Ngige’s Gaffe by Tony Ademiluyi

Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige first came into national prominence when he was abducted while he was the Governor of Anambra state. The then Godfather of the state politics, Chief Chris Uba was the brain behind it and it was revealed that the diminutive governor was taken to the dreaded Okija shrine to swear an oath of loyalty to pay a huge amount to the Uga born politician in the form of irrevocable standing payment orders. He got the bewildered nation reeling in laughter when he said that he went to the shrine with a Bible. The medical doctor turned politician outsmarted his abductor by freeing himself from his tight grip and endearing himself to the people by doing lots of infrastructural developments.

He was kicked out of office when Peter Obi came on board. Being a smart alec, he found his way into the Senate which has tragically become the retirement home for governors whether they performed well or not. He caught the APC bug and ‘wisely’ joined the fast moving gravy train which brought Muhammadu Buhari to power in 2015. As compensation, he was made the Minister for Labour and Productivity after losing a bid to return to the government house in 2014. His tenure has been bedeviled by lots of bickering with the labour unions and other special interest groups.

The latest of his gaffes came on Wednesday when he was being interviewed in the popular Sunrise daily show on Channels television. He was asked for his opinion on the alarming brain drain of Nigerian doctors who are fleeing in droves to foreign countries for greener pasture and the massive recruitment of Nigerian doctors by foreign embassies operating in the country. His response was extremely insensitive and cruel. In his words: ‘No, I am not worried (about doctors leaving the country). We have surplus. If you have surplus, you export. It happened some years ago here. I was taught chemistry and biology by Indian teachers in my secondary school days.

“Who says we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send it back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”

When asked if he was sure of what he was saying, the minister said it was good for doctors to travel out as they would receive training from abroad and open up medical centres in Nigeria.

“Will you call that brain drain? I know a couple of them who practise abroad but set up medical centres back home. They have scanners and magnetic resonance imaging, which even the government cannot maintain. So, I don’t see any loss.’

Coming from a medical doctor, this is the apogee of crass insensitivity. It shows the disconnect between the ruling elite and the governed. Nigerian politicians are notorious for making avoidable gaffes as they see themselves as emperors rather than servant leaders.

The anti-people policies of successive governments both military and civilian have seen the health sector deteriorate into something worse than consulting clinics apologies to the Late General Sani Abacha. The World Health Organization recommended medical ratio for optimal health of the nation is one doctor to six hundred people. The so called ‘Giant of Africa’ current ratio is fourty thousand doctors to nearly two hundred million people and this doesn’t call for concern by Ngige. The doctors are grossly overworked and some avoidable deaths are due to their extreme tiredness. Ngige’s current political role has made him like the Biblical Judas Iscariot betrayed the profession that gave him his daily bread for decades.

He has now climbed the ladder and has thrown it down to prevent the younger generation from mounting it. A visit to the government owned hospitals around the country shows long queues with a few doctors attending to them. The poor pay has made the doctors who stay behind engage in private practice sometimes to the detriment of the patient as they in some instances refer cases to their own private clinics which most times is out of the reach of the common man.

The Annual African Heads of States once recommended in a meeting in Abuja that the health sector should have at least fifteen percent budgetary allocation. Since 2001, we have not gone beyond a measly six percent. The current budget allocated less than four percent to health. This shows the poor understanding of the health sector by our so called minister. The health sector is so bad that Zahra Indimi, the President’s daughter once cried out on twitter that the Aso Rock clinic lacked syringes. How pathetic and comical when you consider the billions allocated to that clinic alone!

The maternal and infant mortality rate in Nigeria is among the highest in the world and Bill Gates recently described the country as one of the world’s most dangerous places to be born.

Ngige viewed the exodus of the doctors from a purely commercial perspective when he opined that the ones in exile will build medical facilities back home. He forgot that their presence is also of huge importance as the ones ‘patriotic’ to remain can’t cope with the gargantuan numbers of the citizens with their plethora of health challenges.

Some states have not paid their medical doctors for months which mean that these medical personnel are sitting on a time bomb. Some’s desire to leave the country is only a matter of a very short time as the conditions back home for the effective practicing of the profession leave a lot to be desired.

Life expectancy is among the lowest among the nations of the world and at a point in time was put at 47. This is the concomitant effect of having inadequate medical personnel. Ngige isn’t bothered by all these grim statistics. What is it about Nigerian politics that make the leaders so inhumane and colder than fishes in the Atlantic Ocean?

If no doctor leaves the country it will take another fifteen years or more for the doctor: patient to be balanced. Ngige isn’t interested in putting forward a policy that will help make this a reality. The difference between politicians in this third world jungle and their western counterparts is that the latter think more like statesmen with the sole aim of leaving a lasting legacy years or even centuries after their earthly demise. The London underground for instance was conceived as far back as the 19th century. The conceptualizers never got to see the fruits of their labour but their legacy lives on by the revolution it caused in the British transport sector. In Nigeria, our politicians are moved more by stomach infrastructure apologies to former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose. We will soon be marking twenty years of unbroken democratic rule with nothing to show for it save for the frequent gaffes that these vagabonds in power spew in our faces.

In a decent society, Ngige would have resigned but alas we are in a nation fast heading for the status of a banana republic. How tragic!

Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos.

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Articles by Anthony Ademiluyi