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The damning report on Aso Rock Clinic (1)

By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

Anybody who has never gone through a near-death experience may not fully appreciate what it means to go through the valley of the shadow of death that has become the daily routine in most public hospitals in Nigeria. 

It is a fact that patients who are not financially empowered and left with the option of patronising the publicly-owned general or local health centres are made to go through a near-death situation because of the certainty of the uncertainty of quality of treatment and drugs that such a poor patient would get.

The public health system in Nigeria has systematically collapsed under the heavy weight of perennial and persistent managerial corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness of officials of government.

All that a researcher needs to do to gauge the real situation of affairs in the nation’s public healthcare is to pay a visit to any general hospital anywhere in Nigeria and to take the pains to visit the laboratory and ask the relevant questions on the functionality or workability of the critical infrastructure in and  around the hospital. Such critical factors like survival rates, patient safety, specialized staff and hospital reputation are not available in much of these public hospitals and these are essential factors for determining the standards of hospitals. 

The first sign of doom that would stare you in the face the moment you enter a public health facility anywhere in Nigeria is the environmental insanity and degradation. You would be shocked to see medical workers competing for space with rodents and cockroaches.  The medical and non-medical staff do also run their petty businesses by the side, making the public hospitals appear like a multipurpose shopping complex.

The next bad sign to notice is that the moment power supply system from the national grid is switched off as is often the case with the epileptic electricity power supply system in the country, you would notice that most of these public health facilities lack functional generators to power their critical health equipment.

Virtually all the public hospitals that can afford it run diesel-powered generating sets as sources of their electric power, thereby spreading pollutants around the environment and further exposing their patients to the risks associated with environmental pollution.

A story was once told of a man who took his relative for common surgery of appendicitis but had to also go to the general hospital with a generating set just so the procedure would not be interrupted by poor power supply. The public healthcare system in the country is going through some of the worst forms of criminal negligence and abandonment. One reason for this is the phenomenon of foreign medical tourism by most government officials and their family members.  Another related cause of the total degeneration of quality in public healthcare is the lack of professional supervision and the next giant reason is the public procurement that creates room for corruption. 

The Bureau for Public Procurement is weighed down by multifaceted factors of corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies. I will return to discuss the causative factors that have led to the gradual and systematic collapse of  public healthcare but first, let us examine emerging scandals from the presidential medical facility in Abuja.

The wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, is in the news, expressing her disappointment about the poor state of facilities at the Aso Rock Clinic.

The wife of the president expressed her frustration at the total non-availability of basic amenities at the prime health facility set up by the federal government to take care of the health and related well-being of the members of the political class within the presidency and also the staff who work within the confines of the Presidency.

The presidential clinic is known to be one of the most heavily-funded government-owned health facilities in the country, which gets humongous budgetary releases yearly.

The question raised by the wife of the president came within few weeks of the reported castigation of the Aso Rock Clinic by the daughter of the president who depicted the clinic as being badly managed. An interesting factor is that the Aso Rock Clinic was set up just like a “father Christmas” avenue whereby free medical services are offered to patients composed of the privileged few who are already earning so much money from the central treasury of Nigeria.  The Aso Rock health centre is said to provide medical services to the president, vice president, their families, members of staff of the state House and other entitled public servants. 

But, even as the Aso Rock Clinic offers free medical services to these aforementioned beneficiaries, the question to ask is why are there no checks and balances in the management of such a prime facility?  What are the steps put in place to ensure transparency and accountability?  What steps are being implemented to ensure that drugs and other essential equipment meant for that clinic are not diverted?

These sets of interrogatories are critical because of the loose practice amongst Nigerians whereby there is the tendency by many to abuse any opportunity of benevolence because it is generally believed that with humongous crude oil money flowing into government coffers, whatever goodies anybody can grab from government must be done with reckless abandon.

In framing the above questions, one is aware of the unreasonableness of providing free healthcare services to top government officials, particularly when such persons  still enjoy generous allowances. 

Again, if the family members of the State House can have unfettered access to Aso Rock Clinic, what kind of family members do we mean, given that in Africa, the extended family system is deeply rooted in our culture?

It is possible that occupants of top political offices operating within the Presidency will open the floodgates of free medicare to their kiths and kins in the name of being family members. African and Nigeria’s notion of bigman sometimes means that those who occupy privileged positions behave like persons who are above the law. Indeed, even the militarily hand-picked writers of the extant constitution inserted a crude provision under section 308(1) which gives blanket immunity from prosecution for about 78 executive office holders such as the Prssident, his VP; the governors and their deputies. 

Onwubiko is head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria

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