“I am sure Dr. Munir (Chief Medical Director of Aso Rock Clinic) will not like me saying this, but I have to say it out. There are a lot of constructions (sic) going on in Aso Rock hospital, but there is no syringe there. What does that mean? Who will use the building?” Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhamadu Buhari, The PUNCH, October 10, 2017.
The widely reported indictment of Aso Rock Clinic, and its Chief Medical Director, Dr. Munir, by President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, quoted at the beginning of this write-up, suggests, to kick off on a light note, that Mrs. Buhari is increasingly strolling out of the “other room” into the wider arena of the national space. She employed the occasion of a Stakeholders’ Meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Child, Adolescence Health and Nutrition held at the State House, Abuja, recently, to publicly chide the managers of the clinic.
Several governance issues flow from the revelation of the President’s wife. One of them is the issue of the crying gap between policy and implementation, exemplified by the allocation of N3bn for the upgrade of the hospital and the shambles in which it exists. That shocking gap, as Mrs. Buhari correctly noted, raises the larger question of the plight of many underprivileged Nigerians who are dying silently because monies allocated for lifesaving amenities, be they roads, hospitals, pensions, salaries are diverted. Beyond that, the failure to implement policies and budgetary stipulations has become a national pastime, which indexes the failure of governance and the increasing woes of citizens shortchanged by incompetent and corrupt state managers. For a nation that is supposed to be in the throes of an anti-corruption struggle, Buhari’s almost accidental discovery raises questions about the status of that struggle, especially when taken along the very many unanswered questions surrounding the recent award of contracts to the tune of $25bn, apparently without due process, by the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu.
In the case of the Aso Rock Clinic, the question that pops up is, why are we just knowing this now? It can be argued that a vigorous policy architecture, morally resonant, could have fingered the rot that has accumulated very close to the nostrils of the nation’s helmsmen and women. Interestingly, an earlier disclosure was made by the President’s daughter, Zahra, on her Twitter account, a couple of weeks ago, but understandably, generated little interest. For any nation, the health status of the First Family is important enough for there to be a close audit and monitor of the state of the health infrastructure in the hospital meant to serve them.
It is commendable that the President’s wife left the comfort of the “other room” to speak up on this important national issue, but she sounded almost apologetic by employing the expression “Dr. Munir will not like me saying this”. It would have shown more rhyme, in the opinion of this columnist, if those responsible for the way things have turned out at that clinic had been put in a position to explain to law enforcement what exactly was going on. One may not view Uganda with its authoritarian democracy as a governance paradise, but it is instructive that once the health minister, Sarah Opendi, a few weeks ago, uncovered fraud in a public hospital, by going undercover, wearing a hijab and going around on a motorcycle to disguise her identity, there was no talk back option for the hospital workers. In the Nigerian case, in what appeared like a snide rebuttal of Mrs. Buhari’s allegation, the Permanent Sectary of the State House, Jalal Arabi, informed the public that the clinic was “being repositioned for efficient service”, whatever that means. At this point, this writer craves the readers’ indulgence to permit the digression of a short take.
Eminent historians from home and abroad gathered, for the first three days of this week, at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, for a conference held in honour of Prof. J. A. Atanda, one of the leading lights of the Ibadan History School. Organised by Africa’s foremost historian, Prof. Toyin Falola, of the University of Texas, Austin, in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, around the theme, the Yoruba Nation and Politics since the 19th Century, the event brought together scholars from around the globe, traditional rulers, members of the Atanda family and civil society. History professors in their 70s and 80s, such as Anthony Asiwaju, Banji Akintoye Richard Olaniyan, rubbed shoulders with younger professors in their 50s and 60s such as Akin Alao, Olukoya Ogen, Olubomehin, C.B. Ogbogbo, current President, Historical Society of Nigeria, and others much younger in the trade. Interestingly, the Federal Government recently announced the comeback of history to the school curriculum, after it was banished for a season. The Ago Iwoye conference with its parade of top notch Nigerian historians, including some with global renown, affirms the legitimacy and vitality of a discipline that has contributed so much to nation-building.
It should be of interest that beginning from the welcome address of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. G.O. Olatunde, and the engaging speech of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, to the resonant tribute on Atanda by Falola and the keynote address of Dr. Tunji Olaopa, the restructuring of Nigeria was a recurrent policy suggestion. For good reasons, political memory easily goes back to the glorious days of the Yoruba nation under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when the western region recorded a series of firsts in Africa. Consequently, one of the takeaways from the conference is that Nigeria must somehow return to a political structure that best releases the energies of the component nationalities of this pseudo-federation.
To return to the original discourse, the President’s wife should not merely lament the decay at the Aso Rock Clinic or stop at putting the chief executive on the spot. Rather, she ought to commence an investigation into how things degenerated to the current unhappy situation of a hospital without drugs or basic equipment. On a broader note, it will be interesting to know why construction of every kind, roads, flyovers, and buildings has replaced governance across the country. Is it because these projects are easy to tick off and advertise as monuments to hard work? In some cases, flyovers are constructed on dilapidated roads in the middle of nowhere. This is a parable of a nation, wasting time and resources on outward appearances that conceal deep seated spiritual and moral rottenness. There is another explanation, namely, construction projects connote big contracts and upfront dividends to the “contractocracy”.
The Buhari administration stands a chance to turn around this entrenched and costly habit of swapping projects for service, flamboyant appearances for the nitty gritty of governance. Regarding the mess at the Aso Rock Clinic, the public will be interested to know how the drama will end, whether heads, if any, will roll or whether this case will join the growing list of discoveries and exposures without any follow-up action.
Finally, we must take steps to halt the slide to futility, occasioned by the crying gap between policies and implementation.