By SKC Ogbonnia
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, which has compelled people to stay within their localities, illuminates the genius of the ageless adage: charity begins at home. It has exposed the malignant ignorance among Nigerian leaders, who prefer foreign medical treatment while neglecting the amenities at home. The COVID-19 has profoundly exposed the nature and scope of the Nigerian healthcare crisis. Yet, every cloud has a silver lining!
The recent coronavirus controversy in Enugu is a perplexing preface. A 70-year old woman was suspected to be carrying the virus. But there is no laboratory capable of administering the COVID-19 test in the entire Eastern Region. Thus, it took several days before the test result could arrive from far-away Irrua in Edo State. Though the result returned negative, the woman had already died, while isolated in a squalor at a grungy Enugu State University of Technology, ESUT, Teaching Hospital complex.
The irony is that this incident took place in Enugu – of all places, the Igbo flagship metropolis that has no excuse to lag in development, having served as the capital of the old Eastern Region, capital of the defunct Biafra Republic, capital of East Central State, capital of the old Anambra State; and currently the capital of Enugu State. This predicament only goes to ridicule the faculty of the globally renowned Igbo intelligentsia that parades Enugu as its sanctum.
The most mind-boggling yet is the situation in Northern Nigeria. Though the North is the perennial epicenter of the national healthcare crisis, it never dawned on the politicians to establish standard laboratories for testing a disease like Coronavirus in the entire region, besides an outfit at the nation’s capital, Abuja. To test for the virus, those in Sokoto will have to travel over 650 kilometre, while those in Maiduguri must commit 845 kilometers before reaching Abuja. One can only wonder the wisdom of the Northern leaders, widely celebrated for strategic vision in gaining power, but who continually fail to maximize such power towards the common good of their people.
In a 2015 essay, “Every Nigerian Blood Is On The Line”, I drew attention to the ignorance of Nigerian leaders, who tend to forget that good leadership is vitally important to both the led and the leader. I enumerated the embarrassing cases of highly placed politicians from the immediate past administration, who lost their close relatives because they failed to provide good amenities in the local communities, such as President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience Jonathan, Namadi Sambo, David Mark, and Ike Ekweremadu, among others.
Also remember the strong man of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, who died on his way to procure traveling documents towards a foreign medical trip. Equally relative is the case of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Alex Ekwueme. These two prominent men suffered stroke in the same Enugu, at different times, but had to allow a few weeks to stabilize before embarking on foreign treatment. Before they could reach their British destinations, their situations worsened. Neither Ojukwu nor Ekwueme made it back home alive. Needless to mention sitting late Head of State, Sani Abacha and President Umar Yar’Adua, who died at the Aso Villa, under questionable health conditions.
The crisis conundrum is that the current leaders still does not seem to get it. Nigeria’s top office holders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, embrace foreign medical treatment as a second nature. But that was then – definitively then!
The point, if it is not already apparent, is that coronavirus has emerged as a quintessential equalizer. It has provoked a national consciousness and common sense, by consequence. The pandemic has made it imperative that people, both rich and poor, must seek prevention or treatment in their immediate environment. The elites may be accorded the usual preferential treatment, quite alright, but any attempt to ignore the masses, as in the past, is a poisoned chalice.
The foregoing thesis becomes more compelling, when considered that the threat of the COVID-19 in Nigeria is real. Though there are only 46 confirmed cases as at the time of this essay, the low number simply signifies lack of adequate testing centers. A forewarning is that out of those 44 cases, 35 were in the Western Region, being the cluster where four out of the five testing laboratories in the country are located. It is also not a coincidence that both the East and the Far-North are yet to record any case. Their common denominator is plainly the absence of testing centers in those zones. Moreover, testing for the COVID-19, for now, remains an elitist agenda. But the truth remains that every Nigerian life is on the line.
A dream cure, therefore, is a revolutionary approach that can sufficiently address the Nigerian short and long-term healthcare needs. Besides any mitigation measures or cure for the COVID-19, Nigeria must, without any delay, equip and modernize to international standards eight existing university teaching hospitals. While six of such hospitals should be spread in the six political zones, the remaining two would be allocated to Abuja and Lagos. This revolutionary plan is well studied, and the goal is twofold: first, it will significantly improve the national healthcare delivery for the ordinary Nigerian people. Second, it will be able to treat the Nigerian leaders and stem the shameless pattern of medical tourism in foreign lands.
Establishing eight world-class hospital – within one year – is not rocket science. The sources for the financial and the human resources are equally well studied. The budget for the hospitals is $8 billion. The most cost-efficient is direct funding through crude oil, its hazy market and politics notwithstanding. A plain source is to plug out $12 billion from the now suspended 2016-2018 External Borrowing of $22.7 billion proposed by President Buhari. While $8 billion goes for the hospitals, the remaining $4 billion will be dedicated to mitigating the coronavirus pandemic. Phase II will target the state capitals and so on…
The dream cure is neither politics nor business as usual. It should be executed by a Healthcare Revolutionary Council, HRC, that can include these notable patriots: Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Omoyele Sowore, Akinwumi Adesina, Adeleke Mamora, Femi Falana, Bartholomew Nnaji, Ngozi Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili, Ogbonnaya Onu, Kanayo Ubesie, Donald Duke, Pat Utomi, Ben Murray-Bruce, Festus Keyamo, Muhammadu Sanusi II, Nasir el-Rufai, Obadiah Mailafia, Nuhu Ribadu, Aisha Buhari, Shehu Sani, Mathew Kukah, Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Hameed Ali, Yakubu Dogara, Aisha Al-Hassan, Audu Ogbe, Iorwuese Hagher, Natasha Akpoti, Yakubu Mohammed, and Abubakar Sani Bello.
*Ogbonnia writes from Ugbo, Enugu State, Nigeria