No Medicine In Nigeria, By Johnson Amusan
She was still interacting with some of them when her doctor strolled in. When the doctor saw a sea of black patients who wanted to see their doctors, he could not hide his shock. He expressed this by calling the attention of his patient to his observation. He asked the woman about the nationalities of the patients and her response was that they were all Nigerians. And the doctor wondered aloud, “No medicine in Nigeria?”
Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. – Susan B. Anthony
One of the stories I have avoided telling in writing is the story of my health, hoping it would be part of my memoir one day, God willing. Notwithstanding, the circumstance that has arisen now at the instance of our ‘progressive’ government which has fulfilled in the breach, many of its promises of change, the economic strangulations President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has imposed on hapless Nigerians, prompted my telling part of the story.
I was in India for medical treatment between 2014 and 2015 by the grace of God and with the support of friends who stood by me. Lack of proper medicare in Nigeria had worsened my case, necessitating an advisory for medical attention outside the country. I saw a huge difference in medicare in India, in comparison to what obtains in Nigeria. What is however more instructive in my reckoning is the perception of Nigeria by Indians and Nigerians resident in that country.
I couldn’t have been the only victim of Nigeria’s medical failure. Hence, I met lots of other Nigerians who, for the same reason, travelled to India, including those who indulge in medical tourism purely on account of their wealth. While in India, I lodged in the same guest house with some Nigerians with whom I found a bonding, irrespective of the challenge and, I dare say, anguish that brought us together. I came to the gory realisation that the search for healthcare in a foreign land is not always a thing of comfort and joy, even when resources appear to pose little or no challenge. The pain of the rot in your country adds to the burden that makes the healing process contend with compelling soul searching. But at the point of a life-threatening health challenge, the choice is clear and unambiguous!
We were indeed patients being attended to by medical personnel in different hospitals. Notwithstanding, in the evenings, we would come together to share experience regarding the healthcare in India and Nigeria. Having shared pains, pangs and hopes together, we would end up in prayers for successful treatments. One particular evening, however, a woman narrated her experience at the hospital earlier in the day. She had met other Nigerians with different ailments; waiting to see their doctors. She was still interacting with some of them when her doctor strolled in. When the doctor saw a sea of black patients who wanted to see their doctors, he could not hide his shock. He expressed this by calling the attention of his patient to his observation. He asked the woman about the nationalities of the patients and her response was that they were all Nigerians. And the doctor wondered aloud, “No medicine in Nigeria?”
The woman actually feigned not to have heared the doctor the first time, so she asked him to repeat what he had said. Then the doctor told her that he was asking her whether there was no medicine at all in Nigeria that could cure the ailments. The doctor was wondering why there were so many sick Nigerians seeking medical attention in India. The woman told us she began to worry if her doctor’s impression about Nigeria’s healthcare sector was not a sign our country was itself really ill. Like many of us, the woman came to the conclusion that the failure of the healthcare system in Nigeria was as a result of an irresponsible government, bordering on the failure of leadership. She however prayed and expressed hope that General Muhammadu Buhari’s assumption of office would bring the desired change and restore the lost glory of Nigeria; particularly in healthcare. And we chorused a big “Amen” to her prayers, precisely because Buhari was campaigning to be Nigeria’s president with change as his slogan.
Major General Muhammadu Buhari came into politics and contested three times but failed. Although he enjoyed mass appeal in the North, perception of him as an ethnoreligious irredentist in other parts of the country was his achilles heel prior to 2015. He became dejected and despaired and vowed not to contest anymore. To support his intent, he shed bitter tears at an occasion where he made the vow. He was to break his vow when those who saw in him a good instrument appealed to him to rescind his decision. Consequently, he joined politics again for the fourth time. This time, he had understood the game and aligned with the powerful interests, especially in the South-West geopolitical region, who repackaged him for wider acceptability.
