Medical Tourism: Emefiele’s Outcry, Buhari, Tinubu And The Future of Nigeria

“With due respect to him and leaving the issue of competence aside or otherwise, the major problem I have, me personally is I tend to believe that whoever must be president of Nigeria, in view should not be more than 60.” -Muiz Baniire, speaking on Tinubu’s presidential ambition

Opinion by Tony Ogaga

After three months of receiving first class medical treatment in the UK, one of Nigeria’s richest men (at least unofficially), the Jagaban Borgu, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu finally returned to Nigeria amid pomp and pageantry recently. In fact, the welcome he received could be compared to that of a victorious king returning from the battle front.

Remember Julius Caesar and how he made a grand entry into Rome to be crowned emperor in 49 BC? For the first Roman emperor ever, a court jester was planted by his side to remind him that he was just human and not a god as throngs heaped praises on him. How evolved were the Romans? Today, is anybody reminding the Jagaban Borgu of his mortality as he marches towards his ‘2023 crown.’

Whether we like it or not, Jagaban remains one of the best positioned Southerners to take on the North in 2023. But the question is, is he fit for office health-wise and beyond? The above statement credited to Muiz Banire, one of his lieutenants aptly captures the fear of many Nigerians against the backdrop of an absentee president in the person of Mohammadu Buhari and all its spinoffs. And coming from Jagaban’s camp, it speaks volumes.

And his return was a milestone event no doubt! Events and parties were lined up to welcome him as sycophants and handlers alike outdid themselves in order to be noticed in view of juicy slots when he is finally crowned. In fact, while in the UK, his spin doctors had used the opportunity to launder his image in order to show us just how fit, ready and raring to go Jagaban was against the backdrop of negative reports about his failing health.

Aside his residence in the UK becoming a Mecca of sorts for politicians of all shades, the president of Nigeria, Bubu, had tacitly endorsed him by paying him a visit. Indeed, it was some kind of ‘fence mending’ as Bubu’s earlier remarks that’ you just can’t sit in Lagos and take decisions for APC’ was still echoing, not forgetting how Jagaban’s foot soldiers in Bubu’s administration had been neutered. Images of the pair shaking hands and ‘making up’ were circulated on the internet. And the climax of his UK medical jamboree was when he was addressed as ‘Mr. President’ for the first time. What an emotional moment it must have been for a man who has worked so hard to assume the highest office in the land.

While we should not take issues with politicians reuniting and strategising as elections loom, men of good conscience will have issues with the platform on which they chose to orchestrate among others, the tacit anointing of Jagaban ahead of the 2023 elections by Bubu. Indeed, on the surface, images of Bubu and the Jagaban Borgu shaking hands look harmless. At worst it could be dismissed as two politicians reuniting. But beneath that veneer lies a legacy of failure, betrayal, unfulfilled promises and deceit which has transformed our dear country, Nigeria, into a basket case and the new poverty capital of the world as millions of hard-earned forex is fritted away courtesy, medical tourism.

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Recall that in the build up to the 2015 elections, the APC had promised to transform the medical sector. In case you don’t remember, here is a summary of their plans according to a review by Premium Times.

“Under healthcare delivery component, the party promised to collaborate with states to raise the gross national health expenditure per person per annum from less than N10, 000 to about N50, 000 and urgently raise the quality of all federal government owned hospitals to world class standard within five years through investments in infrastructure, diagnostic equipment and continuous professional development.”

Ironically, in what could be described as massive disinformation, his handlers have been all over town singing Bubu’s praises to the highest heavens and telling Nigerians how lucky we are to have Bubu as president, adding that the general from Daura is even greater than the founding fathers of our country. To crown the onslaught of disinformation, they look us in the eye and tell us that President Buhari has fulfilled all his promises to Nigerians and real out figures to justify their arguments.

But six years after, an objective appraisal will reveal that it has been a litany of failed promises from the health sector to security, the economy and human rights. However, here we are concerned about the health sector.

If there is one thing both men have in common and indeed a lot of the Nigerian elite, it is their affinity for medical tourism which Godwin Emefiele, Central Bank governor has identified as a big problem confronting the Nigerian economy. However, the case of Bubu and Tinubu stick out because of their roles as leaders.

Is it not ironic that the same party that vowed to upgrade our hospitals to ‘world class standards’ and thus eliminate medical tourism which is a huge drain on our economy turn around to use images from their medical tourism jamboree in the UK as a platform to power Tinubu’s ‘official’ launch for the presidency? Obviously, they have lost all sense of decency or how else does one explain this? What Jagaban’s handlers did was tantamount to gleefully dancing in the excreta of APC while selling us a new candidate for 2023 without giving a hoot if Nigerians would be offended by the smell!

