Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) headed to London for a 2-week “routine medical check-up” on 30th March. This was two just two days before resident doctors who had issued a strike ultimatum as far back as 25th January were to commence indefinite industrial action.
There has been widespread outrage against this characteristically insensitive step of the president. The African Action Congress Chair, Omoyele Sowore immediately called on Nigerians in Britain to occupy the hospital where Buhari would be and the Nigerian embassy.
Hundreds of people hearkened to the call and stormed the Nigerian embassy in London on 31st March. And the following they also occupied the hospital where he was receiving treatment. The protesters expressed their anger at the terrible state of the public health system and the Buhari regime’s anti-poor people policies and programmes in general. Their demand was clearly stated: “Buhari Must Go!”
The All Progressives Congress of has shown itself for what it is – a deceitful anti-poor party of the bosses. One of the party’s campaign promises when Maj-Gen. Buhari (retd.) first ran for president on its platform in 2015 was to end “medical tourism”. But Buhari is turning out to be the president who has gone abroad the most times for medical treatment.
In 2016 alone, he was away on treatment at least twice. In 2017, he was again away on sick leave from 7th May to 13th August. When Nigerians demanded to know the “persistent infection” that kept the country’s president away from work for three months, his ever-cheeky spokesperson Mr Femi Adesina declared that this was not our business! Meanwhile, the head of state would still go on “holidays” again, for six days in September that year.
The president’s medical tourism continued with at least two trips to see doctors in London in 2018. By 2019 he was away twice for weeks on both occasions, on “private” trips which were clearly for medical reasons. The only year that he did not embark on medical tourism was 2020 – the year that he could not do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic!
We can also remember that his son, Yusuf Buhari was flown to Germany for surgery and medical attention in December 2017. This was after he sustained injuries from an accident while joy riding on his Harley Davidson in Abuja.
Maj-Gen Buhari (retd.) and just about 500 rich people in the country spend upwards of $12b on medical tourism annually. Meanwhile the 2021 budgetary allocation for the health sector, covering the country’s population of over 200 million people is under $1.4b!
Maj-Gen Buhari (retd.) upgraded the state house clinic in 2016 with $16m. This was more than the amount allocated for all federal teaching hospitals in that year’s budget. And more than $26m has been allocated for running the clinic alone since then. Yet, millions of pounds have been coughed out of taxpayers money annually for the president’s endless medical trip, which includes ancillary costs like keeping a coterie of personal assistants with him and the presidential plane stationed in London, each time.
Millions of poor people die from curable infections or go bankrupt due to expenditure on health every year. Malaria alone claims about 100,000 lives annually. Some even argue that the number might be as high as 300,000.
The country’s maternal and child mortality rates are some of the worst in the world. Out of every 1,000 live births, 117 of these infants die before they are 5 years old. These are mainly children of poor people in urban and rural areas. Children whose parents could not afford to take care of their health and wellbeing because of poverty.
There is no serious health insurance system. Apart from the fact that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers just a tiny fraction of the population, we all know that it is more of a scam than a health insurance scheme. Even the few people who are on this scheme, except for those who work with major multinational corporations and thus have secondary additions of payment, find out that they do not get basic medicines covered.
More than three quarters of all health expenditure in the country is out of pocket. The rich can afford to either jet out like Buhari or go to expensive hospitals like St Nicholas, Reddington or Lagoon. For the poor, out of pocket boils down to going to the corner side “chemist” who might have no medical or pharmaceutical training whatsoever. This is not because the poor do not want access to quality healthcare. But even money for card, could be a problem, not to talk of consultation fees.
Public health facilities are under-resourced and equally understaffed. The overworked medical and health workers are underpaid. Out of frustration and in seeking greener pastures thousands of doctors, nurses and other health workers have left the countries in droves. While this has been happening for some time now, the rate has drastically increased since Buhari came to power, with the number of doctors leaving for Britain annually rising by 50% since 2015.
There are barely 40,000 doctors for 200m people in the country, which means that we have a doctor to 5,000 people while the average in OECD countries is 3.4 doctors per 1,000 population. Yet, by July last year there were no less than 7,875 Nigerian doctors working in Britain, an OECD country. And another 5,000 work in the United States. The shameless regime is even promoting this brain drain. The minister of labour, who himself is a medical doctor claimed that Nigeria has “more than enough doctors”, urging them to emigrate so that “we have foreign exchange earnings from them.”
It is obvious that the bosses care less whether there are enough health workers or not. Like Buhari, they can all access quality healthcare somehow or the other, irrespective of the sorry state of healthcare for the vast number of people in the country. The disposition of government to the employment and working conditions of medical and health workers further underscores this.
Almost all strikes in the health sector have been organised to make government implement collective agreements reached or pay outstanding salaries. They have also taken place only after several ultimatums. The fact that government always allows things to get to such impasse, shows how little they care not only for the health workers, but also for the poor masses who suffer, and even die, as a result of such avoidable strikes.
The key demands of the current National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) strike for example are payment of arrears of salaries, and outstanding COVID-19 hazard allowances. They are also calling for “payment of death in service insurance for all health workers who died as a result of COVID-19 infection or other infectious diseases in the country.”
These are legitimate demands which SWL fully supports. If the huge amounts of public funds being wasted on Buhari’s mysterious ailment were ploughed into the public health system, there would be significant improvement in facilities and working conditions of doctors and other medical and health workers.
We urge organisations of the masses including the trade unions to demand concrete steps towards stopping medical tourism. No public official or members of their families must be allowed to seek medical treatment outside the country. The public health system must be adequately funded and staffed. Health workers’ trade unions, community-based organisations and patient forums must be involved in the democratic running of health facilities to ensure they are run on behalf of the poor masses.
We must do everything possible to make it impossible for the 78-year-old Buhari to travel abroad for medical treatment as head of state ever again. We also demand that he states what is his “persistent infection” which millions of taxpayers’ money has been burnt to address. We are citizens and not subjects. And the retired military general’s disdain for the people is second nature. We have had enough of this. Buhari Must Go NOW!
by Baba AYE