First Lady and the Aso Rock Clinic

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
IN recent times, since the social media became a dominant feature of our media landscape, I have formed the habit of not only reading stories online but also the numerous comments such stories attract. Depending on the quantum of interest a particular story generates and those who are reacting, the comments could even be more elucidating.

Aisha Buhari

While some commentators end up writing their own stories in the name of reactions, sometimes you come across informed and serious commentaries, even as some serve as comic relief – ridiculous, tasteless and absurd. Outright inanities!  Yet, they help a perspicacious reader gain more insight into the thinking of the people. You feel the pulse of the reading public. Such reactions help you gauge the political temperature, making you sober and more reflective on our collective folly.

The story of President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, taking umbrage at the management of Aso Rock Clinic over the poor state of the health facility is one of those that will make any well-meaning Nigerian to pause and ponder.

Health  facility

Speaking on Monday at the opening of a stakeholders meeting on reproductive, maternal, newborn child, adolescent health and nutrition, otherwise known as RMNCAH+N, at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the First Lady not only lamented the poor state of the clinic and berated the Chief Medical Director (CMD), Dr. Hussain Munir, for running an ill-equipped healthcare facility despite the huge budgetary allocations but also demanded accountability from the management.

Commenting on the story as published by an online newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES, one of the readers with the moniker, Man_Enough, wrote, “Suicide bomber from Adamawa State,” obviously referring to Mrs. Buhari, “She should have quietly complained to her husband. This is disrespectful.” Another reader, abodes_124, quickly came to the First Lady’s defence thus: “She does and he does not listen/hear, so she goes public and now her children are joining her.”

Those two reactions got me thinking. Of course, Mrs. Buhari is not a “suicide bomber” but the impact of her episodic interventions that ultimately expose the shenanigans that have become the signature tune of Buhari’s government is huge. She has become an activist, a very implausible role for a woman in her position even in the most liberal of societies.

In an environment where women are supposed to be seen but rarely heard, where a woman’s place is in the “kitchen, living room and the other room” (apologies to President Buhari), Aisha has acquired the aura of an enigma, an enfant terrible, ready and willing to buck the trend. Young, beautiful, intelligent and suave with a considerable measure of emotional intelligence, Mrs. Buhari’s courageous swipe last year at the ubiquitous Aso Rock cabal that had imprisoned her husband and hijacked state power packed the punch of a Category 5 Hurricane.

But her calling out of the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of Aso Rock Clinic, Dr. Hussain Munir, a Consultant Cardiologist, at an event organised by her platform, Future Assured, had the impact of a bomb.  “Before I commence my speech,” the First Lady said, “I will like to be realistic and say a few words concerning health care and the health delivery system in Nigeria. The Nigeria health sector is in a very, very, very poor, sorry state to say the least.

“Few weeks ago, I was sick … they advised me to take the first flight out to London but I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget is N100 million, we need to know how the budget is spent.

“Along the line, I insisted they called Aso Clinic to find out if the x-ray machine was working. They said it was not working. They did not know that I was the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that very time.

“I had to go to a hospital that was established by foreigners in and out 100 per cent … I am sure Dr. Munir will not like me saying this but I have to say it.

“As the Chief Medical Director, there is a lot of construction going on in this hospital but there is no single syringe there. What does that mean? Who will use the building? You are building new buildings and there is no equipment, no consumables in the hospital and the construction is still going on.”

A week before Aisha’s intervention, her daughter, Zahra, had raised the same concerns. On October 1, she lamented the poor state of the clinic, which by the way, provides medical services to the president, vice-president and their families, aides, members of staff of the State House and other entitled public servants and also serves as a prime training facility for house officers and other medical personnel.

Unlike her mother who called out the CMD at a public function, Zahra used the social media to call out Alhaji Jalal Arabi, the State House Permanent Secretary and Chief Accounting Officer. Bemoaning the fate of the clinic on her Instagram handle @mrs_zmbi, she held Arabi’s foot to the fire.

Using the hashtag #statehousepermsecplsanswer, she asked: “Why isn’t there simple paracetamol, gloves, syringes why do the patients/staff have to buy what they need in state house clinic? “More than N3 billion budgeted for state house clinic and the workers there don’t have equipment to work with? Why? Where is the money going to? Medication only stocked once since the beginning of the year? Why?”

Expectedly, the clinic’s management said last week that it didn’t have money to fund major projects and purchases and hinted that the clinic would commercialize its operations to maximize efficiency.

Of course, the refrain now would be the hackneyed fallacy that government is not good at doing business and, therefore, cannot run a clinic with billions of naira budgetary allocations. In the 2016 budget, N3.87 billion was allocated to the State House Clinic, a budget that made it get N787 million more in capital allocation than all the other 16 teaching hospitals in the country.

Though many Nigerians rightly described the allocation as outrageous, Arabi told lawmakers then that the idea of the humungous allotment was to “upgrade state house clinic to a centre of excellence.”

While defending the State House’s 2016 budget before the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-governmental Affairs, and members of the House of Representatives Committee on Special Duties, Arabi said, “The budget for the State House Medical Centre included N3.219 billion proposed for the completion of ongoing work as well as procurement of drugs and other medical equipment … The anticipated improvement of the medical centre will propel it to serve as a centre of excellence and also reduce medical tourism.”

One year after, even with more money, rather than becoming a centre of excellence, Aso Rock Clinic has become seedy, a wretched centre.  The First Lady wondered why the authorities would be more interested in erecting physical structures when the commonest of drugs were not available. The answer is simple. The high officials of state will get far juicier kickbacks from the contracts than providing medical services. The name of the game is corruption and it is happening right under the nose of President Muhammadu Buhari.

More than two years into Buhari’s presidency, Nigerians have realized that the corruption industry is still flourishing. What the First Lady and her daughter’s angst signify is that minus the president, members of the First Family have also come to this realization.

While the court jesters and rent seekers claim, falsely, that the president is wearing golden anti-corruption robes even with the legion of corruption allegations swirling around the government and its officials, Nigerians are becoming increasingly scandalized, aware that the emperor is, indeed, naked.

Ikechukwu Amaechi is anaging Director/Editor-in-Chief,  TheNiche on Sunday newspaper,Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.

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