By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
The State House Medical Centre was established to provide health services for the nation’s President, Vice-President, their immediate family members as well as workers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. In fact, there is a presidential wing in the health facility apparently to cater for these big men and women.
To the surprise of many Nigerians, however, successive presidents and vice presidents as well as their family members have not been making use of this medical centre. Rather, tax payers money is used to fly them abroad to seek health care.
What is, however, not clear to many is the fact that some Nigerian leaders resorted to traveling abroad for their medicare not necessarily by choice. Some opted to do so when the facility established for them could not meet their medical needs despite the huge amount being budgeted for it every year.
The deplorable condition of the health facility that cannot even boast of the commonest of all drugs- paracetamol- has been a subject of discussion among a few people albeit restricted to only whispering until recently when members of the president’s family joined the fray.
In late September, it was President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter, Zahra, who could no longer belly the state of the medical centre that took her protest to the social media. Her destination was her Instagram handle, @mrs_zmbi, where she called out the Permanent Secretary, State House, Mr. Jalal Arabi, demanding that he should explain the deplorable state of the health centre despite the N3 billion budgetary allocation in the 2017 budget. She specifically asked Arabi to provide answers as to why simple items such as paracetamol, syringes and gloves were not available, leaving patients and staff to individually source for them.
Using the hashtag #statehousepermsecplsanswer, she asked: “Why isn’t there simple paracetamol, gloves, syringes..why do the patients/staff have to buy what they need in state house clinic?
“More than N3 billion budgeted for state house clinic and the workers there don’t have equipment to work with? Why?
“Where is the money going to? Medication only stock once since the beginning of the year? Why?”
Aisha Buhari follows suit
Exactly a week later, it was the turn of the wife of the president, Aisha, to speak on the state of the clinic.
She also lamented the lack of drugs and equipment at the State House Clinic, insisting that the management must explain the use of funds allocated to the medical facility.
According to her, she refused to travel abroad for the treatment and had to make do with a foreign-owned hospital in Abuja and wondered what the fate of the ordinary Nigerian who falls sick would be in such circumstances.
Mrs. Buhari also queried why the management of the clinic would be constructing new projects when medical items as ordinary as syringes are not available for patients at the facility.
Mrs. Buhari’s unscheduled visit to state house clinic
A week after her outbursts, she visited the clinic where she was received by the management led by Dr. Munir. This was after news filtered in that trucks load of drugs have been delivered to the clinic. A staff confirmed on condition of anonymity that indeed drugs were supplied. She and her team were conducted round the clinic by the management team of the medical centre, showing her the new and old buildings. Mrs. Buhari held a little interactive session with the staff before leaving the clinic.
Arabi appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee probing the deplorable state of the clinic last week. He attributed the lack of drugs at the clinic to free medical treatment by those who were not entitled to it. He disclosed that some medical personnel who no longer render services in the hospital have been getting allowances.
According to him, the doctors, sponsored by the State House, on residency programmes (usually for a two-year duration) were paid call duty allowances “even though they were no longer performing call duties at the medical centre”.
He hinted that the resources of the clinic had been overstretched.
The House of Representatives subsequently passed a resolution to set up a committee which will probe how the N10.9 billion said to have been released to the clinic from 2015 to 2017, was spent.
But Arabi said contrary to reports, the clinic got about N3.5 billion from 2015 to 2017.
He said even though some of the state house workers did not enlist in the clinic’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), 80 percent of their families enjoy free medical services, at the expense of the government
The only way out of the claims and counterclaims is for those in authority to turn the fortune of the medical facility in order to make it a truly centre of excellence that it was established to do. It is only then that Nigerians can have the right to confront their leaders who still travel abroad to seek medical attention.