By Rose Moses
President Muhammadu Buhari the other Friday, returned to the country from the United Kingdom, after another round of medical holiday, though this time very brief.
Before then and shortly before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April, Mr. President had undertaken a private visit to the UK, where his doctors are known to reside, five clear days ahead of CHOGM.
So, when his whereabouts was unclear after his departure from Washington DC, where he later travelled to on a state visit, some Nigerians obviously read differently a press statement indicating he made a ‘technical stop-over for aircraft maintenance in London.’
Their speculations on the press statement that was dubbed, ‘presidential technical stop-over’ in some quarters, would later be confirmed when another press statement explained that “in the course of the ‘technical stop-over’ in London, the President’s doctor requested he returns for a meeting, which he agreed to.”
And so, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, some members of the president’s cabinet were again at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to bid him farewell as he departed the country for the meeting with his doctor(s) in London.
Unlike similar trips in the past, the president returned, even a day earlier than was announced. He said he was in good condition and indeed, told reporters at the airport he did not return earlier than expected. In his words: “I just went for a further medical check-up and I am alright, thank you.”
If most Nigerians appear uncomfortable with their president’s penchant for medical vacation in foreign land, you may do well to understand where they are coming from.
On May 7, 2017, President Buhari left for London for a second round of treatment for an undisclosed ailment. He didn’t return until August, after more than 100 days away.
He had earlier left the country on January 19 for London to “undergo routine medical check-ups” during a short holiday. He returned March 10, after an extended period of treatment.
His absence then was greeted with rounds of protest and calls for his resignation by different groups.
This last medical trip, like previous ones, also generated reactions, more so when it was coming at a time health workers embarked on an indefinite nation-wide strike that was already about three weeks old, and still on even as I write.
The ongoing industrial action by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and Assembly of Health Care Professionals (AHPA) calls for better working conditions and more funding and is not the first industrial action by health workers in less than a year.
Medical doctors, who incidentally are not part of the ongoing strike, had, some months back, paralyzed the sector with their demand, also, for better working condition and honouring of agreement reached with government over the years.
The issues this time with JOHESU also border on agreements reached with the Federal Government in 2009, 2014 and 2017, which government is yet to honour. JOHESU, therefore, blames the Federal Government for any effect their action may have on patients left without care in all public hospitals across the country, some of who are already dead as a result.
On the other hand, the Federal Government disagrees with the union, describing their demands, instead, as unrealistic.
Under the circumstance, nonetheless, not many would hail a president that often jets out of his country looking for the best treatment abroad for ailment those who elected him in office are told they have no right to know, even as they are left with health facilities that merely exist by name.
And to think the president in question is one that had earlier warned that his government would no longer bear the cost of medical treatment of public officials abroad, especially for ailments that can be handled locally, makes matter even worse.
In fact, the whole idea of these medical trips by the President and the rich in Nigeria merely makes mockery of the country since it is hard to justify that a little of the enormous resources Nigeria is blessed with cannot be harnessed to fix a few hospitals that everyone can be treated in Nigeria.
If, for instance, about N25bn can be used to build an office for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), why can’t such be done for health? In any case, what kind of corruption will a country that abdicates it responsibilities of providing good health care, and also education, for its people be fighting?
What message, really, are our leaders passing to the world with their preference for medical treatment abroad?
If indeed the actions of political office holders, especially that of the president, matter a lot in restoring confidence in the health sector, what our leaders are simply telling ordinary Nigerians with their constant trips abroad for medical treatment in the midst of rot in the health sector is that they should all ‘go and die’ because they do not have a right to good healthcare.
And that is so unfortunate.