Out of the 96 days we have spent so far in this year, President Muhammadu Buhari has spent more than half of that outside the country, receiving treatment for a mysterious illness. We do not presently know how much his health has cost Nigeria in terms of foreign exchange and going by the brinkmanship of his aides, we may never know. When the Presidency was asked how much his treatment abroad cost, his aides reached for the ready nostrum: They would not be revealing the costs because doing so would be “insensitive.” Joining this bleating herd is our venerable Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, who said, without any iota of irony or demonstrable self-awareness, that he was not aware of any country in the world where the president was forced to disclose his medical bill.
What Muhammed and co did not acknowledge was that there are not many serious countries left in the world where the president travels to another country for medical care while leaving medical infrastructure in their home country in such a decrepit state as ours do with relish. If Buhari can dust off the shame of travelling abroad on the national dime to treat his malady, why can he not go a step further and admit how much his treatment cost the nation that picked the tab?
Most of the foreign media that reported Buhari’s trip abroad noted the low quality of medical facilities in Nigeria. They contrasted the privilege Buhari enjoys with the flagrant disregard for the lives of the poor as shown by the low quality or outright non-availability of medical infrastructure for dis-privileged Nigerians. Now that over 325 Nigerians have lost their lives in the latest outbreak of meningitis, averaging at a spread of nine per the 36 states of Nigeria, Buhari’s insensitivity arouses anger in me again. The figures, accrued over four months, become more alarming compared to the previous recorded ones of 301 over a four-year period. The deaths, according to media reports, escalated because the government could not afford the vaccines of a mere $30-$50.
Preventable deaths are annoying but where it obtains that a country could pass a budget that allocated more resources to Aso Rock medical facilities than all the federal teaching hospitals in the nation combined, one obvious truth emerges: President Buhari’s life not only matters but it matters more and the most. There was never a logical pretext for the bogus allocation but then, we are talking of a Nigeria where any and every illogic is permitted.
The defence of allocation by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, was that the public criticism was “insensitive.” Shehu said that the budgetary allocation was necessary “in the light of the administration’s plan to improve medical facilities at home as a way of discouraging overseas trips in search of treatment by citizens which eat away from our foreign exchange.” One can question the logic of how tipping the balance of resources in the favour of the fewer officials who work in Aso Rock against millions of Nigerians who are dying in one derelict hospital or the other due to lack of medical facilities works, but there are only few things about Buhari and his government that still make sense.
In the same 2016 of the ginormous allocation to Aso Rock, the year in which Buhari promised that his government would end medical tourism abroad and stop draining Nigeria of about $1bn annually, he himself flew, not to LUTH, UCH, or UNTH but across oceans to Germany to be treated of an “ear infection.” One would have expected that a man who swore to end medical tourism would not resort to the expense of medical tourism over common ear infection. Buhari is the sage who admonishes others with the beseeching creed: do as I say, do not do as I do.
For a man who was marketed to Nigerians with the long-dead propaganda of his self-sacrifice, one wonders what really happened to the myths that were propagated during the 2015 electioneering. Since June 2015, Nigerians have been fed with irreconcilable contradictions of Buhari’s touted ideals. Was it ever true that he slashed his pension because he felt the sum was unjustifiable? When he came to office, he and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, promised to collect only 50 per cent of their salaries. Now, who is holding them accountable to this promise? How much of the personal discipline he was said to exude have had any impact on fiscal discipline and the governmental process? Was anything about Buhari’s honesty ever true or every last of it was just propaganda?
Medical tourism is a non-item in the budget yet this year alone, Buhari has not only spent 50 days in the UK, he is not done yet. Going by the word of his aides, he would still be heading out to the UK any moment from now to treat his undisclosed ailment. While he is away, the country’s destiny will once again be held in abeyance as Osinbajo plays a self-effacing role to save Buhari’s dignity in the face of his stark incompetence.
The same Buhari that promised to reduce the $1bn annually siphoned out of Nigeria’s economy through medical tourism is now ensnared by his own hypocritical virtues. He needs medical care and for some reason he cannot stay in Nigeria to receive it. He had to go to the UK where medical cost is priced out of the reach of non-citizens. Yet, in this same country people are dying because of meningitis vaccine costs!
This anomaly, one must note, did not begin with Buhari. In 2009, we learnt – much to our consternation – that Aso Rock Clinic alone had 17 ambulances, a figure higher than any hospital in Nigeria could boast at that time. Almost 10 years later, the state of Nigerian hospitals remains decrepit and the only thing that seems to have changed is that we have a President who once boasted he would reverse the abnormality of premising the President’s life over that of the people. Almost two years into Buhari’s Presidency, we have all learnt that the practice of giving more to the President at the expense of the people is the norm and Buhari would have had to be a radical to have done anything differently.
What is painful about the selfishness of our leaders, and even more painful in the case of Buhari whose body language was thought to exude a “talakawa” first political philosophy, is that it takes food from the mouth of the poor and gives it to the ruling class. January of this year saw a Nigerian woman who had quadruplets in the UK slammed with a bill of £500,000. If her case could cost such enormous amount, imagine how much the health of a whole country’s President in a foreign hospital would be costing the country.
As if all these are not enough, we are further punished by ignorant and insensitive leaders who should ideally be tucked away in a museum for clowns and morons. More than 300 Nigerians are dead due to meningitis and the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdul’Aziz Yari, says the deaths are God’s way of punishing people for fornication! In Yari’s small world, God is a voyeur that peeps under people’s skirts and trousers to know what they have been up to. His God is not punishing governors who ate the Paris Club refunds neither is his God concerned about the spate of violence that goes on in Nigeria daily. God has other obsessions for which he kills poor people and it is sex. On days like this, one realises that Nigeria is an undecipherable asylum where the sickest inmates run the show and decide the affairs of the sane.