“Yet there comes a time in the life of a patriot when abdication would amount to a betrayal if not outright treachery.” 

—Olusegun Obasanjo


By Cosmas Omegoh


Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, is a consummate medical practitioner.

But many are yet to draw a correlation between his brilliance and service to the people.   

If truth be told, many across the country have been lamenting the way crucial issues under his watch are being treated at the moment.

Some have argued that this nation’s Number One doctor has continued to remain anonymous, leading the sector’s many battles from the rear. And perhaps only those in government circles still remember he occupies a high office.     

Perhaps, a simple test of his impact and popularity rating based on evidence-based performance will suffice. Simply tax the ordinary man in the street if he knows a thing about Dr Ehanire. The result of this simple test might surprise many: that the thought of Dr Ehanire is one of those nurses or laboratory technicians at the clinic down the road.

Some who knew Dr Ehanire say he is on AWOL, others insist he is on leave of absence, with his tag-along posture. They tell you he is never available when leadership is demanded of him, citing his role or no role at all in the COVID-19 management in the country. 

It is common knowledge that in this pandemic situation, world leaders worth their price in gold are always up on their feet, their sleeves rolled up, talking to their people, walking the talk, inspiring confidence, providing hope and pointing to the way forward. 

But that seems to be missing in Nigeria whose citizens are also bearing the brunt of the Coronavirus. Dr Ehanire who is supposed to be the rallying point appears not to be there.   

Not a few can raise their hands to say that Dr Ehanire has inspired anyone in a manner that makes sense – prompting his audience  rising to cheer. Rather, in the opening days of COVID-19, it was the Presidency that ran the show through Boss Mustapha, chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Nigerians even saw more of Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the director general of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) doing the job. Taking the place of Dr Ehanire, he assumed the clear arrowhead in the fight against COVID-19. That everybody clearly saw. Now, Ihekweazu has been snapped and catapulted to the global stage by WHO and made assistant director general. 

Some people vehemently accuse Dr Ehanire of consistently playing the spectator at the popular side, watching a game of football in which he is supposed to be a coach-player. Others say he is like that proverbial man seen peering from his window on a day his in-laws visited to honour him with their well-practised dance.

These narratives about Dr Ehanire seem to add up. Otherwise, how can anyone explain the absence of his fatherly role in the lingering strike by members of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD)? 

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Going to six weeks now, NARD members have been away from the hospitals, leaving scores dying. But Dr Ehanire has been unfazed. He has not raised as much as a whimper at least to sympathise with the thousands dying because the doctors are on strike or pleaded with them to return to work.   

The resident doctors are the bulk of the medics in various teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and allied institutions across the country.

Recall that NARD earlier had issues with the Federal Government. At some point, a Memorandum of Action (MoA) was signed by both parties to end the crisis. But five weeks ago, the same crisis resurrected. NARD returned to the trenches, claiming that government had been insincere in implementing the agreement they earlier reached. No one has heard from Dr Ehanire on this. 

Taking the place of Dr Ehanire, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige has insisted that NARD members must return to work, promising to activate further negotiations, a proposal NARD strongly rejected.

Now, the question many have been asking is: where is Dr Ehanire in all of this? Till this moment, no one can say he remembers Dr Ehanire taking any form of action. Rather, he has been playing the Ostrich. 

Sadly, it has been Dr Ngige, also a medical doctor, who has been piloting the boat abandoned by Dr Ehanire. In doing this, Dr Ngige has been combative, belching out threats at every turn. First, he took the doctors to court. Next he invoked a certain “No-work-no-pay” rule. Next, he comes through to remind the striking doctors without success of their Hippocratic Oath, which compels them to put their patients first. No solution has worked and Dr Ngige is still searching for solution.

Sadly, in the middle of this abdication, COVID-19 marches on; Cholera is devastating the land. Malaria still rages. Yet, the two henchmen Nigerians look up to are on a roller coaster.

Now, it will be remembered that under Dr Ehanire’s watch brain-drain in the medical field went full circle. He is not anywhere near halting the trend. Rather, he is enjoying his cool as frustrated and distraught Nigerian doctors check out in droves, streaming to Canada, USA, Britain, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

These countries have been steadily taking the best Nigeria can offer. Their agents simply weave in, set up fishing tents and net the best, leaving behind leftovers. Back in their home countries, they offer their catch good life, good pay, good environment and quality hands-on experience.

Sadly, while this dirge plays out, Minister Ehanire watches on, doing practically nothing to stop the vibes. 

An analyst predicted that this ominous cloud gathering over Nigeria’s health sector will someday soon be an acid rain that will fall on everyone – the poor and the lowly alike. That is the uncertain future Dr Ehanire has a duty to prevent if he is listening. 

I know that Ehanire, 75, can. At least, his curriculum vitae sufficiently suggests that he is brilliant, well read, travelled, accomplished, acclaimed and actualised.

Born in Warri on November 4, 1946, Dr Ehanire had his high school education at Government College Ibadan. He earned a deserved place at Ludwig Maximilain University in Munich, Germany, where he graduated as a surgeon. He acquired top-notch experience at University of Duisburg and Essen teaching hospital and also at the BG Accident Hospital in Duisburg, both in Germany. 

Dr Ehanire equally attended the prestigious Royal College of Surgeon in Ireland and later earned a board certification in both General Surgery and Orthopaedic Trauma Surgery at the Medical Board of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. He is a Fellow of West African College of Surgeons.

Here at home, he was a one-time senior registrar at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin City. He extended his career frontiers at Shell Petroleum Development Company Hospital as divisional consultant surgeon, and also had a stint with the Edo State government. 

On the political turf, Dr Ehanire went on the ascendancy following his appointment as the minister of state for Health in November 2015 after President Muhammadu Buhari came to power. He was later handed a bigger pie: Minister of Health in August 2019.