There is a strong relationship between Muiz Banire’s statement and good health as a pre-requisite for good leadership. Obviously, it was in reaction to the state of President Buhari’s health that triggered that statement . By implication he was saying what most Nigerians believe which is that youth and vigour need to be basic qualities of Nigeria’s next president. And the Jagaban Borgu’s latest three months stint coupled with his age are a red flag! Weigh this against Emefiele’s recent outcry about how medical tourism is destroying Nigeria and you begin to get the picture.

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To put the implication of their jamboree into perspective, Emefiele in a chat with The Punch Newspapers had recently lamented the canker worm called medical tourism when he said: “Medical tourism puts a huge strain on our foreign reserves, and more importantly, for every $1bn allocated to medical treatment abroad, there is less than $1bn that could be available to other critical sectors of our economy.”

The implication of his statement speaks volumes. Why couldn’t the Buhari administration in six years plug the loophole in the medical sector if truly he cares about taking Nigeria to the next level?

Time to burrow a leaf from late Magafuli

Though he is late now but during the five years in which he held sway as president of Tanzania, President Magafuli, obviously aware of the dangers of medical tourism had set up structures to transform his country into a hub for medical tourists because he realised that it was costing his country $15.5 billion to $72b annually.

Consequently, he invested massively in the health sector to transform his country into a medical tourism hub. His strides in the medical sector are a shining star for other African leaders today. And why was this possible? Magafuli was committed to a prosperous Tanzania and creating a country for the next generation.

In Nigeria, with all her recourses, it is obvious the reverse is the case. Between Bubu and Tinubu, millions of dollars have been wasted on medical tourism while our doctors back home are on strike and even fleeing the country for greener pastures. Ironically, doctors were on strike while Buhari and later Tinubu joined him in the UK for medical treatment. Images of Nigerian doctors being arrested and chased away by security operatives from a Saudi Arabia recruitment drive are still fresh with us. It is in this climate that that Jagaban’s’s handlers had the audacity of using the party’s failure as props to make a political statement. This is both an insult to Nigerians and a slap on the face.

Writing in PM News recently, Fred Chukwuelobe only had good words for the Jagaban Borgu. In colourful language he painted Tinubu. Hear him: “The Jagaban is back. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is back. He’s the most talked about politician today. Let me say this, he may become president of Nigeria. Politics is about strategy, networking, empowerment, and tact.”

He went further: “Tinubu is a strategist. He’s a planner. He’s a mobiliser. He’s generous. He is planning, mobilising, strategising, and reaching out. What is your candidate doing? Shouting ‘it is our turn’. Which turn? Left, or right? Tinubu is a strategist. He’s a mobiliser. He’s a benefactor to many people.”

Great adjectives but Chukwuelobe also forgot to mention that political power is essentially about delivering the dividends of democracy to the hoi polio. The question is, how has Jagaban used his great talents described above to empower the average Lagosian in the last 22 years that he has loomed large like a colossus over the political terrain in the hub of the Nigerian economy, while ‘hiring and firing’ governors at will. Rather than use his power to build bridges and empower the hoi polio, he has used it to empower his cronies and close circle by sharing among them, the state’s revenue generating structures thus depriving the state of much needed taxes and cementing his position as ‘feudal lord’ while he and his cronies feed fat on the sweat of the masses.

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Jean Van Rousseau in his book, The Social Contract lays it bare when he writes that government attains its right to exist and to govern by ‘the consent of the governed.’ And it is only on these premise that democracy can be nurtured and eventually thrive. The ‘Jagaban situation’ is one of a tribal lord and Lagos his fiefdom. He has often boasted that Lagos is in his pockets and that is very true. But what Jagaban and his minions have failed to realise is that with power comes responsibility. By extension, power will make no sense if it is not tied to responsibility; the baseline is that power cannot exist in a vacuum.

Tuface once aid in one of his songs, ‘the power is nothing if you cannot give your people quality education.’ By extension we can also say ‘quality heath,’ ‘quality security etc.’ It is obvious that Tinubu wants power for the sake of power in itself and not because he wants to empower Nigerians and that is immoral. Having dominated Lagos politics for the past 22 years, what has been the benefit for the average Lagosian? From security to health care and education, where are his footprints in the sands of time?

And talking about the presidency, Tinubu has mentored so many Nigerians whom he can endorse for the highest office of the land. The office needs an injection of youth especially as we battle the challenges of the information age. How about anointing one of them to take the ‘Jagabanisque doctrine’ forward if it is worth anything. As 2023 beckons, he should return to his village in Osun State and go into farming like many before him have done.

From the above, it is obvious that Tinubu is unfit to lead Nigeria but he just might emerge president tomorrow. But a vote for Tinubu will be a vote for an absentee president among others. Nigeria has survived six years of an absentee president with its spinoffs. Will she be able to cope with another absentee president for another eight years?

Meanwhile, Emefiele has spoken. Medical tourism is a hydra-headed monster guzzling up Nigeria’s forex by depleting the foreign reserve. Will the politicians listen? If we are to go by their track record then, the chances are slim.

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