All through the times he contested elections, he was my candidate. I supported and campaigned for him. He earned my respect because I witnessed War the Against Indiscipline (WAI) days when he was head of state, following the overthrow of the rapacious government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1983. Among other factors, I believed that his WAI brought orderliness in the country. To me too, he performed well as a Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman. And when later Gani Fawehinmi showed him off as his friend, my preference for him was deepened. Thus, I was among those who strongly believed in his change mantra, just like the woman (the patient) mentioned earlier did, when he came to the race the fourth time. And I blindly campaigned for him. I had no doubt that he had the medicine to cure the ailments ailing Nigeria. That he was even the cure for the sickness that was ravaging the land.
Buhari had said that when he assumed office, he would discourage medical tourism by improving the healthcare facilities in the country to international standards. And that in no situation would he allow any government official to go on spending government money on medical treatment abroad. Lo and behold, he was the first to hop on the plane for medical treatment abroad once he sat in the saddle of power…
I carried this campaign to India, where I had an encounter with an Igbo man. He was an established fellow in India who however was still emotionally and psychologically attached to his home country, Nigeria. Anytime we met, our discussion usually centred more on the political happenings in Nigeria. He was passionately interested in who would become the president of Nigeria. Yet, it occurred that we had made up our minds on our preferences – he was for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was then the incumbent president, while I was solidly behind Buhari. He gave many reasons why Buhari should not be our president. To him, Buhari is an ethnic jingoist, a religious fanatic and that he would cause so much bloodshed if he assumed the leadership of the country. He equally felt Buhari would drag the nation backward by the economic policies he was going to adopt. Since a beloved person does not possess stains, I would block my ears to whatever misgivings he had against Buhari. I saw his rantings as more of ethnic venoms, and for me, Jonathan had disappointed everyone beyond redemption. I would however proffer the brighter angles of Buhari to him on why he should be our president. But one day when we met each other again, he was not ready for a lengthy discussion at that time, but he warned me that I was going to regret my decision in supporting Buhari. I was adamant! Nevertheless, that warning kept a permanent ring in my mind and I would not only pray for Buhari to win but that he should not disappoint our nation.
Notwithstanding, most Nigerian patients I came across in India wanted him and prayed hard for his emergence; he had the medicine, they would say. There was even one elderly patient from Kogi State, who was urging his doctor to speedily attend to him so he could go back to Nigeria in earnest, because he could not afford to miss the election. He thought it could be his one vote that would grant Buhari the key to Aso Rock. Therefore, in our guest house, we were rolling over one another in celebration when Buhari was eventually announced as the winner of the 2015 presidential election. It was BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) that first made the announcement, which caused the initial rapturous joys when it said that Jonathan had called Buhari to congratulate him.
When substantial success had been achieved in my treatment, I was back in Nigeria to meet the swearing-in of the one who most had thought would be the medicine or possess the medicine to the ailments of Nigeria. His inaugural speech of ‘I belong to nobody; I belong to everybody’ raised a false hope of the people’s Messiah, who would mean business all the way in salvaging our land from the years of locusts.
Buhari (and his party) made a series of promises to the people during his campaign of Change. They are a litany that is impossible to list all out here. I will therefore pick on his promises on health, corruption, unemployment and the petroleum industry.
Buhari had said that when he assumed office, he would discourage medical tourism by improving the healthcare facilities in the country to international standards. And that in no situation would he allow any government official to go on spending government money on medical treatment abroad. Lo and behold, he was the first to hop on the plane for medical treatment abroad once he sat in the saddle of power – a trip that subsequently became routine. His son followed next when he sustained injuries in a road traffic accident after a jolly ride on his power bike at very high speed. Also, during this COVID-19 period, in spite of the lockdown ordered by the Federal Government, his wife, Aisha Buhari, reportedly flew to Dubai to treat neck-pain.
Corruption is the bane of Nigeria’s progress. It has, no doubt, eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian system. It was thus cheering when Buhari showed a desperate concern to tackle it headlong, should the baton of power be placed in his hand. It is disheartening, however, that his government now swims in an ocean of corruption – according to revelations – that has been taking place under his nose.
One of the critical effects of corruption is the high rate of unemployment in our country. Buhari had proffered solutions to this during his campaign; that he was going to provide three million jobs every year for unemployed youths. But as it is now, unemployment in Nigeria has built a skyscraper taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, as there are masses of unemployed graduates roaming the streets presently.
