That, as Mrs. Aisha Buhari noted, “there are a lot of constructions going on in this [State House Clinic] but there” is no single syringe there’ is indeed a metaphor for the Nigerian condition. Indeed, those who should know have reportedly complained on the social media of the non-availability of even analgesic drugs in the clinic. And this is the tragic story of a country that suffers from prolonged leadership failure, from a combination of elite rapacity and unenlightened self-interest, and of a people nonplussed by the mental and behavioral illogicality of persons in authority.
Like every person who is ‘good in reasoning’, Mrs. Buhari cannot but wonder by what stretch of imagination the medical facility reserved for the president, his family, staff and appropriately entitled persons would be in lack of the most basic items to treat the most ordinary of ailments. As commonsense–defying as it is hard to fathom, the lack of syringe and a functional X-ray machine in this clinic is at many levels of meaning a symptom of the Nigerian condition.
The condition of Nigeria is characterized by misplaced priorities, such as to expend the scarce funds available to a hospital on buildings without drugs and equipment to treat the sick. Nigeria’s condition is characterized by an overarching attitude of ‘me-only, the rest be damned’ such that the most important item on any agenda is that which yields immediate and maximum gratification to the person. It is also characteristic of the Nigerian condition that, in the words of Jalal Arabi, permanent secretary in the State House, ‘the [State House clinic] is the only health center in Abuja where patients (who by the way, can comfortably afford to) are not required to pay any dime before consultation’.
Nigeria’s condition is characterized by abject want amidst plenty, such as, on the one hand, importation of – and occasional shortage – of petroleum products in a country that exports crude oil in millions of barrels a day, and on the other hand, importation of toothpick, matches, and basic food items despite the availability of nearly a million square kilometers of land to grow what it needs. Nigeria’s condition is characterized by a terrible lack of a sense of shame by the leadership and the elite class, as well as docility of the followership. This explains why the leaders would not think it an aberration to seek direction from foreign lands on how to run their country, or seek medical treatment abroad, educate their children in strange lands and cultures, and advertise such in the media. Yet, they would do nothing to improve the medical and educational facilities put in their charge. It is also characteristic of the Nigerian condition that written promises, such as a party manifesto, are made to the electorate at campaign time only for the political leadership to manufacture excuses for reneging.
In truth, the condition of Nigeria is the self-inflicted tragedy of a nation not prepared to engage in hard thinking, to introspect dispassionately and speak hard truths to itself, to muster courage to re-direct itself and do, brutally, what it’s got to do for development and progress.
It had to take a person of Aisha’s stature, as the wife of the president, to speak up on the embarrassing condition of the State House Medical Centre (SHMC). But the point must be made that, she is not the first wife of a head of state to reside in Aso Rock; it is an indication of the quality of her person to inquire at all into the matter, or to publicly comment on and demand a change of ways. This is leadership with the courage and a sense of responsibility to do the right things and do things right.
Presidency officials have sought to justify the disgraceful condition of the SHMC. Jalal Arabi said that N1.195 billion or only 32.97 per cent of the sum appropriated for the clinic was given to it in 2015-2017. President’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu offered that the clinic ‘looks after government officials and many more others who are not’. Arabi reportedly said that, indeed, the center provides free medical services to political appointees, the military, paramilitary, other security agencies, members of the National Assembly, and the general public. He concluded that ‘considering the unrestricted patronage base, and [the] free services…, coupled with the funding hiccups and periodic receipts, it may not be farfetched to notice gaps between demand and supply of medical equipment and consumables at certain stages of the budget cycle’. ‘Funding hiccups’ is said to have been reported in writing at different times to President Buhari and other presidency officials by the director of the centre Hussain Munir. Obviously with little success. Arabi has more or less threatened to commercialize the clinic. If that is rationally defensible let it be so. It a shame on the leader of a nation though that he cannot receive excellent treatment just as well as the average citizen in the local hospital.
Before permanent secretary Arabi carries out his plan, however, he and Munir need to answer three questions. Why would a medical facility located in the security – sensitive State House be open to just about every one able to find his or her way there? Why would a centre patronized by top and well remunerated public officials, their relations, and hangers-on ‘offer free services [and] nobody pays a kobo for hospital card, consultation, and prescription…’? Why would the erection of buildings take precedence over the more immediately useful supply of drugs, syringes, X-ray machines? And, with the ‘little’ funds released to run the SHMC, how judiciously has it been applied to enable the clinic discharge its specific function of treating patients?
Mrs. Buhari demanded that regardless of the amount received to run the clinic, ‘we need to know how it is spent’ In a Buhari-led government that promised change to accountability, it bears repeating: the wife of the president must not speak in vain.