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How Buhari Other African Leaders Destroy The Health System

Recent events are however showing that Nigerian doctors don’t just flee to Europe and America. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, Singapore, South Africa are emerging as choice destinations for Nigerian medical personnel (including paramedics) who can no longer cope with the mess on the home front.

The Buhari Story

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari is currently in London on a trip his aides and advisors told the public is “private.” Many are however convinced that the president’s aides were not entirely honest with their compatriots on the true nature of the Nigerian president’s stay in the United Kingdom.

Public commentators are uncertain as to what to make of this so-called private visit. Is the president funding the trip from his personal savings? How about the plethora of aides attending to him in the UK? Is he paying them from the proceeds of his famous cattle business? The presidential jet is currently parked in London and remains available strictly for the president’s use. Who is paying for aircraft services and related charges at the UK airport?

There are several questions many would like to ask if they get the opportunity but it is believed that the president views Nigerians with disdain, refusing to either listen or address their concerns. The last time Nigerians saw their president taking questions from journalists on live TV was in December 2015. Unlike Olusegun Obasanjo or a Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari does not have such a high regard for Nigerian journalists and prefers instead to speak to foreign press.

For millions of Nigerians, it is indeed strange that some of the most important statements they have heard from their president were made on foreign soil. From telling the world that our youths are lazy to enunciating his 97%/5% policy of resource allocation soon after his epic 2015 election victory to the now infamous “my wife belongs to the other room,” jibe at Aisha, Buhari has made it a duty to tell Nigerians what he thinks of them only when abroad.

The few times foreign heads of states had visited President Buhari (Nigeria is not the most attractive destination for world leaders), Nigerians who had imagined that a joint press appearance between the president and his colleagues from say Morocco or Ghana would be on the cards were disappointed that no such thing happened. It is a shame that in the global information age, the presidency is being run by people who do not appreciate the role of the press in nation building.

At any rate, this presentation is not about Buhari’s loathsome attitude to the press or his alleged disdain for the Nigerian public. Something more germane to public interest is in focus and that is how the African health system is being destroyed by the political leadership in the continent who run off to Europe and America at the slightest sign of ill-health.

While the official information from Aso Rock says the president has gone on a private visit, the general belief amongst commentators is that President Buhari has gone to see his doctors like he has consistently done in the last four years. Recall that President Buhari also spent nearly six months in the United Kingdom in 2017- treating an ailment neither he nor his aides disclosed to the public.

An African Pandemic

To be clear, Buhari is not the first Nigerian leader who fell in love with foreign medical facilities. Before his death was formally made public in May 2010, late Umaru Musa Yar’adua who was elected president in 2007 spent several months in either Germany or Saudi Arabia (these things are hardly made public) treating what was speculated to be chronic kidney failure. Former military president Ibrahim Babangida staged a grand return to Nigeria in March 2019 after more than three months at Switzerland where he had gone for medical treatment. The wife of former president Olusegun Obasanjo died in a Spanish hospital in 2005 after what was alleged to be a failed medical procedure. Maryam Babangida, wife of Ibrahim Babangida also passed on in 2009 at a Californian hospital.

In March 2007, the PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 general election and former Vice president- Atiku Abubakar- was reportedly flown to London for medical attention following a minor accident at his home gym in Abuja.
Again for the sake of clarity, may it also be noted that Nigerian leaders are not the only set of politicians in Africa who love to be attended to in foreign medical facilities. For many, it is better to die in a foreign hospital than to survive a health scare in their native countries and the statistics are there to verify this.

At the beginning of September 2019, Robert Mugabe who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years died in a Singaporean hospital. In 2014, Zambia’s Michael Sata died at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in the United Kingdom where he had gone to receive medical treatment. Sata was not the first Zambian leader to die abroad. In 2008, Levy Mwanawasa who ruled the country from 2002 till his death in August 2008 also died overseas- this time at a medical facility in France. Ethiopia also lost Meles Zenawi Asres who was the country’s prime minister between 1995 and 2012. He died in Belgium.

In January 2012, Guinea Bissau’s Mallam Bacai Sanha died in a French hospital where he had gone to treat advanced diabetes. Omar Bongo ruled Gabon for 42 years but when he came down with cancer in June 2008, he was flown to Barcelona for treatment. He never came back alive.

Like President Buhari of Nigeria, Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Patrice Talon of Benin Republic frequently patronise hospitals in Switzerland and France respectively. Nigerian governors, cabinet ministers and federal parliamentarians hardly visit public or private hospitals in the country. They make it a point of duty to keep regular appointments with the best doctors in Europe and America.

A Continent and its Many Miseries

Africa’s miseries are innumerable but it is in the health sector that you find ample reasons to think that those who insist that Africa is cursed have some logic to their claims. “Africa,” according to Lance Morrow, “has a genius for extremes, for the beginning and the end.” In the words of the author of one of the most critical essays on Africa published on the cover of Time Magazine of September 07, 1992, “Africa offers some memory of Eden and a foretaste of apocalypse. It is the continent of misery.”

How can someone rule a country for more than 20 years and not build quality hospitals to take care of the health needs of his compatriots? Is it imaginable that a North Korean president would hobble off to London and spend weeks treating an unknown ailment? How many Asian leaders die in Europe? How many European leaders hobble off to other continents to treat injuries sustained from domestic accidents? How do you think US Democrats would react if news filters in that President Donald Trump has been flown to France to “see his private physicians?”
Why African Doctors Vote With Their Feet

The strange thing in all of these is that these African presidents and leaders still get treated by African doctors who had to flee the continent because of poor working and economic conditions at home. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) recently estimated that 35, 000 Nigerian doctors have left the country in the last few years in search of greener pastures overseas.

Recent events are however showing that Nigerian doctors don’t just flee to Europe and America. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, Singapore, South Africa are emerging as choice destinations for Nigerian medical personnel (including paramedics) who can no longer cope with the mess on the home front.

A lot of factors have been mentioned as the reasons for the dysfunctional health system we have in the continent, from political mismanagement to corruption and embezzlement, the truth is that much of the world has since left Africa behind and the proofs are not hard to see.

In most hospitals across the continent, doctors work under very excruciating conditions with very little in terms of remuneration compared to their colleagues in most parts of the world. In today’s world, labour is mobile and skilled people- including doctors- are very free to go to where the skills fetch the highest pay.
Between Hypocrisy and Wickedness

What would it take the Muhammdu Buharis of this world to build standard health centres across Nigeria so that everyday Nigerians who do not have access to the presidential jet and endless supply of petrol-dollars can also have a chance to fight for their lives when sickness comes calling? Does it not smack of extreme wickedness that the president of a country would allow the health institutions to rotten simply because he has no use for them? What happens to those who elected him to power?

It is hypocritical for President Buhari to condemn medical tourism when it is obvious he is Nigeria’s chief medical tourist. It is about time Africans began to fight for the future of the continent by insisting that African presidents and political leaders must sit back at home and enjoy the same medical facility as the rural farmer or the artisan who has to trek hundreds of kilometres to be able to see a doctor who comes to the rural health centre once a week and would have to attend to hundreds of patients in four hours or less.

The point must be made that what is good for the Muhammadu Buharis and Paul Biyas of this world is also good for the new-born infant who needs basic medical supply to fight for his space on God’s earth.