria’s education system. I did promise to write you shortly to express the disenchantment of Nigerians on a variety of issues and this time I have elected to start with health care. As a person who grew up having no shoes, one would have expected that the government you inherited from the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua would be replete with social programmes aimed at the struggling Nigerians but alas, it is not the case.
Time and again we have witnessed unnecessary deaths as a result of insufficient and very poor medical services offered all over Nigeria. The most painful scenarios are when the victims of these poor healthcare systems in place and their families know they could have pulled through with better services. Sometime in September, it was rumored that your wife Mrs. Patience Jonathan experienced a health scare that required her to seek medical attention in Germany. Rumors had it that it was food poisoning at first, and then it was a ruptured appendix and finally someone mentioned Parkinson’s disease. Whatever she may have suffered or still suffering is not the subject of this open letter but the special attention government officials and their families receive at the expense of Nigerians for all ailments including common cold.
I do not know how often you read the Nigerian newspapers given your busy schedule but I am sure the Vice-President Mr. Namadi Sambo, who has a newspaper budget allocation of 45 Million naira for the 2012 fiscal year would attest to the fact that we have thousands of Nigerians suffering from kidney, heart, cancer and other life threatening ailments. As I write this Tokunbo Isaac Ogunlusi (The Sun newspaper) urgently requires the sum of 7 million Naira for his kidney transplant and one year cost of medication. This transplant would be carried out at St. Nicholas Hospital Lagos and he has as many others resorted to the public media hoping to raise funds for his treatment. Such treatments are carried out in India for its relatively affordable costs and other places and I am so pained that people still call our “hell hole” the giant of Africa when there is no achievement worthy of such name unless of course we apply it to negative things the chief being corruption. In 2009, General Babangida’s wife Maryam was treated at the prestigious UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in the USA but sadly, she later passed away from the ovarian cancer she suffered. I use Babangida as an example because as far as intelligent, old enough and those who are bothered to check history (my category) Nigerians are concerned the man is responsible for the “death” of this once great nation. In 8 years, he successfully entrenched a culture of “lootocracy” across every facet of the Nigerian system. If those 8 years were utilized wisely, perhaps we could have sustained what Buhari and Idiagbon were already doing before the coup of 1985. In 2010, the President Umaru Musa Yar’adua whose ailment was well known to Nigerians and who had undergone varying degrees of treatment in Germany and later in Saudi Arabia eventually succumbed to his illness. Now in 2012, your wife Patience was a beneficiary of the same largesse trailing past and present leaders because she too received treatment in a hospital in Germany. I am told that the hospital has the best of the best facilities and work force and obviously all these would not come cheap. I decided to go down memory lane to give you a clue as to main issue in this letter. Evidently, something must be very wrong with the medical training and facilities in Nigeria when the genuinely rich, government officials (past and present) and their families avoid our own healthcare system. This situation amounts to placing a premium on some lives above others even when all the people are supposed by fundamental human rights receive equal care.
It beats my imagination that 21st century Nigeria, a country that is one of the largest producers of crude oil in the world cannot offer free medical care to her citizens or even when not free, a quality and well subsidized medical care. There is nothing more shameful than this situation and one would have thought that it should be your first priority to increase the live span of the average Nigerian through quality healthcare. Every year we lose thousands of people from the increasing occurrences of kidney, heart and cancer ailments and yet we think it is normal. Nigerians raise monies to take their own to India but a responsible government should have taken a bold step to intervene in these sufferings by inviting the Indians health professionals to perform the surgical operations in Nigeria at the expense of the government. Do you know one of the reasons why corruption is rampant even to the least level of the Nigerian society? No one wants to be caught dead in this mess of lack of care because they know that in actuality we have a dysfunctional government. So many times, we have had hospitals go on strike because the government would not implement the agreement it had with trade unions and when this happens, the ordinary Nigerian would die- This is very wrong.
Just recently, the governor of Taraba State Mr. Suntai was involved in a plane crash and I learned he has been flown to Germany for “better medical attention” and my question remains why do we not have a solid system in place to take care of such emergencies? After all these years, it is a crying shame that we still have to rely on the West for medical emergencies such as Mr. Suntai’s crash. I do not know of Mr. Suntai’s personal finances and I am not sure who would pick up the bill for his treatment in Germany but I strongly doubt whether this government would assist any “less important” Nigerian that finds himself in Mr. Suntai’s shoes. This is another glaring example of placing a premium on the life of a few Nigerians over the rest of the people even when in fact these people (the former) have not paid any amount of money for health insurance coverage to this government to warrant any special treatment. My own points of view are simple and they are as follows;
1) Comprehensive healthcare for all irrespective of status- Nigeria must adopt a system that resembles the NHS trust in the United Kingdom but without placing undue burden on the salaries of the working class people. We must take care of our own by investing heavily in the health sector through providing up to date medical training and upgrading available facilities, using those hospitals which “you” people visit in Europe and America as models. Imagine having all the facilities in that hospital in Germany in our own hospitals and staffing our hospitals with the same quality of personnel as seen in Germany? It is therefore time to be fair to all Nigerians by giving them access to equal treatment that only a select few currently enjoy. This government should have embraced socialist ideals in dealing with Nigerians because our people are suffering too much and it is time to draw an end date to these anarchies. It breaks my heart to see people begging for money in the newspapers to travel to India when I know that we could do these things in Nigeria with very simple organization. It was in 2008 that some corrupt ministry of health officials were relieved of their duties for sharing “excess” budgetary allocations when we had millions of Nigerians unable to access any form of healthcare. Whilst we applauded the government’s action at that time, there has not been any significant improvement in this same sector.
2) It is time to truly perform turnaround maintenance of our health institutions. We need specialist doctors all over Nigeria. We need quality training of medical staff and we need a stable system that does not close because of strikes. I was reliably informed in 2009, that the teaching hospital at Enugu did not have functional indoor plumbing. Patients and their families had to rely on buying water in order to meet their needs. Imagine a teaching hospital of that nature without water, what kind of medicine were people practicing there in the first place? There should be a special task force on revamping these comatose institutions for better efficiency. Re-training of our healthcare workers to respond to emergencies is so imperative; just recently, a friend’s colleague collapsed at work and was rushed to National Hospital Abuja and I believe this hospital is the flagship hospital as far as the capital city is concerned. Sadly they needed several layers of “security clearance” before she was finally taken to the emergency ward and even in spite of that, no attention was given to this woman for over an hour. Her husband had to take her away to somewhere else.
I am convinced that you would through this letter; understand the sufferings of our people and the exigency of remedies. Most importantly, it is criminal to let people die in Nigeria for all the surgeries we take people to India to undergo. I am not sure about this but I learned that many state governments in Nigeria sponsor its indigenes at least in part to visit holy lands all the world and I would wish to see cases of such sponsorships extended massively for healthcare of Nigerians as well because it is a holy thing to do.