By SKC Ogbonnia
Dear President Buhari
Let me begin by expressing gratitude to God that you are continuing to enjoy a good health after a prolonged stay in a London hospital. You have demonstrated the new lease of life by being able to give a national broadcast upon your return. You have also been well enough to attend Executive Council meetings, the United Nations Assembly and, of course, the Independence parade. However, clearly missing from these occasions is any statement on quality healthcare for other Nigerians.
In short, I had prayed for the good Lord to harken you to use the entire medical journey as an inspiration to make a dramatic change. My invocation was loudest on the fervent hope that you could tap from the experiences in Great Britain to create a healthcare policy that could equally benefit the lives of the ordinary citizens.
That is, now that your life has been saved in faraway London by the way of our common wealth, where art thou about the lives of other Nigerians? Where art thou about those poor masses, especially the youth, who defied all odds to see you back to power? Where can they go to save their own lives?
Mr. President, it seems like only yesterday when you raised our hopes by campaigning against medical tourism that not only drains the national treasury but is also the sole province of the rich and famous. Unfortunately, however, you can agree that your history in democratic power will translate to a travesty, if it does not feature a special chapter for stark hypocrisy in respect to medical tourism.
On top of that, you have not been kind enough to disclose the nature of your ailment. This omission, obviously, has become a double-edged sword. On the one side, it fuels the health-related conspiracy theory that continues to plague your presidency and, of course, the uncertainly that surrounds the future of our great party, the All Progressive Congress. On the other side, it portrays you simply as a selfish and unpatriotic old grandpa who is far too occupied with himself than the masses he was elected to serve.
Permit me to buttress my point on this issue of disclosure with the case of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. When the music maestro died, his elder brother, Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, revealed that the indomitable Fela died of Aids. Though the move did not sit well with Fela’s teaming fans, the elder Kuti explained that the revelation was to create the necessary awareness needed to save millions of other lives. The professor of medicine lamented that continued ignorance on Aids was “a monumental catastrophe; is no less than criminal.” Mr. President, that singular admonition is profoundly instructive; that is patriotism.
As if the quaint refusal to disclose the nature of your ailment has not created enough mistrust, it is becoming increasingly clear that you have no plan to ensure that the masses faced with similar sickness could ever receive adequate medical attention.
Not long after you assumed democratic power, I penned a very painful essay: “Every Nigerian blood is on the line.” That essay, as you may recall, was aimed at the corrupt breed of senators plotting to frustrate your administration from the start. I plainly reminded them that provision of efficient public amenities or good governance was important to the rich as well as the poor. I drove home my point by drawing their attention to the various cases of highly placed politicians who had lost their immediate family members due to poor social amenities.
Your Excellency, there is a problem. There is a big problem. I am shamefaced that your attitude in recent months casts you, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, as probably no different or even worse than those self-serving senators.
But hope is not entirely lost. Here are some salutary lessons that can point us towards the desired change.
Remember your fellow Katsina man, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Upon coming to power and naturally aware that his terminal illness would require foreign medical interventions, Yar’Adua promised to establish world-class hospitals in each state capital so that quality healthcare could be available to the masses. Though he did not live long after, that heartfelt promise still endures.
But you, Muhammadu Buhari, have a golden opportunity to do better. The history still has an opening to sympathize with your legacy, if only you can capitalize on your new lease of life to accomplish what untimely death could not allow Yar’Adua to do.
Frankly, establishing a world-class hospital in Nigeria must not be as elusive as fighting corruption. There are many avenues to fund such project, but none will be more fitting than through the billions being recovered from corrupt people by your government. Alternatively, there are well-vetted international groups that can help under the Public Private Partnership. These groups are comprised of foreign entities and Nigerian professionals truly committed to positive change in the lives of the ordinary people. Mr. President, you can still be trusted to lead that change by doing the right thing.
Of course, it can seem more convenient to ignore this letter. After all, you have a standby presidential jet, and London is only 6 hours away. But that is where the ignorance becomes deafening. Imagine a situation the health condition is so critical to require immediate attention! How about the case of a sick relation in Katsina or elsewhere in Nigeria who may have to fly to Abuja to curry the necessary logistics before jetting out to a preferred foreign location?
Your Excellency, the answer to the above questions is not difficult to discern, if only you can recall the following self-indicting eulogy:
“He drove himself down to Yenagoa to board the chopper to Abuja. He got to Abuja that Saturday and was admitted in hospital. The following Monday, his breathing changed. I said; let us make arrangement to get him out—to let him get treatment outside. So, an arrangement was being made. Unfortunately, the following day he had cardiac arrest and inflamed heart at the State House Clinic” and gave up the ghost.
Mr. President, in case you forget, that direct quote came from your predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan, when his most beloved brother, Meni, suddenly died in 2012 at Abuja before he could travel for overseas treatment. Are you still there?
For goodness sake, I wish that another Katsina man, Yusuf Bala Usman, is still here with us today. The eminent political historian had imagined this predicament where he regretted that many highly placed Nigerians are some of the most ignorant people, because they always ignore the objective fact that politics is all about the greater good. An American president, John F. Kennedy was more broad: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Mr. President, what I am saying in a nutshell is that every Nigerian life matters. Even as we remain overjoyed that you are now well, the Nigerian masses are not feeling well themselves. They cannot be well with mounting loss of innocent lives in the land either by state command or due to poor healthcare facilities. The test for true leadership is not measured by how well the leaders themselves feel but how well the followers feel. True!
(Ogbonnia writes from Houston, Texas, and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org)