When there were so many outcries in 1983, Buhari intervened and took-over a democratically elected government in a bloody coup. It is now a choice for the people to decide whether they are ready to rescue themselves from President Buhari or not. While a coup is not an option now, revolution is a matter of choice!
In one of his interviews during his campaign for office, Buhari said that there was nothing called subsidy on petroleum products, but it turned out that he was to later pay higher subsidies on fuel than what his predecessors ever paid. Less than seven months into his first term administration, Buhari caused the first panic – he increased the pump price of fuel from N84/per litre to N145/per litre during a Christmas into New Year period. People were cast into sorrow at a time that ought to be for festivities and celebration.
Among the no less sundry woes that befell the nation by the end of his first term in office were increments in the tariffs of all essential amenities, the piling of multiple taxations on people, and bank charges on all deposits and withdrawals. More so, since he came to power, insecurity has escalated in Nigeria, which has been turned into one huge abattoir in which Boko Haram and herdsmen reign supreme and slaughter Nigerians like animals.
Buhari’s campaign slogan for the renewal of mandate in office was Next Level. And the message is now clear that it is the continuation of the anguish of the people. Who could have imagined that a progressive government that possesses a supposed passion for the people would subject them to additional burdens of immeasurable magnitude? These are the same people who are yet to survive COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged Nigeria like every other part of the world, as a result of which many businesses have collapsed, some of which may never rise up again. It is even a different ball game in Nigeria because COVID-19 pandemic met a poverty epidemic in the country. The poverty of a larger percentage of Nigerians is the huge epidemic of a harvest of pervasive looting by successive governments. While the governments of many countries in the world are busy doling out palliatives to their citizens to cushion the effects of the damage that the virus caused to them, the Nigerian government has been dishing out economic measures that are worsening the situation. Recently, the pump price of fuel and electricity tariffs were increased simultaneously. What other enemy does Nigerians need?
Now that Buhari has failed woefully on his promises to Nigerians, it seems truly there is no medicine in Nigeria. The failure of leadership is the failure of the Nigerian system. This country has been unfortunate for having leaders, especially at the national level, who have been a poison to the people. The lack of a conscientious vision for the people is also the bane hanging like an albatross on the neck of Nigeria. In other words, all that the previous governments did wrong have been done worse during this Buhari era. In essence, the only departure from the past being witnessed now is in fact an aggravation of the Nigerian situation – a case of one step forward, three steps backward.
Generally, the perception now is that Nigeria has been captured all the way by crude businessmen who see politics as an investment and political office where to recoup their investments and maximise their profits. The goods they put on display are all the resources of the nation – the commonwealth they have cornered. In a free-market as it is, a businessman can increase at will the prices of his goods. The welfare or comfort of the people, if it is not about private profit, is not his business. And in the business world, buyers don’t complain because sellers are the king. Where the buyers however complain, the investors will mobilise out all the government forces of coercion to crush the complaints and the complainers. Sometimes ago in South Africa, this madness was displayed too when mine workers who were protesting against the exploitation of the owners of the mines were crushed in broad daylight. It has happened in Nigeria before and it will still happen again. Profit is the reason a businessman would want an elongation of a war in order for him to sell more arms; the lives of the victims of the war have no place in his heart. It is also the reason that the sovereignty of a nation can be signed off for a paltry sum of loans. The same profit drives slave traders into engaging in slavery. Therefore, a nation can be sold into slavery if it will bring more profit to the rent seekers and profiteers in power.
The last time I checked, Indians used to come to work in Nigeria in the 1960s, 70s and even 80s when it was a strong economy. For the Indian doctor to have wondered if Nigeria lacked the medicine to the ailments of her citizens, he must have witnessed or read the glorious past of this nation. I cannot but feel sad for this country.
When a thief enters a house, the choice is left for the owner to decide on what to do, whether to resist or not. When there were so many outcries in 1983, Buhari intervened and took-over a democratically elected government in a bloody coup. It is now a choice for the people to decide whether they are ready to rescue themselves from President Buhari or not. While a coup is not an option now, revolution is a matter of choice!
Johnson Amusan wrote from Lagos.