There is a clinic called Aso Villa Clinic. It is a place where the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Vice President and their families are supposed to go any time their body aches so that the clinic can take care of the business of returning their bodies to normalcy. But we have just been told by someone who should know that that place of healing needs healing itself. Can we, therefore, say, physician heal thyself?
The President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, is the storyteller: “A few weeks ago I was sick. They advised me to take the first flight out to London but I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. Along the line, I insisted that they call Aso Clinic to find out if the x-ray machine was working. They said it was not working. They didn’t know I am the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that every time.”
A forthright and courageous woman. That is what Aisha Buhari is. She did not mind that dissemblers would be saying that she is disgracing her husband’s government by revealing the pathetic state of the clinic. At the stakeholders meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn child, Adolescence Health and Nutrition held at the State House, Abuja she did the unthinkable. She bearded the lion in its den. Hear her: “I am sure Dr Munir, chief medical director of the Aso Rock Clinic, will not like me saying this but I have to say it out. There is a lot of construction going on in Aso Rock hospital but there is no syringe there. What does that mean? Who will use the building?” She first asked whether Dr Munir was present at the forum. The man indicated he was. Then she delivered her savage body blows on the cardiologist who runs the clinic. It is a surprise he did not faint but he staggered a little bit. But if he had fainted where would he have been treated since the clinic is apparently only a whited sepulchre?
The Permanent Secretary at the State House, Jolal Alabi has given a response namely that “the clinic has some of the best equipment in the country and it is being repositioned for efficient service.” This explanation is as banal as you can get. The issue is not even efficient service but the lack of even syringes, drugs and a working x-ray machine. No one is talking about the clinic being able to cure duodenal ulcer or abdominal cancer. It has been obvious even without Aisha’s revelation that the clinic is sick and apparently in intensive care unit. How can we have a presidential medical facility that cannot cure our President of something as common as an ear infection?
The House of Representatives has set up a Committee to investigate the state of the hospital. The Representatives have indicated that between 2015 and 2017 a total sum of N10.981 billion was budgeted for the clinic. The funds were for “upgrading and provision of necessary drugs and equipment.” The yearly breakdown is as follows: N3.94 billion (2015), N3.87 billion (2016) and N3.2 billion (2017). The questions to ask are: were these budgeted sums actually released to the clinic for use? If they were not released, why? If they were released what did they do with the money that even syringes and drugs would not be available and an x-ray machine would not be made to work?
The President’s wife had to be treated in a private hospital set up in Nigeria by some foreigners. The security advantage of treating the president’s wife at Aso Clinic was compromised once she had to be treated in a private hospital owned by some foreigners. But I am sure the hospital was happy to improve its curriculum vitae by adding the President’s wife’s name to its clientele register.
When President Muhammadu Buhari first went to England for his treatment for 50 days we never thought about the Aso Villa Clinic. Then he jetted out again for 103 days we still did not have an idea that the place was more in need of surgery than those who actually go there. Now the cat is out of the bag. The place is badly managed. If a fraction of the money voted for the place since 2015 was ever released the clinic should look better than Aisha has described. A clinic without drugs is, with apologies to Sani Abacha, merely a consulting clinic. Is there corruption in the management of the clinic? That is for the Representatives who are investigating to tell us.
There is something to worry about in the management of our country’s affairs: budgeting. Every year since 1999 the national budget has often been passed around the middle of the year. In December the ministries, departments and agencies rush to award fraudulent contracts so that they do not have to return the money to the treasury. However, some of the projects are rolled over to the following year and there is no evidence that the budgeting is matched with an implementation policy. I doubt whether the National Assembly is ever able to perform any satisfactory oversight responsibility on the budgets it approves.
If the Aso Villa Clinic was supposed to be a place for the treatment of the First two families how come it has been allowed to degenerate over the years to a place no one wants to go for healing? Why shouldn’t it be equipped as a one-stop healing home for our leaders? When President Ibrahim Babangida was battling with his radiculopathy problem he was not treated there. When President Umaru Yar’Adua had his health challenges he headed to Saudi Arabia. When Stella Obasanjo and Patience Jonathan were sick they, too, went abroad. When President Buhari had his ear infection and whatever else he had, he headed to London. Was this clinic set up to have a very limited value while we expose our leaders to all the hazards of being treated in foreign countries by foreigners?
Now that Aisha has blown the whistle Buhari must do something about the management of the clinic. If the present management is unable to give us a hospital where there are syringes and drugs despite the huge yearly budgetary allocations, then it has failed the nation. There are much competent personnel in this country who can manage the place well. The reason it is not well managed is that it is a government-owned facility. The second reason is that we do not go out to get people with an appropriate level of competence we can find anywhere in the country. Why do private hospitals work and Aso Villa clinic doesn’t? It is because we do not place a premium on meritocracy. We look at other primordial considerations which are not in the equation for excellence. Buhari must accept this revelation as a challenge to reform the place for efficiency. If the clinic works as it should Buhari will not have to undertake the medical pilgrimage to London again. Each time he goes there the country spends a lot of money that we could have used for other things. Even more importantly each time he goes there we lose a little bit of our respect, or what is left of it, as a country.
A country that made more than N70 trillion from crude oil alone in 14 years has no business sending its President abroad for medical treatment. It will be a big shame if Buhari leaves office without drastically improving the medical situation of our country. His own medical challenge should serve as an incentive to a much improved medical arrangement in the country. If he was waiting to be told, his wife has told him without saying it directly. His wife is doing him a great favour by taking up the gauntlet on his behalf and on behalf of all Nigerians. We can’t afford to have a white elephant as a clinic on which we are spending enormous national resources without appropriate results. I admire Aisha for her purposeful activism. She is carving an image for herself as a First Lady who is ready to speak the truth that heals even if it hurts.