Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Managing health needs in Aso Rock – Guardian Nigeria


Presidential Wing of the State House Medical Centre
To be clear, the Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999, as amended, has no provision for the Office of First Lady of the Federation. There is also no budgetary provision for the maintenance of that office.
Not minding all that, the office has flourished with a full complement of privileges, funding and staff, including a security team that’s answerable to no one else. During military regimes, wives of Heads of State and military administrators used the office to promote softer engagement with citizens, who were disenchanted with their husbands’ high-handedness and authoritarianism. That engagement provided a comic elixir highly needed to calm injured nerves. Apart from the projects first ladies establish to reach lower and vulnerable ends of society, the office has evolved into an avenue to peddle influence and politics.
Upon return of democratic rule in 1999, wives of presidents have scaled up to make the office a noticeable apartment in the Presidency. They have thus become more assertive and daring. In the absence of any form of constitutional regulation, the platform yields spectacularly to the whims and idiosyncrasy of the occupant. And so, we have seen different shades of the office – the comical, the brash and the manipulative.
This is where we observe the recent comment by former First Lady Aisha Buhari during the inauguration of the N21 billion Presidential Wing of the State House Medical Centre, Abuja, as lacking refinement and exuding mischief. On that occasion, the former First Lady boasted that with the commissioning of the facility, future presidents would no longer need to embark on medical tourism to seek medicare outside the country.
She said: “I’m quite happy, feeling fulfilled. Though we are leaving, all the same, we thank God that the project has become a reality. I have opted for it for six years now. I initiated this project six years ago when my husband spent three months abroad, consecutively, for 90 days. And it shouldn’t be because we have all the experts in Nigeria. We only need a good platform. The hospital that is supposed to serve the First Family is serving like 35,000 people, which is quite much. That’s why I insisted we should have a VIP Wing within the proximity of the Presidential Villa.”
While it is commendable that the hospital project has been completed and is now available for use of the new First Family, and plenty of kudos to the former First Lady, who initiated the project, as she claimed, we cringe at her braggadocio.
First, we do not consider her the appropriate official to announce the completion of the project. A project of that magnitude is certainly not a pet project for a First Lady to fancifully appropriate. She is also not eligible to make pronouncements on how the new occupants of the Villa should manage their healthcare, whether to seek medicare outside the country or not. It smirks of mischief for a family that abandoned health facilities at home for medical tourism abroad to make recommendations of whatever kind. While it is commonsensical that our presidents and families are attended to in our health facilities and by our personnel, it is dubious of Mrs Buhari to be the one to make that recommendation.
It is on record that former President Muhammadu Buhari and members of his family spent about 250 days in London, Germany and elsewhere religiously seeking good health. For many months, Aisha herself was not seen in the country and taxpayers, who deserved to know, were not apprised of her whereabouts.
Transparency and accountability are two compulsory ingredients that distinguish a democracy from autocracy and they begin with the First Family. The whereabouts of our leaders are our business and we deserve to know how much of our commonwealth they are expending to take care of themselves.
We do appreciate that the First Family deserves the best of healthcare in topnotch facilities. But that is not to say that other Nigerians deserve less, in the manner the former First Lady lamented. She decried that the facility, which ought to cater for only the First Family now attends to 35,000 people. The number is outrageous no doubt, but the condescending manner Aisha Buhari explained it is off-putting, as if the extra numbers don’t deserve something as good.
For that reason, let the government take the health concerns of all Nigerians as a priority and there should be no discrimination in making provisions for all. After all, when former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracted COVID-19, he was treated at St Thomas’ Hospital in South London, along with fellow citizens. He did not abandon his people for some outlandish hospital in outer space.
We are asking managers of the Presidential Wing of the State House Medical Centre, Abuja, to furnish Nigerians with the details of the N21 billion contract that saw the completion of the project. We demand to know why it was not the Health Minister or the Villa Bureaucracy that took charge of communicating to Nigerians upon completion of a project that was executed based on budgetary provisions.
The reason is to capacitate Nigerians to take inventory of the facility and its appurtenances; to be sure that it is up to date just as the former First Lady boasted. We need to be assured that the facility meets the requirements and standards needed to cater to the health needs of a First Family so that we can demand answers when and if the new occupants abandon the VIP hospital in search of costly and undisclosed healthcare abroad.
The economy can no longer support such profligacy and recklessness.
Going forward, while we pray for good health for all Nigerians and particularly the First Family, we urge them to imbibe the spirit of transparency and accountability in managing matters of healthcare. The tradition whereby a president and members of his family jet out to spend 50 days on medical tourism at the expense of taxpayers, without any form of disclosure should be considered archaic and belonging to a decadent era. It is not only arrogant and offensive; it debases the spirit of democracy, which survives on accountability. We demand accountability on all matters!

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