Presidency's Medical Tourism Undermines Local Economy-: Says Huriwa:
A Statement By The Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy Group-: Human Rights Writers Association Of Nigeria (HURIWA) Condemning How President Muhammadu Buhari Has Been Unable To Stop The Members Of His Inner Caucus From Embarking On Medical Tourism And The Lack Of Political Will Needed To Set Up A Panel To Investigate The Allegations Of Issues Of Corruption At The State House Clinic Cum The Monumental Shame On The Lack of Political Will of The Current Government To Invest Massively In Reviving The Moribund Health Sector Despite The Brunt Of The Covid-19 Pandemic:
Medical tourism, a term used to describe trips abroad for medical treatment is a phenomenon that has plagued Nigeria for years. This phenomenon has been exacerbated over the years by the neglect of the nation’s health sector by successive governments.
Medical tourism is fast becoming a culture among many Nigerians due to the deplorable state of the health care system in Nigeria. Ibraheem Adeoti Katibi; a professor and Dean College of Health Science, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Kwara State revealed that every month, almost 5,000 people are said to leave the country for various forms of treatment abroad when such treatment should have been carried out in Nigeria.
Among this figure, prominent Nigerians, especially those in government or close to the Presidency make up the bulk of medical tourists from Nigeria yearly. According to analysts, this development has seen about 1billion dollars being lost to medical tourism yearly in Nigeria, which could have been invested in the development of the country’s health care system and the country as a whole.
The annual budgetary allocation of the State House Clinic, which was established to provide health care for only the President, the Vice President, their families and other employees of the Presidency is a lot more than what is allocated to each of the 16 major teaching hospitals across the country, which take care of heath needs of millions of Nigerians, train medical doctors and other health professionals for the nation.
Since the inception of Buhari’s administration, a total of N13.59 billion has reportedly been budgeted for the State House Clinic. An inquiry of federal government’s budgets showed that these funds were appropriated from 2015 to 2020.
A breakdown of the total budgetary provisions within this period showed that N3.94 billion, N3.87 billion and N3.20 billion were budgeted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively. While in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the budgetary provisions dropped to N1.03 billion, N823.44 million and N723 million respectively.
Despite these huge allocations it receives, the Clinic has left more to be desired as those the facility is meant to serve are still spending millions of taxpayers’ money to seek treatment in other private facilities within and outside the country on health matters that could be well managed here in the country, yet no panel of investigation has been set up to investigate the scandals and allegations of corruptions oozing out from there even as a bulk of the allegation had come from members of the first family.
In 2017, the wife of the President; Aisha Buhari had attacked the management of the State House Clinic over poor equipment and non-availability of drugs. This attack by the Wife of the President had followed the earlier criticism by her daughter; Zara Buhari, who took to one of her social media accounts to criticise the Permanent Secretary of the State House; Jalal Arabi, for his inability to provide even Paracetamol tablets to the clinic despite a budget of N3 billion for the provision of drugs to the hospital.
Although in October 2017, the House of Representatives said it would investigate the “deplorable condition” of the State House Clinic but till date the outcome of that inquiry remains unknown.
Again, President Buhari in the build up to his election in 2015, had on his campaign trail, itemized the abolition of medical tourism as one of his key objectives in government.
Although his administration officials vowed to put an end to the practice, Buhari has been Nigeria’s most prominent medical tourist. He has visited the United Kingdom for at least five medical trips since becoming president, including an extended stay of more than five months in 2017.
According to the calculations made in one of the editions of Saturday Punch Newspaper, in the first three years of his first tenure from May 2015 to May 2019, President Buhari was outside the country for a combined 404 days (one year and 39 days) in 33 countries.
In 2016, President Buhari spent a total of 17 days in a London hospital treating an undisclosed ailment. Shortly after that, in 2017, he reportedly spent a total of 152 days in London on medical vacation during when he became inaccessible, except for a few politicians. He equally made frequent trips to the UK on “private visits” believed to be for medical reasons. On May 8, 2018, he again embarked on a six-day medical vacation to London.
More worrisome is that the medical treatments of the President are still official secret as Nigerians are not told how much of their cash has been deployed for the medical treatments of the President for months.
Apart from the Nigerian President, his son; Yusuf, in December 2017 was flown to Germany after suffering injuries from a bike accident in Abuja. These trips were embarked upon despite a huge sum of above N10bn allocation to the State House Clinic from 2015 to 2018.
