Sir, In 2015, as Nigeria approached an election that many hoped would provide a watershed moment in the history of democracy in the country, there was a great craving for change no matter what it was or who it was. For many, Nigeria’s destination under Mr. Goodluck Jonathan as president was cast in stone as a downward spiral marked by unyielding corruption and nonchalant inertia was only going to drag the country to the doldrums.
When at the end of a closely fought election, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Mr. Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the polls, deep sighs of relief rose from many quarters all over the country.
However, the huge sighs of relief were soon replaced by surging anxiety: what was the new man bringing to the table that was different from what his successor offered and how could he radically change the way the country was set up?
In a country so rich yet ironically starved of options, once the euphoria that greeted the defeat of the PDP died down, the question of what a man who at over 70 years had lost the vitality of the no-nonsense military president Nigerians once knew, replacing it instead with frailty and fragility was going to do to shake up a flailing country. Many agreed that Nigeria needed a kick in the teeth to be jolted awake and into the current realities.
Now, seven years down the line, the finish line stretches into view with ever growing clarity everyday as Nigerians gear up to slap a final scorecard on a man who after multiple failures finally won the contest for Nigeria’s highest office while promising to bring down corruption and simultaneously improve the lives of Nigerians. For the neutrals, it promises to be an interesting scorecard indeed.
Given the president’s age and the sheer enormity of the demands of being Nigeria’s president, the president has taken many medical trips abroad to maintain his health. Each time he embarks on another round, Nigerians who are always kept in the dark about the activities of the one they gave their mandate are left to host their hearts in their mouths while his belligerent media team take on all and sundry who would dare to ask just a bit too strongly about the whereabouts of the president and if he heeded the constitution to properly leave his deputy in charge of the country before leaving.
At the dawn of the presidency, so frequent and inordinately long did the medical trips abroad become that many Nigerians feared the worst. If only the hospitals were here and the specialists who staff them right in the country.
In an increasingly hostile world where countries who genuinely aspire to greatness are taking great pains to be self-sufficient and depend on other countries only as little as possible, Nigeria’s medical tourism abroad continues to grow, costing the country billions of dollars in foreign exchange every year. This is without taking into consideration the inherently incalculable scandal of it all.
Some of the countries Nigerians, especially public office holders, rush to for treatment once they feel an itch up their backsides were countries that could not hold a candle up to Nigeria in the days when colonialism crumbled around the world. In those days, a country like India where many Nigerians now rush to for medical attention had its hands full with the nightmarish combination of low GDP and an exploding population while all was sunlight for the Giant of Africa. Today, the tables have cruelly and completely turned.
A former Nigerian governor when in power once commissioned what he boastfully compared to the best hospitals in the world. Not long after his boastful ignorance, he was put to the test when he sustained minor injuries in an auto crash. He was quickly rushed abroad while his incomparable hospital languished in his state.
Every year, while public hospitals fall into disrepair causing grim statistics about the health and wellbeing of Nigerians to rise, Nigerian doctors put in thousands of applications to travel abroad in obedience to the piercing sirens luring them to greener pastures elsewhere. And no matter what anyone says about the Hippocratic Oath, a country that fails to take care of its physicians slowly becomes the musician that makes music while the grim reaper works with gluttonous glee.
It remains a problem in Nigeria that when many of Nigeria’s 91 million poor people fall ill with absolutely treatable ailments they find themselves perilously close to death. While they battle for their lives, those who should treat them, and those who should guarantee the adequate remuneration of those who should treat them, jostle for space in airports on their way to hospitals in foreign lands where traps laid out as better treatment await.
Until Nigeria brings the scalpels home and does everything within its power to keep those who wield them happy, the cost of medical tourism will continue to rise.
• Kene Obiezu