In a recent development, the Wife of the President; Aisha Buhari, and a Nephew and close confidant of the President defied the lockdown and the shutdown of airports to gallivant all over UK and Dubai for the so called medical tourism. These flagrant disregard for the established legal frameworks put in place to safeguard the nation from the consequences and the devastation created by the COVID-19 PANDEMIC, has diminished the essence of the principle of the Rule of law because if laws put in place for the common good are breached with reckless abandon by members of the privileged political class and family members of the President, it therefore means that IMPUNITY HAS ASSUMED THE OFFICIAL MANTRA OF THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.
Mamman Daura on August 19 was said to have been flown in a private jet to the United Kingdom after exhibiting respiratory difficulties with symptoms similar to corona virus. Though the Presidency has claimed that he was not seriously sick, but how come he was allowed to fly out even when there are restrictions on flights?
In addition, if he is spending his money how is it that the Presidency is being quoted by newspapers to be saying Mamman Daura is not ill and the phone conversations are being shown to Nigerians through the instrumentality of the publicly funded media office of the President?
That of the first lady is more shocking because she was said to have neck pains and that was the reason for deploying a presidential jet to jet off to Dubai for weeks at public costs. HURIWA is pleased and indeed happy that God was on our side to have stopped an unforeseeable air disaster from ever happening following the reported incidents with the homebound Presidential jet in connection with the weather, but to convey the idea that the First Lady had to fly out to treat neck pain is to tell the World that the Nigerian health sector has totally collapsed. This is sad and unfortunate.
OUR POSITION AND WAY FORWARD
This penchant of government officials and those close to the corridor of power jetting abroad to receive medical care for undisclosed ailments even as the rest of the population relies on an underfunded and overworked public healthcare system has been the bane of our health sector and the economy has been worse hit for it. The problems associated with poor healthcare system also indict the governors of the 36 states because in those states, there are virtually no functional health centres to care for the residents. However, the pathetic situation afflicting the State House Clinic is even more disturbing.
The expenditures of the released budgetary funds for the State House Clinic over the years must be investigated in addition to a comprehensive audit of the spending on the State House Clinic and the health sector in the country.
It is unjustifiable that the State House Clinic would be guzzling billions of taxpayers’ money and those the facility is meant to serve would still be spending millions to seek treatment in other private facilities within and outside the country.
If the N13bn budgetary allocations over the years have been actually used for the State House Clinic, the situation would have been different and same applied to the general health sector in the country
Therefore, the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari in setting up a panel to investigate the scandals that is happening at the State House Clinic is a deviation from the cardinal trails of a government who rode to power on the mantra of integrity. This is because clearly there are issues of corruption as alleged by Aisha Buhari, which is the simple explanation for the frequent medical tourism by the first family and their cronies.
Whether the Presidential Officials are persons of integrity is a big question, but how would one classify the integrity of a government that has been in place for five years but till date the President and other government officials embark on several trips abroad; many of them enveloped to look like official travels when in fact they are for medical reasons?
We demand to know what the $3.4bn World Bank loan on covid-19 has been used for. We condemn the fact that till date the Covid-19 pandemic, which allegedly claimed the life of the powerful former Chief of Staff to the President; Abba Kyari and other top political office holders is not strong enough to assist in confronting not only the State House Corruption, but also compelling the government to invest massively in reviving the moribund health sector.
We are strongly disappointed that General Sani Abacha who is abused as a thief could build several Federal Medical Centres and his wife built the National Hospital in Abuja but yet this government has been in power for five years and has built no single tertiary Medical Centre of repute in any part of Nigeria but the officials frequent foreign jurisdictions for medical treatments. This is a monumental shame on this government.
This is perhaps the time to declare a state of emergency to transform the nation’s health facilities to bring them up to speed with the 21st century. As such, the time for the government to champion the complete overhaul of the health sector by instituting and implementing the necessary reforms to transform the sector. Also, the government must put the right leadership in display and create the enabling environment for the private sector investments to happen in the near moribund health sector. This incessant health tourism by the PRESIDENCY'S people must stop because it is seriously undermining the local economy by draining off the much needed capital to support the manufacturing and employment creation institutions in Nigeria.
*COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
*Miss. Zainab Yusuf:
Director, National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). 24th August 2020.